Here is a sneak peek! Enjoy!
By Brianna Lee McKenzie
Enchanted by the assurance of free land in Texas, many German immigrants crossed the great Atlantic Ocean despite the waves of change that were predestined to relentlessly replace their idealistic dreams with challenging realities. Diligently, they struggled for balance upon the undulating deck of the ship that carved a course across the ocean, for they were determined to carve their own destiny in the unyielding Texas soil. For many, their excursion had just begun when they had set foot on the sandy beach. But for those unfortunate souls who had hoped to continue inland and claim the land that had been promised to them, their journey ended at Indianola…
“I can see it!” Marty Hirsch squealed with delight at the shoreline that slowly rose above the waves as her father held her up to the wooden bow of the ship. She curled her fingers around the cylindrical post that supported the railing and she turned her face to show Papa how thrilled she was to finally see land again. Oh, she had seen Florida as they had passed between the peninsula and the island of Cuba on their way to the Gulf Coast and toward their ultimate destination. However, she had not been impressed to watch it bob in front of the ship and then slip into the distant horizon behind them. But the sight of Texas and its promise for a bright and exciting future for her and her family was so exhilarating that she could hardly contain her enthusiasm.
Hans Hirsch smiled contentedly at his seven-year-old daughter and kissed her head before she turned it again. His eyes followed her gaze and he, too, was mesmerized by the far-away waves that lapped at the sand that flickered in the sunlight, waves that reminded him of a child reaching for the unreachable stars with inquisitive hands and coming back with shimmering specks that trickled through tiny fingers of hope, leaving only a dusting of prospective success. He stood tall and proud, steadying his body against the swaying of the planks beneath his feet as Marty clung to his neck with her arm while she squirmed in gleeful animation at the adventure that was yet to come.
His smile faded when he thought of her twin sister, who was more than a little affected by the thrashing of the waves upon their ship and who had spent the entire voyage either lying in their berth or hanging her delicate head over the chamber pot in anticipation of another bout of ship sickness. Dry land, motionless land was what he knew his other daughter looked forward to as she wasted away below while Mama tended to her. Poor, dear Greta, weak and frail, sickly and thin while her twin sister thrived with vibrant vitality as if all of the body’s tenacity to flourish had been transferred from the weakest to the strongest in the womb where one’s destiny is initially decided. That magical mirror, a distorted reflection of one to the other, betrayed Greta’s love of life, the bold inner strength that she kept locked away deep in her devoted soul, a gift to her double as if Marty needed any more courage to survive. But Greta’s strength was her loving and kind, tender and merciful, compassionate and gracious nature while her sister was brash and boisterous, haughty and hardhearted, speaking her mind without regard to whether or not her words would hurt someone else.
Hans wished that she could be more like her sister in that respect, for Greta only spoke if she had something kind to say. But his Marty, his impetuous Marty was his favorite despite Greta’s gentleness, despite his pity for the helpless girl who clung to Mama for affection and warmth. Marty’s fervent clapping took his weary mind off of her sister’s misery and he threw back his head and laughed at the girl’s zealous charisma.
This child and her twin were the reason why he had joined the thousands of others who had taken up the mission to journey to the hill country of Texas, bringing their families, their hopes and their dreams to a territory that promised prosperity, security and freedom. They were all willing to risk their lives, the lives of their loved ones, everything that they possessed in this earthbound world in order to travel across the ocean from their homeland of Germany to this auspicious new land. But more so was the Hirsch family, whose mounting expectations and life’s devastating tribulations rose and fell with the tides of time.
Hans Hirsch had gathered up his wife Adelaide and twin daughters Marthe and Margarethe, along with all of the most precious belongings that he could afford to ship along with them. They had boarded the vessel that was heading to the Texas shoreline and the promise that awaited them and they had eagerly left behind the life that they had known.
According to books and articles published in Europe, which Hans had read with great enthusiasm, this new country, which had won its independence from Mexico only thirteen years before, boasted vast lands as far as the eye could see; lands that spewed fresh, clean water and sprinkled the earth with gleaming gold and silver. Hans was not interested in the glistening riches that supposedly soaked the very ground where they were to live. Instead, he was hoping for a new start in this land of promise without the high taxes that had forced him and his business partner to leave their native homeland. He had followed the large number of immigrants that had heard of The Society of German Immigration’s attempt at easing overpopulation in their own country to the new country, The Republic of Texas. So, with high hopes and even higher aspirations, Hans had sold what he could in order to raise the money for their journey and they had embarked on a voyage that would ultimately change the lives of every member of the Hirsch family.
“The land will be free, Mama. The Society has promised us,” Hans later reiterated to Adelaide while she cradled Greta’s sleeping form in her arms. “Free from taxes, free from religious persecution and would cost not a penny of our own money!”
Adelaide shook her solemn head and kissed the girl’s tiny forehead before she gently laid her on the berth. She knew the story, for her husband had repeated it thousands of times in an effort to convince her to uproot her family and move to the new land. She knew that over three million acres in west-central Texas had been purchased from Henry Fisher and Burchard Miller, an endowment of land that came to be known as the Fisher-Miller Grant. She understood that her family had been promised 320 acres of land, plus transportation across Texas to that free land; a house, household furnishings, utensils, and farming equipment; churches, hospitals, roads and general provisions for their welfare; all for no price at all—or so it seemed. What physical price must her family pay in order to claim this land, she wondered as she looked into the shining face of her husband before she kissed his cheek and turned to lay with her sickly daughter.
“We’re almost there, Mama,” he told Adelaide as she closed her eyes against his heartfelt promises. “All will be well.”
Hans smiled at his loving wife as sleep quickly took her back home in her dreams. She would do anything for him, he was certain. She would die for him, would die for her children. But could she endure losing those that she loved? He could not perceive such a dreary thought. He shook it off and left her to her smiling slumber.
He walked up the creaking steps to the outside deck, shielding his eyes against the blinding sun. There were many different classes of people aboard, he recognized while he walked among those milling around the wooden planks. Many of these immigrants to Texas were poor with no land, like so many of the serfs that had been given money for their journey by The Society. Or they were over-taxed landowners like himself and his partner Sven Reinhold, who had been assured that this new land would be tax-free. But, no matter how they obtained their passage, they were all eager to start new lives and all seemed concerned with their own future, so they paid him no mind when he sauntered to the rail at the stern of the vessel and gazed toward the open ocean. Choosing to suppress the thrill of excitement that the sight of the new land stirred inside his heart, he avoided going to the side of the ship that crept ever closer to shore, delivering him and his family to their definitive destiny.
And yet, his mind whirled with anticipation. Full of dreams of farming his land and opening his blacksmith shop, he was unaware, as were his fellow passengers on that ship, that Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, who had gone ahead of the first group of immigrants to prepare for their arrival in Texas, had misused most of the money that they had been promised for their survival in the new land. Moreover, they were never informed that the funds had dwindled to a diminutive figure. All they cared to know was that this man, their German Moses, would lead them to their Promised Land.
Staring at the blue horizon with eyes glazing over in recollection, Hans was reminded of the enthusiasm by the Society’s representatives while he and the other immigrants had been told, long before they had embarked on this journey, that Prince Carl had realized that the huge land grant in central Texas was too far from the coast for them to travel to without becoming fatigued. Wondering now, as he sucked in a long breath of sea air, if his frail little Greta would be able to make the long and arduous trek to their new home. He prayed silently that she would, at least, make it to the way station that had been established in a town named New Braunfels where they would rest until spring and then continue on.
Days later, upon their arrival on the Texas coast, they learned that Prince Carl had been replaced by Baron Ottfried Hans con Meusebach, who had dropped his title upon stepping foot in Texas and had became known simply as John O. Meusebach. Their new leader had landed only months before their ship entered its port at Indianola and, although there was very little financial aid existing, he was determined to relocate the settlers comfortably, if not prosperously with the impending procurement of the promised gold and silver. But word got around the six thousand immigrants who had no means of building shelter in that marshy wasteland that there was no money to purchase food or even canvas for make-shift tents and what’s more, there were no towns nearby in which to buy these things. Undaunted by this dilemma, they were certain that their future was not as bleak as it seemed.
“He will be back soon,” Hans told Adelaide while she sewed an improvised covering for their pit of a home out of fabric from her dresses. “They say that he has gone farther inland to start another settlement. He is naming it Fredericksburg.”
“How far inland?” Adelaide asked before she bit the thread and snapped the fabric to check her handiwork.
“All the way to the hill country. They say it is beautiful there, Mama!” Hans said with enthusiasm. “Sparkling granite rocks and waterfalls, and the wildflowers and trees flourish in the rich Texas soil! There are animals that we have never beheld, rivers and lakes and prairies as far as they eye can see!”
Despite the many attributes that the new land boasted, Mama was not concerned with them. She was more interested in the time that she and her family would have to stay on the shores of the country that seemed to want them gone. With the relentless rain followed by the broiling sun, the coast of Texas was not welcoming at all to the new settlers. She was ready to move on, to build their home out of the supposed boundless trees and to start a garden in the ‘rich soil’ so that she could feed her starving children.
“How long will he be gone?” Mama asked with a high pitch to her voice. “When will he come back for us? When will we build our new home?”
Hans chuckled and told her, “You sound like the girls, my Addie.”
She pushed air through her lips, sending the sewing needle flying across the tiny hut that they had dug with kitchen utensils for their temporary home. She answered while her husband searched for the needle by picking through the grass clippings that they had laid on the ground to ward off the damp coldness that seeped into their bones while they slept, “Better the questions come from me than them!”
“Yes, Addie,” Hans chuckled again while he handed her the needle. “They talk together, the same words, the same phrases as if they are one person.”
“And they can be quite loud while doing so,” Mama mused.
“That, they can,” Papa agreed, turning his head toward the sleeping forms of the twins.
His mind wandered back to the meeting that had been held for the heads of households the first night that they had arrived. He thought of the other families who had dug their own home-holes in the marsh after they were all told that there were no picks or shovels. As Hans had done, others had hunkered down in their make-shift shelters and they waited for their leader to return.
“What of the treaty with the Indians?” Adelaide’s voice broke into his reverie.
“They say that Meusebach made the treaty with the Comanche Indians who inhabit the area where we are to be settled. They say that he traveled all the way to the San Saba River to meet with the three chiefs, Santa Anna, Old Owl and Buffalo Hump and to sign an agreement that we will all live in peace, if not harmony.”
His wife shivered at the thought of living amongst savages, but Hans waved her misgivings away and continued, “For the sum of three-thousand dollars, the Comanche tribes agreed to allow us into their region without being harmed. But in exchange, they expect to be able to enter our settlement without being harassed.”
“I’ll not be harassing them,” Adelaide assured him with a huff. “And I tell you this, my dear husband, if they lay a hand on my girls, they’ll get the long end of my broom across their backs!”
Hans had to laugh. Mama never raised a hand against their daughters but she was ready to protect them from anyone or anything. What a badger she could be when provoked by danger!
“I’m sure they won’t, Mama,” he said with a chuckle. “And we’ve been promised by the chiefs that they will fight against our enemies, but they expect us to do the same for them.”
“Fighting a fight that you had no cause for?” She spouted, her face alight with growing ire at the thought of defending a race of people that might eventually turn on them.
“If that is what it takes for peace among us, Mama, that is what we will do,” Hans said with a sigh while he wiped his sweat-speckled brow.
“Are you feeling well, Papa?” Adelaide put aside her sewing and went to her husband’s side. “You are burning up, Hans! Get yourself to bed and under those blankets. I’ll fetch some warm broth for you.”
“I’m all right, Mama,” he argued but he did not protest when she ushered him onto the pallet next to the one that their daughters slept upon.
Weeks later, when Meusebach finally arrived back in Indianola, his appalled exhibition of outrage that the settlers had no living quarters echoed across the Texas coastline. He was equally aghast that they had dug holes in the ground for shelter and his indignation could be heard over the deluge of incoming waves on the shore. And the fact that they had been living on small game and fish because they had not been given more sufficient means to hunt riled him almost as much as the indication that the only drinking water available was rainwater caught in buckets.
And while he walked around the camp of starving immigrants, they could see the concern for their welfare on his shocked face. Many of them suffered from malaria and dysentery caused by the continuous downpour of rain that filled their home-holes with murky and deadly water that sloshed in muddy puddles up to their knees. These diseases had killed many of the settlers before he came to their rescue.
Hans Hirsch was one of the victims who had taken ill from malnutrition and fever. His vigor had been washed away by the rain, drowned by its constant thudding barrage as he’d trudged the sludge that was laughingly referred to as sand. He had foraged for rats and slung traps for rabbits to feed his family but he’d unselfishly refused to eat any of it himself. And when the fever attacked him like a turbulent hurricane, he fell like a timber in his illness. He lay in his soggy bed, shivering with the ailment that had taken over his starving body. But he smiled proudly at John O. Meusebach as the man laid a palm upon his shoulder and promised him that there was a better life just a few hundred miles away and all Hans had to do was to cling to life long enough to claim his land.
His family waited by his side, hoping that Hans would have the strength to continue to their new homeland while their leader began the preparations to move the immigrants onward. Seeing the fear in his wife’s gray eyes and encouraged by Meusebach’s words, Hans summoned the vigor to rise from his deathbed and to climb into the wagon bed to be carried from Indianola to New Braunfels.
“Let’s go home, family,” Hans said enthusiastically while they hugged him and then covered him with the quilt that Mama had made from the hut covering that she had sewed a few weeks before.
Little Marty Hirsch narrowed her eyes at the pathway ahead of them, which had been formed by wagon wheels from earlier settlers, or maybe the leader that Papa seemed so proud to know had made the trail on his way to their new settlement while they had waited for him to come back for them. The tracks reached all the way to the distant horizon, curving around to avoid what she surmised were dried puddles and boulders. But as they walked onward, she realized that the tracks had skirted around skeletons and rotting wagons.
Along the one-hundred-fifty mile journey, many of the settlers in this party fell in their tracks as they walked alongside the few wagons that were lucky enough to be pulled from the mire of the muddy marshland. Marty watched in horror as the people and animals were left behind, like the tracks from the wheels, to become a permanent part of this heartless land. Stark skeletons of men, women and children dotted the prairie alongside the bones of oxen, giving the trail to New Braunfels an ominous impression to those who would follow the first wave of settlers, a pristine path of bleached bones unmistakably marking the way. Of the six thousand original immigrants, who walked alongside Marty and her family, only fifteen hundred survived the march from the coast to their new settlement, a number that the seven-year-old could not fathom, but one that she knew was less than it should be.
But more were coming from their native land to replace those who had died and more would die on their way to the Promised Land, as they had come to call this hopeful new territory. And, like the ones who walked with her and those who had fallen in their tracks, they were all willing to risk lives, limbs and fortunes on this remarkable endeavor called the Fisher-Miller Grant.
There was no doubt in Marty’s mind that there would be someone to replace poor Papa as she laid a cool cloth to her father’s feverish forehead. Another father or mother, a sister, brother or friend would walk that same long journey as she had, or would become ill upon arrival in this new land, as Papa had. Possibly, the next column of immigrants would survive and their bones would not show the way to the new settlement, but those people would live on to honor those who had died.
She looked out the back of the wagon at her twin sister, Margarethe and her mother, who stumbled on a rock and was righted by the hand of her husband’s business partner Sven Reinhold. They were thin, she thought as she sniffed away the fear that gripped her heart. At least Greta had recovered from her ship sickness, as Papa had called it. But, Mama would never make it if she did not find food to eat and a place to rest her weary feet. Greta would simply die if something happened to Mama or Papa, for even though her twin was her mirror image; her sister was weak and frail.
Then, she tuned back to look at Papa, who had opened his eyes and who stared at her as if she was his lifeline. His face lit up with a smile that made her think that he was going to recover and he raised his feeble hand to catch hers in his palm.
“Marty,” he sighed with great fortitude as he rolled his head on the pillow to face her. “You are my strong one. You have to make sure that Mama and your sister get to the Promised Land. I am afraid I won’t make it there myself.”
“No, Papa!” Marty argued while she squeezed his large hand in her tiny one. “You’ll get better. You’ll see your new land. You have to!”
Papa sighed again and let his head loll back on the pillow to stare at the canvas cover. His eyes followed the curving frame that held the heavy cloth in position above him and, in his mind; he equated his daughter to that sturdy metal apparatus, which seemed to be the backbone of the wagon that carried him. He moved his head back to face her and he bored his eyes into hers before he begged her, “Promise me, Marty. Promise that you will be strong and take care of your Mama and Greta.”
All Marty could do was nod, for the tears that threatened to spill over her dark lashes seemed to halt her speech. In her faithful heart, she knew that Papa expected her to take his place in the family no matter how infantile she may appear on the outside, for her inner strength seemed to exude from her miniscule body and declare her worthiness to her father as a replacement for his capacity to bind this family together and to deliver it to the land of promise.
Hans Hirsch patted her hand and closed his eyes again as he let out a breath of liberation. Then he opened his mouth to whisper as if he had no more energy to say it aloud, “Go on, Marty. Go to the Promised Land. Live my dream for me.”
When the empty silence enveloped her, Marty leaned over to cry upon Papa’s barely moving chest and she promised, “I will, Papa! I will!”
Then she kissed his forehead and looked out the back of the wagon at her poor, sickly sister and felt a tug of appreciation for her own tenacity to carry on. Yet still, there was a tiny bit of jealousy for that skinny little red-headed girl who carried no burden on her frail shoulders, no yoke of responsibility, no encumbering obligation to assume the role of the foundation of her family.
But there was great love for her twin in her heart and she took on that role with pride and principle. Greta needed her, as if they were joined by some invisible bond where one could not exist without the other. And that bond gave Marty the drive to undertake the task of taking care of her mirror image, no matter the cost to herself.
“Greta,” she called to the emaciated girl who stooped to pick up a flower. “You look tired.”
Her sister skipped ahead of her mother and hopped up as Marty pulled her inside the wagon. That same cheerful smile on Greta’s ever-present optimistic face greeted her sister in the shadows of the canvas cover.
“I’ll stay with him, Marty,” Greta said, her face turning concerned for Papa. “You should stretch your legs a little.”
“Thank you, Greta,” Marty said with a smile at her twin sister who seemed to read her mind. She eased her thin body over the planks of the wagon gate and stepped onto the hard ground below. She almost lost her balance when tufts of Texas grass snatched at her feet when they hit the ground. But she regained her composure and watched her wagon continue to move forward while she stood on the endless mound that separated the twin tracks in the unyielding soil.
She walked beside Mama for some time, drawing idle conversation from her in order to ease her mother’s worries about Papa. She took Mama’s hand and swung it in hers, extracting a miniscule smile on Mama’s withering face. But when Mama told her to run ahead to bring back some water, she did as she was told.
As she neared the wagon, Marty saw her sister’s stricken face and she knew that Papa was gone. Greta had not screamed to Mama or to Marty when she had witnessed poor Papa passing away. Instead, she had crawled to the edge of the wagon gate to quietly sit and stare, as if frozen in her grief. With a tear-stained face, she blankly watched the winding row of wagons and walking people that followed her. And that was where her sister found her, clinging to the rigid boards of the wagon gate as if they could somehow give her strength.
When Marty saw her sister’s fearful eyes, her heart melted. She scurried over the gate and hugged her fragile sister, whispering comforting words into her ear. Then she took Greta’s hand and they knelt beside Papa to pray for his soul. Opening her eyes again, Marty wondered if she should tell Mama right away or wait until dark when the wagons stopped for the night. She leaned over to cover Papa’s lifeless face with Mama’s quilt. Deciding to wait, she sat with him, remembering the long journey from Germany and then from the Texas coast that the family had taken in order to get to their new home. And knowing that Papa would never see it, she silently vowed to him as he took his final journey that she would tell him all about it when she saw him in Heaven.
She leaned close to Papa’s ear and promised, as if he could hear her from way up there in his new Promised Land, she whispered, “I’ll live your dream, Papa.”
“What did you tell him?” Greta asked, wringing her hands in her skirt.
“I told him good-bye and that I love him,” Marty lied.
Greta repeated the actions that her sister had made and whispered into her father’s unhearing ear, “I love you Papa. I won’t say good-bye. I’ll see you in Heaven.”
That night was filled with mournful sobs from the three females who huddled in the wagon bed around the man whose dream had all but died with him. Mama dressed Papa in his finest clothes after the girls had washed his thin body, her frail hands lovingly pressing on the coat that covered his chest as if this feeble fabric would warm his cold and lifeless limbs. A woeful sigh brought tears of anguish from her heartbroken body and she fell across him, losing all tenacity to raise her prone frame and continue with life.
Marty looked at Greta and wondered if they were about to lose their mother as well and if she was going to have to take care of her twin sister all by herself. The thought of carrying on, being both mother and father to a child who is the exact same age as herself made her suddenly weak with fear. But, just as she summoned the courage to undertake that endeavor, Mama drew in a breath of resolve, pulled her body erect and cleared her throat.
“He would want us to go on,” she announced as if telling them a bedtime story. “On to the land that we were promised. He would want that, I’m sure.”
In her mind, Adelaide wondered where else they would go except to the new land. They certainly could not go back, not by themselves at least, without an escort. Onward was their destiny and they would make that journey in honor of the man who had followed a dream that, for him, could only be realized beyond the Pearly Gates on the golden streets of Heaven. He had found his Promised Land. Theirs lay far, far away beyond the horizon that swayed with the heat of the sun and the rippling waves of the grass that stretched eager blades toward the cloudless sky.
“Yes, Mama,” Marty agreed and remembering those same words from Papa’s trembling lips she squared her shoulders with the resolve to make it so. She looked at Greta, who had ducked her face into the collar of her blouse. “He would want us to go on, wouldn’t he Greta?”
Greta’s sad and fearful blue eyes looked up at her while her chin remained planted on her chest as she muttered with a shrug, “I suppose.”
“Of course he would,” Marty retorted with her nose wrinkled in exasperation at her sister’s pathetic helplessness. Then, she felt compelled to hug her sister, to wipe away the sadness that welled in her eyes. Her thin arms embraced her mirror image while deft fingers swiped away the tears in her own mournful eyes.
“Yes he would,” Mama agreed with a nod that neither girl saw, for they had pulled apart only far enough to stare at each other in silent bonding.
All fell silent as the night drained its darkness into the morning clouds. Before the wagons began their daily drive westward, Mama told the wagon master of her loss. But, since there was no time for ceremony or even to dig him a proper grave, he was pulled from their wagon and dropped on the ground beside it.
Dressed in his best clothes with his Bible in his hands, he lay straight and proud, facing the new homeland while the wagon left him behind, taking with it the family that he had cherished and the dreams that he had envisioned long ago when this promise of free land without taxes or persecution had been offered to him. At that moment, the land that he would forever own, it turned out, was the five-foot-nine by three-foot patch of Texas dirt that he lay upon, but he claimed it with eternal pride.
Marty stood beside her father for some time while the other wagons ambled past her and she cursed the people who walked beside them for being alive and well and able to go on. Her tiny heart beat wildly in her chest and her face streamed muddy tears of both anger and grief. Then, with one final kiss on Papa’s cheek, and the resolve to make his dream come true, she ran to catch up with her wagon and the only family that she had left here in this harsh and hateful land.
And as she slowed to a walk, she vowed right then and there that she would take care of Mama and Greta and that they would never be sad again. She knew in her heart that she was taking on a task that would prove to be daunting if not terrifying, for having to become an adult at the tender age of seven was frightening in itself and having to care for a frail sister and a mournful mother would certainly take a lot out of her. But she was prepared for the mission that she had imposed upon herself and her small body seemed to raise itself three inches in her resolve to watch over the ones who needed her.
Marty Hirsch swore that she would face any adversity, any future tragedy or heartache in order to insure that Mama and Greta were safe and happy. She vowed to Papa, if not to herself, that his vision of owning land, land that no one could take away from him and land that would require no price except the sweat of his brow, the labor of his body and the love in his heart, would be realized by her growing determination to make that dream her own.
Tragedy seemed to be overcome by time’s never-ending journey to renew itself by bringing forth new life. While death declared war upon the settlers, they somehow fought back by creating new members to love and cherish, replacing those lost on the long journey from Germany to the Promised Land. But more often than not, the loss of a loved one seemed to loom like a dark cloud of sadness upon the grief-stricken families that made up the town of New Braunfels. Heartache had certainly not passed by the Hirsch family during the long years since they had first set foot on Texas soil.
When Papa died that first year, Marty thought that there could be no going on without him, no walking forward and no happiness would follow her. But when she and Mama and her twin sister Greta finally stopped with the wagons and the other immigrants from Germany, she knew in her young heart that the surrounding countryside would cradle them in its beauty. And, she realized, with an uplifted spirit, that if this picturesque new locality did not heal their hearts, it would certainly heal their aching bones.
But there was no rest for the settlers, for they needed to build shelter, homes for the weary and hearths for the freezing families in the newborn town. Everyone helped in this endeavor and everyone worked as one body, one soul and one entity until all were cozy in their own little abodes. Some were put into communal housing until smaller homes could be built for them. But by winter time, all were under roof, something that they had not experienced since their first day in the new country.
Marty and her family were settled into a large building with two other families who had also lost the heads of their households. Each family took its own private space in the structure, which was a diminutive area cordoned off by blankets that had been hung over ropes. This overcrowded confinement was fine with Marty, for she and Mama and Greta felt quite comfortable in their small quarters inside the communal dwelling. It seemed like home to Marty and home was a word that she had longed to say in her heart and on her lips since she had left the one where she had lived back in Germany.
That home where she had been born seemed so far away, so long ago that Marty could not recall any part of it. All of her memories, both good and bad, had been replaced by the seemingly endless ride on the rolling waves of the ocean and then the cold and wet weeks on the shores of Texas, followed by the long and treacherous walk to the town that the older people called New Braunfels. It had all been gobbled up by the boundless grief of losing Papa and the trepidation of facing this new adventure without him to guide her and to take care of her mournful family, a role that she had lovingly assumed that dreadful day on the prairie while life had passed her by.
But life seemed to renew itself as time elapsed and Mama’s heart was somehow healed by the loving arms of Papa’s business partner Sven Reinhold. Marty did not complain about the union, for seeing Mama smiling again made her love the new man in their life, even though he was not new at all to them. Her new step-father, whom she had known since she was a baby, was a loving and dear man to her and she could not think of a more perfect man to replace her Papa in her life, if not in her heart.
Sven built a new home for them on the land that had been deeded to him, which lay just a mile from town. Being a married man with a family to provide for, he had been granted over three hundred acres to farm. He tilled the rocky dirt from sun up to sun down until it was planted and waiting for the sun and the rain to make a crop out of it before he rode into town to rebuild the business that he and his former partner had created before their journey to Texas.
As a blacksmith, a cooper and a carpenter Sven had been Papa’s partner in the old country. Together, they had formed their business in the little town of Wasserburg, Germany on the Inn River where they had not only forged tools and farming equipment but beautiful tin-ware and copper kettles. In his tiny new shop on the edge of New Braunfels, Sven not only made harness rings, plows, shovels, and other farming implements, but he also fashioned ornate bowls, kettles, pots and other fine household utensils. His new business brought in enough money for him to build a bigger house by the time the twins turned fifteen. Together, the family lived in the new house until the girls became wives and moved into their own homes.
Marty married Elias Ingram when she was nineteen, after she had studied diligently for her teacher’s certificate and after she had established a means of supporting herself if she was ever expected to do so. She loved him because of his intellectual formality and his elegant charm, which propelled him into politics and ascended them into the upper crust of society. But because he was a lawyer and spent most of his time either in court or courting political allies, she rarely saw him, which made her eventually hate the lavish lifestyle that she had married into.
Elias had studied at West Point and Harvard University before he had come back home to New Braunfels as a stark opposite of the boy who had left his meager farm years before. And when the Civil War started, he joined the Southern Rebels because of the Confederate Conscription Law, which had demanded that all men enlist in the Confederate Army or face death and loss of lands. He left his wife, hoping that his loyalty to the South would indemnify their civic status and personal welfare, only to be killed in action a few months later, leaving Marty with more misery than she cared to combat. And as the months waned into years, her large house became lonely and empty, an overwhelming replica of her broken heart. The echo of her own voice grew distasteful and repugnant to her solitary ears in that big, lonely mansion. Many times, she found herself gravitating back to the house that Sven had built for them, where love reverberated in every room.
Two years after Elias was killed, Marty sold the estate for a smaller sum than it was worth. But leaving it behind, along with its memories, was worth every penny that she’d been paid for it. She rented a little house near Sven’s blacksmith shop and she would stop to visit him on her way to teach at the school every morning and then again after school. Her overwhelming sense of loneliness seemed to be cured by her stepfather’s company and having someone to whom she could tell her troubles was certainly a godsend.
As the years passed, Marty spent more time with the man who had won Mama’s heart and his merry enthusiasm seemed to heal her, as it probably had done for Mama. Each day, after she had moved into her tiny new home, she and Sven would talk and her mood would be transformed into cheerful optimism by his encouraging conversations.
She so missed having a man to talk to, any man, and Sven became a suitable substitute for the banter that she craved. And every morning, she walked away from the blacksmith shop thankful that Mama had found happiness with this man and deep in her heart, Marty wished that she would find a man who was not afraid to speak his mind or to stick out his chest against any adversity. Being strong and resilient and she hoped—no, she expected her next mate to be tougher and feistier than she, yet she realized that she needed him to be gentle and loving toward her, like Sven was to Mama.
Elias was neither of these things. Elias was filled with gigantic words that spilled from his mouth like a spewing waterfall that thrashed the earth below but still sparkled with a rainbow-like glow. He was stiff and staunch, prim and proper. He replaced his boyhood charm, which he believed would get him nowhere in life, with a haughty air of importance that he flaunted with his every utterance. He nullified his inadequate background by making and spending money and by entertaining the wealthiest of New Braunfels’ inhabitants. But he was never demonstrative in his feelings toward his wife except when they lost their unborn children. In his own rigid way, he comforted her, which made her love him all the more despite his tepid touch when he held her in his arms. And she knew that he loved her even though he hardly told her so, for his eyes reflected the admiration that she knew that he felt for her. And she loved him. She loved him because he showered her with gifts of imported fineries, furs and jewels and all the things that she had been deprived of in her childhood, things that Mama had been deprived of and that Marty wished that Mama could have enjoyed. But things that Marty turned her back on when she walked away from her mansion.
She knew that Mama was happy with Sven, happier than she remembered her mother being with Papa. Marty could recall only a few arguments between Mama and Papa but Mama had rarely smiled for Papa the way that she smiled for Sven Reinhold. It must have been his charm and wit that caused such delight in Mama’s heart, for Papa Sven made Marty and Greta smile as well. Marty realized that Sven’s jovial relationship with Papa was why her father had come home every evening with a song on his lips and a grin on his face.
All Marty remembered about the happiness that Papa had brought out was that joy which he had cultivated in his daughter’s adoring heart. Elias could not generate that same kind of bliss, but he could bring out a sort of joy that made her feel appreciated, wanted and needed. And she was happy just being that. Until he died.
Her twin’s married life ended much like Marty’s, with one exception. Greta married Gunnar Goldstein, a half-Jewish German boy who was gentle and caring and who worshipped her with his every breath. Gunnar, with his golden hair and sunny smile, seemed to light up any dark event with his exuberant disposition. He was an editor for the local newspaper, hoping to one day become a journalist. Greta was enchanted by the poetry that he had written for her and she kept them with her most precious possessions.
But, Gunnar sent poor Greta into a depression that even his memory could not shatter when he was killed in the Nueces Massacre in 1862 after he had joined with his fellow Germans in an attempt to preserve the Union’s hold on their state and to protest the Confederate’s conscription of the men of Texas. Gunnar was assigned by his commander to chronicle the advances of the Union Army against the Rebels. But when his regiment was attacked by an overpowering battalion of Southern soldiers, retreating was its only option.
His company of men, which called itself The Union Loyal League under the guidance of Jacob Kuechler from Fredericksburg, made their way toward the Mexican border, thinking that the Confederates would not chase them that far. But while they slept in their camp on the banks of the Nueces River, the Confederates attacked, killing most of them and hanging those who had survived. Many of the sleeping men were trampled to death by the horses’ hooves as they charged into the slumbering camp, the rest were shot in their bedrolls or while they attempted to surrender. Only a handful of the Germans escaped impending death by retreating across the Rio Grande River and into Mexico. All of the regiment’s records, including Gunnar’s journals were either confiscated or destroyed by the invaders. Gunnar Goldstein’s body was never buried because the Confederate Army called them traitors and threatened death to any who tried to cover them or to say a prayer over them.
Tragedy seemed to follow Marty and Greta, but more so did it follow Marty, for during her marriage to Elias, she suffered two miscarriages and a still birth. And then he left her to fight in the War only to be killed just three months after his enlistment, leaving her with no one but herself to love.
Greta was luckier, and by luckier, it only means that she had given birth to a daughter before her husband was killed. But at least she had something to remind her of her former happiness. At least Seraphina resembled her father in some way so that Greta could see his handsome visage in her little girl’s face and in the bouncy curls that danced around her little golden head.
Marty had nothing to remind her of Elias. All she had were the memories that floated around in her mind and tangled in a jumble of painful recollections in her broken heart. She was a widow with no children, no one to love her, no one to take care of her in her old age. And she had no prospects of filling that void, for she thwarted any suitor who looked her way.
No, she never wanted to love again. She would not take a chance of getting pregnant only to have the baby torn from her body, silent and still. She just could not go through that again, so she dared not find love in a man again for fear of heartache finding her yet again. Even loneliness for a man’s arms around her, his conversations, his company, was not enough to erase the fear of the emptiness that losing another child would cause deep in her soul. Her new promise to herself was that she would be a lonely widow for the rest of her life.