Three years ago Darrell was swept up into the arms of God. So many sweet memories of him linger in my mind and heart.
Ticker tape parades, confetti and people filled the streets as our American soldiers returned from fighting the Nazi’s when WWII ended. For my Mother’s family it was a joyous day when her brother stepped off the train after fighting in Germany. For my Father’s family, who I’m sure were happy for those whose children returned, it had to be difficult knowing their Son would never return. For my Grandpa Gus, who was a German immigrant, there would be a silent sadness and quiet tears shed behind closed doors for his homeland and his family who remained in Germany. I can only imagine the anguish he had to feel when his oldest son was sent to fight the very people he loved.
The worst bombing of Hamburg, Germany (birthplace of my Grandpa Gus) occurred the last week of July 1943. Known as Operation Gomorrah, 9,000 tons of bombs were unleashed on the city by the RAF and USAAF. For 8 days and 7 nights more than seven hundred airplanes pounded the city with hundreds of bombs. Thousands of people rushed into the streets and to shelters. The fires that erupted turned the city into an inferno, even the air was on fire. Temperatures reaching over a thousand degrees created a 1500 foot-high tornado of super heated air. Citizens were burnt alive many running into the canals and small ponds to escape. Even there they were not safe as oil seeped into the water and sparks from the fires set the water ablaze. Many suffocated as the firestorm consumed all the oxygen. When it was over 42,600 people were killed and 37,000 wounded. The city would be hit more than 69 times by air raids before the war ended. Even the atomic bomb didn’t do as much damage as this grand city endured.
Grandpa Gus’ sister, Grace, lived in Hamburg at this time. I have always had a yearning to know if she survived the war. Knowing what occurred there I felt it unlikely, and yet some inner feeling made me want to believe that she did. From all accounts the last communication with her was sometime in the 1930’s. These are the things I ask myself why I never asked Grandpa about or any other part of his life in Germany. What I know has been handed down to me by my Mother and Aunties. So many details unknown and never written down for the future generations.
I have lost count on the number of websites I have searched for any scrap of information that I could find to no avail. Would we ever know what happened to her? Is she somehow waiting to be found so that the information on Grandpa’s family could be complete?
Earlier this year I was blessed to have an unexpected distant cousin enter into my life. Spending countless hours and selflessly devoting his time to locating my ancestors, Kurt Bevensee, has given me something that cannot be measured – the gift of my families history and fate. Digging through old records, that I’m surprised survived the war, I now know more about my Great Aunt Grace than I ever thought possible. A few weeks ago he found her marriage record to her first husband, Hans Efftinge, whom she married on April 15, 1922. The date was extra special to me as that was the day my Mother was born. The information also provided a correction to her husbands name, who we thought all these years was Effinger. I learned that Hans Efftinge died in 1929 and that she remarried in 1931 to a man named Hartwig Wilhelm “Arthur” Mentzel. Kurt was able to obtain copies of both marriage records. The day I received an email from Kurt with a copy of Grace’s death certificate my heart was pounding as I read the date of her death. My eyes filled with the tears of my grandfather as I read that she had survived the war in spite of all odds – praise God – she survived! Grace died on October 15, 1950 at age 59. She did not have long life but I hope that it was a good life and filled with joy. Grace was laid to rest in the Friedhof Tonndorf Cemetery in Wandsbek, Germany. The same cemetery as her mother. Of course the lease has expired and her remains have been removed. It is believed that she had a son and daughter who I hope one day we will be reunited with. Arthur Mentzel lived a long life reaching the age of 81, he died on February 9, 1982 and is buried at the Alter Friedhof Cemetery in Wandsbek, Germany. If we had only known of him so many questions could have been answered.
My undying gratitude to Kurt Bevensee who helped complete the circle of life for the family of Paul Heinrich Gustav and Maria Charlotte Anna Bebensee nee Sievers.
About 10 years ago I read a book titled “God Uses Cracked Pots” by Patsy Clairmont. It’s a roll on the floor with laughter kind of book and if you haven’t read it and need a little humor in your life you will love this one, especially the gals.
One story in the book that I loved told about a day in her life when she was feeling particularly good about herself and had gone into town to do some shopping. As she was walking down the street several people in cars honk their horns and waved. She thought “wow” I really am look’n good! ,In the stores people were smiling at her. All this attention was reaffirming that she “was” look’n good. Then it happened, the reason they were all smiling and waving. As she walked by window she saw her reflection and stuck to the back of her dress was a pair of panty hose. Of course her version is much more hilarious than mine.
This leads me to my own “cracked pot” story. After my Mom passed away last year my Dad, Brother, Sister-in-Law and I started going out for brunch on Sundays. It’s great on many levels, we get caught up on each others lives and I think it’s something my Dad looks forward to. Plus anytime spent with family is a blessing.
As I’ve gotten older my bad habit of being a procrastinator has only gotten worse and I seem to be more distracted by my own little projects. Getting ready to go to brunch on Sundays is no exception. I allow myself barely enough time to get ready before I need to walk out the door. This last Sunday was no exception. I let myself get caught up in a photo project knowing full well that I wouldn’t have time to complete it before I needed to stop. Did that stop me – of course not. After all these years I know exactly to the minute how much time I need to shower, brush my teeth, throw a little make-up on and try to do something with my hair. Well I pushed the time envelope this last Sunday. The 10 extra minutes I spent on the computer would have made all the difference in the world to my actually getting out the door on time. And, yes if I’d actually brought up my clean clothes from the basement and put them in my closet that would have helped as well.
It seems the less time I have to do something the more things I take time to do. I mean really, I was already 10 minutes behind my starting point, but, I decided that my bathroom sink and counter needed to be cleaned. So I took time to do that all while the clock is ticking away. Now I need to be out the door no later than 10:40 to arrive on time and it’s now 10:30. Yikes! So because I can’t seem to bring my clean clothes from the laundry room I have to run down there to get something to wear. There’s just enough light down there so I don’t bother to turn on the light. I grab a blouse off the rack that I hang them on after they come out of the dryer. Throw it on real quick and run back upstairs. Coffee – I need my coffee! Where did I leave my travel cup? Ok, now it’s pushing 10:40. Travel cup is not in the car, not in the dishwasher, not by the coffee pot where I normally keep it. Oh ja, it’s up in the office, duh. I run back up the stairs grab my cup, fill it up, grab my purse and keys and out the door. Whew…..
We had a really nice brunch, good food, good conversation and then we all went our separate ways. Once home I was back at my project. Soon the hours passed and I decided I’d watch a little TV. Well these days staying awake through most of these programs is impossible. I woke up from my nap about 11 pm and decided I would check my emails, etc., but first I thought I’d put my PJ’s on and brush my teeth. Did I mention that not once since getting ready in the morning had I looked in the mirror?? Well….
As I stood in front of the mirror I looked – then looked again at myself. Oh, lordy! I looked again thinking it was just the sleepies still in my eyes from my nap. Nope what I was seeing was real. In my rush to get dressed I had put my blouse on inside out. I stood there shaking my head and kind of laughed, thinking my goodness lady you are getting feeble minded – TAGS GO ON THE INSIDE! I’m past the age of being embarrassed easily and I’ve learned to take most things with a grain of salt. But, the real kicker was that none of my lunch companions said a word to me about it. Didn’t they notice? Or maybe they didn’t want to embarrass me. No wonder those people were smiling at me as we left the restaurant.
Note to self: Tags go on the inside. And check the mirror before you leave home.
“Normal is just a setting on the dryer.”
by Patsy Clairmont
When I opened my email this afternoon I was excited to see that my distant cousin, Kurt Bevensee, had sent not one but four emails. I was anxious to open them because he has been generously spending time locating records for my Bebensee ancestors in Germany. I couldn’t wait to see what news he may have. As I realized what he sent I actually started to shake. An overwhelming feeling of sadness seemed to come over me from out of nowhere. I looked at each photograph, but had trouble focusing as my eyes started to fill with tears. It was as if I was plummeted to a time that was not my own. I felt surrounded by people I did not know but, the connection was so strong I knew I belonged. If you have never experienced this it may be hard for you to understand – and yes I know I tend to gush and go on, but this was a moment I did not expect.
I know so little about my Great Grandmother, Maria Charlotte “Anna” Bebensee, nee Sievers that I consume every morsel of information as if it were a feast. She was born, married, bore her four children in Wandsbek, Germany and lived all her life there and the nearby town of Eilbeck. Both towns are suburbs of Hamburg. Anna met my great grandfather, Gustav Bebensee, while working as a servant at the Bebensee home. A marriage that was not acceptable to his parents. After my great grandfather and their oldest son emigrated in 1898 to the United States, she made a living by taking in sewing and by all accounts struggled to keep her 3 remaining children fed. In a letter I have from 1899, I believe she was kind, compassionate and loved her children very much, beyond this I know nothing of her life. What I do know is that my grandpa would tear up when he spoke of her. I know that his entire life he felt a sense of guilt because he was so excited to get on the ship to come to America that he never told her good bye, never gave her one last hug nor said I love you one more time. Possibly the sadness I felt today was not mine but his.
Through the wonderful photographs that Kurt sent I was able to walk past the Friedhöfe Kapella Tonndorf (cemetery chapel), past the statue of the “Pilgrim”. I could follow the path, past the graves which are so beautifully kept with flowers. Then there it was not far from the tall hedges was where my Great Grandmother was laid to rest in March 1920 at the age of 53. Maybe I’m just sentimental, but knowing this has meant the world to me. There is a peace in my heart now as the longing for answers has finally come.
My grandfather’s sister, Margaretha (called Grace), was the only sibling to remain in Germany. According to the records that Kurt sent she paid for her mothers burial at a price of 60 Reich Marks. The records also indicate that she was still unmarried at the time of her mother’s death, which provides another small clue to her. Unfortunately the lease on the grave was only for 25 years, so sometime after 1945 her remains were removed and the plot was resold to another family. Today there is no one buried in this plot. (I’d almost like to believe she is still there – but, I know that is not the case.)
So to my Oma Maria Charlotte “Anna” Bebensee you are not forgotten – your life will be remembered through the stories past on for generations to come.
Maria Charlotte “Anna” Bebensee
February 14, 1867 – March 27, 1920
Laid to rest at Friedhöfe Tonndorf
I have no words that can fully express my gratitude to Kurt Bevensee for all he has given me by his tireless search for the records of my ancestors.
I think most of us wish there was a portal that we could travel through into the past to relive a special moment in time or just feel the warmth of those who loved us and who we loved that are no longer with us.
My search of the homestead was not about locating the land my ancestors farmed, because I knew where that was. It was a research trip to locate family documents, to touch them, see them and imagine the excitement that must have filled the moment for my family members. It was an opportunity to meet and spend time with people who share my blood, to get to know them and learn from them. But, most of all it was about reconnecting with memories that I hold close to my heart.
I knew returning to Hildreth would stir up memories and emotions from a time long past. I parked my car at the end of the main street and closed my eyes and I could envision the town the way it was when I was a child. I remember the town busy with people doing business at the I.G.A. store, and how the farmers would meet for coffee before they started their day. I could hear the church bell ringing calling everyone to Sunday service. I remember walking to Clint’s Tavern to see my Grandpa Bebensee and how he would let me pick out any candy bar that I wanted.
As I passed by the old creamery building I could feel my Grandpa Evers’ hand holding mine as we walked the half block from his back yard together. He would reach into a little change jar on the buffet and give me a nickel to carry and we would get an ice cream cone from the creamery and then stop at the post office to get his mail. I recall days spent fishing at the Republican Dam – eating a picnic lunch of fried chicken and potato salad and falling asleep in the sun.
I recall spending the afternoon with my Grandma where she ran the town library and how the ladies would come in just to visit with her. At the cemetery I could hear the roar of the Phantom Jets flying over head at the memorial service for my Uncle in 1989. And I recalled how my Mom took my hand and we walked together to her Mother’s grave and how she trembled standing there as I put my arm around her. These moments in time are irreplaceable and unforgettable and what inspires me to write them down.
I had a wonderful lunch with a woman I became acquainted with last year by the name of Barb Casper in Hildreth. She invited Mrs. Jurgens who bought my great grandfather’s farm in 1948 and still owns the farm. It was a joy to give her a photograph of the Habben home as it looked in 1908 and listen to her tell of how as a young bride she removed all the gingerbread off of the house because she thought it was too old-fashioned, something she tells me she later regretted. Her husband Harold was a classmate of my father’s back in the 1930’s. Barb shared a memory with me of my Grandfather and how she found him asleep on her couch one day. When she confronted him he just said he wanted to see what it looked like and was tired and decided to take a nap. Yep, I think to myself that was Grandpa – if he got tired he didn’t care where he was. Hildreth was one of those towns where people left their doors unlocked and everyone was like one big family. They all kept an eye on each others children and when someone had a problem everyone showed up to ease the pain.
After I left Barb’s I traveled out to the old one room school-house that my Mom and her siblings attended in the 20’s and 30’s. As the breeze rustled the trees I think I could actually hear the giggles of children at play. I could imagined my Mom and her brothers as they traveled down the dirt road in their pony cart pulled by their beloved horse, Prince. The building is falling apart and the weeds are so high around it I didn’t dare get to close. I had been warned about snakes and ticks in the grass and to be very careful walking around. Next time I’ll bring my weed whacker – LOL.
I found it difficult to leave the area because there was this strong feeling of being home and safe that was hard to leave behind. I drove down road 4 to road 10 and headed south to Franklin to my next stop along my journey.
To be continued…
Hot sultry nights, the steady chirp of the cricket and gravel roads are all things that remind me of my childhood trips to Grandma’s house in Nebraska. The three day car ride from Massachusetts to Nebraska every summer seemed endless to me and I’m sure to my Dad, who never really seemed to answer the question that I would whine every 10 minutes of “how many more miles,” it seemed even longer. Although we would be in Nebraska for many miles to me it wasn’t Nebraska until we hit the gravel road that would bring us “home” to Grandma’s. The old gravel road has been black topped for many years but there are still many gravel roads in the area so I purposely take the back way from Wilcox to Hildreth just so I can go down the gravel road and travel back in time to those special feelings of coming to see Grandma. I continue to visit my Grandparents, only now there are no big hugs, no endless kisses and no one that makes a fuss over us like Grandma did. After I catch them all up on the happenings it’s hard to hold the tears in because even after some 30 years I still miss them.
Life seems to be changing all the time – if only we could slow it down some. As I drive through town I am saddened to see that so many of the buildings now sit empty. The library where Grandma worked is now a hair solon and the old IGA store appears to be a gift shop. The only businesses there now are the Municipal Building and the Bank. It seemed so odd to see only one car parked on the street. As I continue my travels I find that more and more of the small towns that I was familiar with are the same way. Buildings sitting empty and left to nature makes me wonder if the way of the small town is gone for good
The landscape of eastern Colorado from I-76 has seen little change through the ages; it seems to serve only as a place to go through to somewhere else. The wind often howls and the main source of water arrives in the form of rain. There are no trees and only real vegetation you see is sage brush, tumbleweeds. Occasionally when there is an exceptional amount of rain there are wild flowers. Only once in all the times I have been on this interstate have I seen an array of wild flowers – or what most of us would call weeds and that was in 2009 when my late husband I were returning from a trip to Minnesota. It truly was a sight to behold, red, blue, purple and blue flowers filled the drainage areas from the highway – it was spectacular.
I was worried that the boredom of the ride would make the 7 hour trip to Nebraska unbearable. I think when you’re driving the time goes faster because you are concentrating on the road, passing trucks and wondering how many more miles to the next rest stop because you drank too much coffee. (LOL) I try to think about something besides where the next rest stop is, which I will warn you if you ever travel this highway, are very few and very far between in the state of Colorado. My thoughts drift to those pioneer women with those long hot dresses walking beside the wagon through this windswept area. There were no rest stops for them; there wasn’t even a tree to go behind for a little privacy. So what did they do? I really don’t have any answers for this, I suppose I could goggle it but it’s late and if you want to know I’ll let you do the search. What about the so called “curse?” There were no quick stops on the trail – actually there are no quick stops on the interstate either. How much of their pride did they actually have to give up obtaining the so called “free land”? You always hear about how brave the men were to follow their dreams into the wilderness to find freedom and land, but I think the women were the real courageous ones.
Well I guess you can see where my mind was as I raced down I-76 and I-80 at 75 miles per hour.
I arrived in Holdrege with no problems until I tried to find the Super 8. In my mind I just knew it was on the east side of town when in reality it was on the west side, or was that south? There are no mountains in Nebraska to help the directionally challenged find their way – ha ha.
The evening of May 15th was spent with the most loving people I have ever met. I barely know Marvin and Mary Arehart, who are my 5th cousins and who I have only been with 3 times. The last few times I have been in Nebraska I have made a point of stopping to visit with them. They greet me with arms open and are genuinely glad to spend time with me. I believe that there is a blood bond that unites us with family regardless of the number of generations between us. During dinner Mary hands me a paperback book and tells me that she wants me to have it. On the cover of the book is a painting of a small boy and his mother looking out into the distance, the book is titled “God’s Yard Light” and that’s when I notice that Mary is the author. I was so pleased to have a copy of this book about her son David, not only because she wrote it, but because I know what she went through to write it and how the publisher lost the original that was all hand written, so she had to re-write the entire book from scratch. She spoke of the book when I visited her in 2009 and she mentioned to me that she probably would not complete it so I was very pleased to see that she had.
Transcribed from Mary E. Aerhart’s book:
“I will never forget the night that David and I stood peering out into the darkness from the road that ran east and west in front of our farm. David was a young man at the time but he still loved to look at the lights of our neighbor’s homes that were all around us. He knew by the direction and location exactly which of his neighbors lived by the glow of each particular light. He pointed and identified each one that he could see, and then he looked up in the sky and pointed to the moon and said, “There’s God’s yard light.” It was then that I knew someday David’s story would need to be told, but it would have to wait until time could bring healing and understanding to the life of a young boy and his family who loved him.”
“Recently, as my writing was nearly complete, I told David that I was writing a book about him. He looked at me in utter disbelief. I said to him again, “David I am writing a book about you.” Tears came to his eyes and he leaned over and kissed me ever so gently. Thank you, Lord, He understands.”
It was such a wonderful evening and they tried to convince me to stay another day with them. The temptation to spend more time with them was difficult to resist. The evening ended with big warm hugs, kisses and yes even a few tears from two of the most gentle; loving and giving people I have ever known.
Wednesday morning I’m off to “Nebraska”. I’ll explain that comment tomorrow.