In yesterday’s and in other posts, I’ve written about my strong connection to my German heritage (from my mother and father).
To narrow it down a bit more, on my mother’s side, I’m Bavarian, or to dive a bit deeper, Upper Franconian.
For readers who don’t know, Upper Franconia has the world’s greatest density of breweries, and is also famous for its churches, ancient cities, quaint villages, and gently rolling forested hills that are called Franconian Switzerland.
Sure enough, when my forefathers and foremothers left Germany for a better life in the New World, they settled in a remote, rural mountainous hamlet in Pennsylvania called Swissmont.
When my maternal grandfather, the oldest of 16 children, and his siblings and parents lived under one roof in Swissmont when he was young, the house language was German.
My maternal grandparents played a huge role in my life. To this day, my grandfather’s picture is next to my computer at work. Another picture close by shows him and his father in their Sunday best on a wooded piece of land that was their farm.
I first visited Upper Franconia as a young teenager as part of an exchange program. It was actually my first trip to Europe. When I spoke German with my grandfather’s intonation, people looked at me directly and a bit puzzled. Then they would say, “You might be from here, but you speak like the old people do.”
That was nicer than being lost which I promptly was a few days later. The exchange students and our teachers were taking in the sights of the glorious town of Bamberg. I accidentally stayed behind and missed the bus to the nearby community of Memmelsdorf where many students, including me, were staying with host families.
I started walking and, seven miles later, found my host family pretty easily although I had been in Germany for the first time for all of three days. I later found out that generations of ancestors had traveled the exact same route on religious pilgrimages.
Years later, when I was living in Austria, I visited cousins still living in Upper Franconia — the branch of the family that stayed behind in the Old World. Many still farmed land they scratched out an existence on for centuries. I’ll never forget taking a train in my early 20s to visit these cousins. At the time I was living in a monastery, and even though the train from Vienna was only about four hours away, it seemed much further. It was night, and the rolling hills reminded me of Swissmont.
A few days later, celebrating Christmas Eve in a small village church, my aunt who was actually my third cousin leaned toward me and said, “You’re kneeling in the same spot where your ancestors going back to the 1500s have prayed.” I’ll never forget the moment!
Today, I frequently see advertisements for folks interested in researching family history. Some of the marketing includes catchy phrases like “You could be related to royalty or nobility!”
Guess what! I know my roots and could not be prouder of them. We didn’t live in castles. In fact, in Upper Franconia, the farm animals live in stalls right next to the family home. Swissmont, Pennsylvania, is pretty remote. When I was young, the winding dirt roads were mostly familiar only to those who lived or had family in the region.
But now in Honolulu I share a home with my prince (my husband) and our princess where the neighbors are so close that when one sneezes, I say “Bless you.” Sometimes they thank me. It still feels like a castle to me! In our home I keep my grandfather’s rosary draped over a reproduction of an Albrecht Dürer print. He was, you guessed it, from Upper Franconia.