Here are the final (and not fantastic) pictures from our weekend in California. First of all, a picture of me with my great-aunt Fritzi (whose 95th birthday is this Friday):
We haven't always had the best relationship - I wasn't usually able to live up to her high expectations - but she's softened measurably in recent years. It wasn't an easy visit, as she's hard of hearing and her heavy German accent combined with stroke-induced speech impediments made conversations difficult. Still, I'm glad we visited her. Her mind is still sharp as a tack, and she told us stories of her youth (until this visit, I either didn't know or had forgotten she was born in Poland). Some of her earliest memories are of fleeing with her family from Poland to Bucharest and finally to Austria because of World War I. Many years later, she was one of the members of my extended family fleeing from Germany during the early years before World War II. And despite this storied life, she doesn't think anyone would be interested if she wrote a book... We tried to convince her that her family would be interested, but I'm not sure how effective we were. I suppose we'll see.
Fritzi's son Joe lives near her, and we visited with him as well. He told us one story about his mother that, despite his own difficult relationship with her, had him choked up as he told it. Apparently, when Fritzi was pregnant with Joe in Germany, she was desperate to not give birth in Germany. She had arranged to go to Strasbourg in France for the last month or so of her pregnancy and give birth there. Her driver - a member of the Nazi party, as were most Germans at the time - was very kind to her and was driving her to Strasbourg. She began to feel unwell, and he began to look for a town in which to rest. Every town, however, had a sign up that said, No Dogs or Jews Allowed and so they had to keep driving.
I sincerely hope Fritzi's stories aren't lost, whether she writes them down herself or passes them along to people like Joe and other family members. Whether or not they'd ever be interesting to a larger audience, I can't help but believe there are plenty of members of the family who would love to hear them. And, frankly, though I know my nearly 7-year-old nephew couldn't care less right now, I think it's only right that he have the opportunity to hear his family's history later in his life when he might be curious.
Shifting gears completely, we were a little surprised to find that the previous occupants of our hotel room had apparently had irons for feet. Either that or the iron-footed monster had just passed through:
Okay, so there wasn't an ironing board in the room, and someone had clearly been a little careless with the iron. Still, I like the iron-footed monster story better.