The First Link is Gone

Zita died. She, like many of my second cousins, lived in a small village in the Central Black Forest, Der Schwarzwald   . My wife and I visited her the first of June of this year. She was not well, but her smile belied her pain. She was the 2nd oldest of my cousins; I am 3rd oldest. It was our fifth trip to the village and we are always enriched on our visit there. This was the village of my grandfather who last walked those streets in 1882 as he headed off to America at the age of twenty-four.  Waiting for him in New York was his brother who left the village in 1871.

My grandfather left behind his father, step-mother, 9 brothers and two sisters. Zita surmised that he may have left because there were too many mouths to feed as well as the fact that, as the oldest child, he may not have relished the idea of being in charge of his many siblings. I do not know the reason because I never met my grandfather and my father seldom spoke of him. His brother fled Germany after being drafted into Bismarck’s war. When the authorities came to the village to round up the conscripts, his absence resulted in a penalty accessed  against the family- said to have been 500 Marks, quite a hefty sum in those days.  As a result, that American son was shunned by his German family. My grandfather’s departure was a lesser event.

My father never mentioned the village back in Germany and I only saw its name in a tattered address book which listed it next to my grandfather’s name. No street name. He did, however, have the names and addresses of other German relatives in Heilbronn and Koblenz, far from Der Schwarzwald . Our family would on occasion receive a letter from these places and I would be eager to snip the stamp and put with my stamp collection. In the mid 50’s we even had a ‘real German’ stay with us for a few days. She was not from the village and, as I recall, was a relative on my grandmother’s side.

One day in 2000 my mother, then 95, told me that she received a letter that morning from someone in Germany.  “Of course I can’t read it,” she said in her still strong, deep voice, “you or Miriam will have to.” I opened it and slogged through it with my pig-German vocabulary limitation and noted that it came from the Black Forest village of my grandfather. The city of Heilbronn was mentioned with a name altogether unfamiliar to me. It was signed, “Zita.” When my sister Miriam, a former high school German teacher, arrived and I asked her to translate this mysterious letter.

The letter stated that Zita had received a letter from a 90-year-old woman in Heilbronn who, it turned out, was the daughter of my grandfather’s next younger brother. She gave Zita the ‘last address’ she had for the American Eble family which, interestingly, was the address of my mother. My mother came to that very house in 1938 as a bride and luckily never moved out. The odds of two 90-something women from across the ocean having active addresses is astounding.  Within a year both women passed away.

Zita invited us to visit her and the Eble family in Germany. Why not? After all, I was to retire the next year and so, through several letters and a phone conversation with a younger English speaking relative, plans were made to visit the village where my grandfather, his father and his father lived. In Spring of 2002, my wife and a couple who became our travel partners, set off to meet Zita, her husband Matthias, her brother Felix and a whole slew of Ebles. Over our several visits to Germany, the stop at the home of Zita and Matthias, with her special meal and kuchen, was always the highlight of the trip. She was so welcoming, so vibrant and always interested in our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.



The photo is from our last and now final visit with Zita. Perhaps you can see in her face the excitement and warmth she embued. Bless her soul and, as she always ended her letters to me: May God (now) hold her in the palm of his hands.




We and they. Seems always to be the history of mankind. Tribes, groups, nations, cultures… But what if, here in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, the divide is acceleration, the term used by Thomas Friedman in his newest book, Thanks for being Late. Dumb title, great book. Friedman suggests that innovation is accelerating at such a rapid pace that we humans cannot match. Scientific knowledge, technology and the Internet have moved us at a rapid pace into the future such that we cannot catch up.  The result is chaos, angst and bewilderment on the part of many who do not go along with the ride. I am open to this acceleration even though I am in my mid 70’s; I always have been a dreamer and inventor. My elementary school yearbook predicted me as ‘the world’s greatest inventor.’ A bit ostentatious, but the seed was apparently sprouting back in 1955.

[to be continued]

There Are Witches in the Neighborhood!


I’ve never been to Salem, Massachusetts but I’ve read about the witch burnings there in the 1600’s. Religious fanatics not unlike today’s ISIS vigilantes. Same idiocy, different time and place. Halloween is a great time for witches to appear in the neighborhood- I’ve had a few show up at my door. Princesses, robots, Batman and  goblins too!  Lots of fun.

Yet what if there are people today who believe that there are real witches- witches living in the neighborhood! And what if there is a religious component to this? I heard a remarkable story of this exact scenario a few days ago. A Catholic priest who runs a parish within 20 minutes of my house believes exactly this! No kidding. There are several witnesses to this- all credible including a 14-year-old girl. In fact, she was accused of being a witch! And she didn’t even know this priest until she attended the funeral of her neighbor, a high school senior who tragically died of a brain tumor.

At communion time, this girl and her older sister, mother and grandmother waited for their row to be called, then proceeded up the aisle, received communion, then took their seats once again. Shortly thereafter, when communion ended, the priest unexpectedly left the altar and slowly walked into the assembly, looking carefully down each row, left and right. He stopped at the row where this family was sitting and said, “There you are!” (remember, this was a funeral service with grieving family and students) “You didn’t take communion properly,” he scolded, “you needed to place the host in your mouth before walking away!”

The young lady, now red faced and crouching in her pew, looked down at her shoes in embarrassment. The priest walked away and went on with the service. The grandmother, a good friend of ours, made a beeline to the altar area after the casket was in the hearse. She demanded an explanation from the priest as to why he singled out her granddaughter. Without blinking the priest said, “There are witches in the neighborhood!” And he went on, “They show up at communion and steal the host to use in their rituals!” “And my granddaughter?” “Well,” he went on,” because she did not place the host in her mouth and walked away…” The grandmother interrupted, “You suspected her of being a witch!” Holding his ground he replied, “Well, you never know these days,” and walked off.

i wish that this was fiction but it isn’t. Is it any wonder that the Catholic Church is seeing more and more empty pews? Clearly, that family will never set foot in church again and, when the incident spreads among the students, and it already has, those kids will be even more suspicious of maintaining a church relationship in their young adult years.

And the priest? Through an email several days ago, I gave him an opportunity to verify or correct this story but, not surprisingly, he did not respond.

This reminds me of the squelched story of several Toledo area priests who were themselves into satanic rituals. One of them, Gerald Robinson, was later convicted of the satanic murder of a Catholic nun. David Yonke, former Toledo Blade religion editor wrote a book about this, Sin Shame and Secrets.

Maybe there is another book awaiting copy about the delusional priest who believes that: There are Witches in the Neighborhood!

Rural v. Urban America

Several weeks ago I posted a photo of Red v. Blue America. Our nation appeared to be awash in crimson. Yet it is not, as the results of the recent election demonstrated.  A man on a 500 acre farm casts a single vote as does a woman in a 300 sq. ft. walk up in Brooklyn. Besides the obvious disconnect in the surrounding geography, these two, we are told, are disconnected in many of their values as well. Two completely distinct mindsets develop among our rural and urban citizens, not unlike the disconnect which the Founding Fathers observed and for which they wrote the voting regulations which first appeared in our Constitution.

Of course those voting restrictions were modified several times over the next 200 years to include non-landholding citizens, blacks, women  and younger voters. Eighteen-year-old black women living in an apartment were denied the vote in the first draft of the U. S. Constitution and several amendments thereafter.

Naturally we all learned this in American history class, but I find it relevant today in that, once again, there appears to be a widening divide or chasm opening between two distinct views of governance in the minds of our citizens. Yes, we citizens have always divided into two polarizing groups, but in this era I see something synister that moves beyond traditional, historic divisions. It appears that race and all that this issue suggests may be the underlying divisor.

Who among the readers knows what I am suggesting? Where do you see that race divides Blue America from Red America?



One Final Week

As I begin this first post, President Obama and his family are packing their belongings. After eight years of guiding the Ship of State through perilous waters, President Obama will turn off the lights and close the door of the White House. It was a calm and reassuring presidency. The calm, intelligent and steady hand of President Obama will sadly be replaced on January 20 by a man who in no way resembles our current president.

Nonetheless, this shall happen and we the citizens will hold our common breath. The previews were ghastly. The critics painted a terribly dark picture. So did I. And I have no reason to expect a different outcome than what was predicted.

This is more than merely a disagreement over politics; it goes much deeper. As I have watched and listened to Donald Trump over the past 18 months, I see a man with serious emotional and mental disorders. Few fully-functioning adult males behave in the manner we have observed in this man. No former American president has displayed the adolescent, cruel and self-aggrandizing characteristics as has been seen in Donald Trump. It is as if he is stuck in perpetual adolescence- those ugly embarrassing years we all wish to forget. Rather, Mr. Trump lives those forgettable times.

More than half of the nation’s voters did not vote for the man, which places this election into that rare category of presidential elections wherein the winner lost the popular vote. As a result, this president will begin his term with an asterisk next to his name. Yet, rather than accepting this fact, he has acted as if he received a mandate from our citizens. Wise and healthy adult males are not pretentious. They are honest and transparent. Mr. Trump is not.

Yet there is something else, something more serious. I suspect that Mr. Trump suffers from a mental illness. Of course I have no psychiatric training. I admit this openly. Still, there is something more worrisome  than suffering an adolescence-mire. Few fully-functioning adult males regularly wake up in early dawn to tweet their anger. What brain function elicits such behavior? Psychosis comes to mind and that ought to send chills down the spine of every cognizant citizen. What if this is true about the President of the United States? What does this mean for the nation? One can only guess and quiver.