Archive for the ‘Family Stories’ Category
Rev. Graham and his wife, Gusty, an elderly couple, who befriended my father when he was a pastor in Ambridge, PA, visited us back in Wilmington Massachusetts and I remember how he admonished my father that he should also learn something from his children. My father became angry and said that the children learned from their parents and not the other way around. I sent a letter to the Grahams because I said I saw them as such a model couple. I had never spoken with any friend of my father’s ever before. That I saw him as such an example is the reason that this gentle soul sent the humorous farce about fighting with his wife. They really had a great relationship. He calls her a little bundle, but she was six feet tall! At the table he would always say, “Gusty, are you still in love? Have a pickle!”
We’re moving. Here is the letter I just found going through boxes of old papers:
June 2, 1966
(I’ll add a line to Mother’s full letter.)
Dear Peter and all the other good Kreys (There ain’t no other kind of Kreys than good ones):
Have just come in from a game of golf – a game I try to play twice a week in order to get a fresh supply of oxygen into my red blood corpuscles. Today I played with an architect (born in Switzerland and now retired) and with a retired postmaster (born in Italy). I did not play too well. A comrade of mine became suspicious of my orthodoxy. He watched me drive the ball, not straight ahead but first across to one side, then across to the other side, then across again, and so on. He accused me of trying to play Catholic golf, because I had too many crosses.
I’m afraid, good Mr. Peter, that you set Mother and me too high as examples to be followed. Mrs. Graham is a rough character, and so am I. I become enraged and exceedingly violent. And I seize the little woman by the hair and give her a terrific shaking up. Then I seize her and explode into many, most abusive vituperations at her, and then I pitch her with utmost unchivalry through the back door into the back yard.
But does my violence subdue her? Not in the least. Back into the house flies the little bundle of dynamite; she hurls herself at her spouse, grasps my hair by the handfuls and yanks them out with female efficiency, so that my poor pate is soon going to be as smooth as the skin of a Baldwin apple. To be sure, I have reported her unseemly roughness, (reported it to the police department, indeed). But did I get relief? No, the big, huge policeman turned upon me and denounced me as a rogue, a villain, an unchivalrous helpmeet, and threatened to put me behind bars.
So there! Unhappy me! I think I’ll get an airplane and sail off to Argentina and reside among the Indians in some deep, dark jungle.
Still, upon reflection and quiet meditation, I am concluding after all that, having been patient, really patient with her husband for over fifty years, she really is a gentle and sweet lady, and if she will accept me, I’ll give up all notions of flying to a jungle in South America to live among the Indians. Anyhow, they might roast me in a fire and make a meal out of me.
Coming down out of nonsense to the level of sense, we thank you for the account of the doings of Mother and Father Krey, and Ruth – she is a stately lady – and Esther – all bright and gay with her Harvard professor; and Matthias graduating and on his way to Borneo, Japan, or “somewhere East of the Suez, where the best is like the worst” (as Kipling says); and yourself looking out along the same path which was trodden by your good father; and Mr. Andrew, mounting proudly up to six feet – tell him that Goliath mounted up to nine feet but his height got him into trouble near the Vale of Elah; and Mother Krey is feeling lively again – what a wise and lovely soul she is and an excellent companion to your father; and your father now sixty-eight – yes, we join in wishing him many more years of progress in theology and as the head of his household.
And what shall I more say – of Johanna – bless her heart; of Phoebe, whose two children love her; of lovely Tirzah; of manly John; of Mother Mirjam, whose warm heart warms up the cold city of Quebec; of school teacher Rhoda; of twenty-year old Priscilla, beautiful and fair and pleasant; of high-schooler Philip; gentleman Shem, the teenager and strong; and the twelve year old tender of the geese, little Suzie who has many charms.
Congratulations to you all. You are millionaires in the wealth of love and family life and faith.
N.B.: Esther’s husband, Al Lowrey, was a comptroller of Brown Brothers and Harriman, who lived in Harvard Square, but was not a professor at Harvard. Matthias was designated by my father to become a missionary, but he became a pastor to the people who usually say “Eh!” in Canada. So that did make him a missionary, I suppose. Tirzah was the teacher. Rhoda became a physicist. Those are really the only mistakes he made trying to relate with all of us sixteen children. (James had already died.)
Also note how he has the style of St. Paul’s greetings at the end of his Letter to the Romans, where he also greeted Phoebe, who delivered the letter for him to Rome, and Priscilla (and Aquila), who are also greeted by St. Paul there. While he reminds of the dastardly humor in the “Ransom of Red Chief” and mentions Kipling, he has the artistic touch, imitating the style of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, quite easy to miss. I’m so happy that this letter survived.
(My mother wanted me to write the story of what happened to our family during World War II, when we had to move back and forth through war-torn Germany and that 22 times to avoid the NAZI authorities and the Russians, because my father was an American citizen. I knew all the stories and when I went upstairs to write them down and put in the details, I suddenly realized that although I had relived them many times in the family’s retelling them, I had not been there. When I told my mother about my problem, she wrote up this incident for me. She put it into my voice, but I have rewritten it in her voice. Since then she has herself written a book for the family about what we went through. From comparing her story (remembered in 1965 or 1966) with the one she tells Tante Irene in her letter (in 1945), one can see that different “tellings” of a story bring out different features. Mother tries to fill in details for me that I had explained, I just couldn’t know.)
In My Mother’s Words
In 1945 our family had taken refuge in a small village, [called Fliegenberg,] alongside the Elbe River. The Elbe is one of the biggest rivers in Germany. When I was small, I had often been near it without realizing it. In our stay there in that village at first we lived with a farmer. He had just enough room in his little farmhouse for himself, but that did not matter, for we were not the only family sent to this village, since the Russians were coming from the East. He was a kind farmer and we did not have it too hard, except that we had to divide the family. The two oldest boys had to stay with another farmer and help him with his farm-work. Two of the older girls had to do the same thing for another farm family. Some weeks and then a month passed by and things became more serious politically. More men were needed by the Heimwehr (homeland defense). There was a danger that Father and Matthias would become the next draftees.
One day, early in Spring, Father ordered that we pack everything and when dawn came over the little village we crept out [into the shadows of the country road and walked] to the ferry. There we stood with “Sack und Pack.” That means with everything we had, waiting for the ferry at the edge of the river to take us to the other side. Old Jim, the ferryman had quite a job to board us all, since our family was so large and then there were our important belongings, the only ones we had left.
In those last days [of the war] it was [an ordeal] to travel in a family or group. Therefore we had to be organized and that to the full meaning of the word. Each one had his or her job: watching over certain baggage, for example, and each of the older sisters and brothers had the responsibility for a younger sister or brother. It was important for us that the family not become divided or [God forbid] that anybody should be lost.
Till then the Lord had always been with us and protected us. We had many times seen the hardship of those who lost their loved ones and we wanted to be very careful. But here on the other side of the Elbe, we were supposed to experience what it meant to be separated. Involved was one of our possessions, a baby carriage, which was mostly used to hold some of the heavier baggage.
Arriving at the train station we waited for hours and hours. We were hoping to get a train that should take us into the direction that we guessed the American soldiers were coming. Standing [on the platform], waiting, being hungry and thirsty was something we had known about for a long time. So in spite of all that we were not alarmed, but quite happy even after the hours of waiting, when a train pulled into the station.
To board a train at that time was no easy task. They were mostly overcrowded when they pulled into [the station] and then hundreds still tried to push in [from the platform]. My oldest girl and boy, Ruthie and Matthias, had to bring the carriage to the baggage car and then board the train anywhere. The train pulled out of the station and to our horror they both stood on the platform with the carriage. Tears streamed down from their eyes. The man in the baggage car had refused to accept the carriage.
“Take the next train! We will wait at the next big station. We will not leave.” Father cried out of the window. We were sick at heart as the train pulled away and we hoped [and prayed] that the Lord would soon bring us back together.
Everybody knows, of course, that there were no seats available and those who had seats were not to be envied. The air was thick and smelly. And among all those refugees, who do you think could have washed or taken a bath that morning? We were not much concerned about cleanliness in those moments. Most of the time I had to hold the baby, little Peter, in my arms so he could breathe. So even though the train pulled through the beautiful country-side, we did not feel much like looking at the scenery.
Now and then the train stopped to let off passengers. It was impossible to reach the doors. The windows served as the doors for both the passengers and their baggage. After a long time I [finally] had a place to sit while Father stood near a window. The train made another stop. It just happened that Father had a chance to look out of the window. What did he see? Our own baggage thrown out onto the platform! Was it an error or was someone planning to take it? That would not have been the first time [our things were stolen]. After a great deal of protesting, the baggage was put back through the windows in its place. We were happy that Father noticed the mistake.
The train continued and we reached the forest called Sachsenwalde, the Saxon Woods. Somewhere here Bismark was buried, but nobody knows exactly where. Upon entering the big forest a sign reads: “Hier ruht Bismark!” which means, this is Bismark’s final resting place. So it seems that the whole forest became his cemetery, the final resting place of the Iron Chancellor.
I now thought that our last moments had come.
We suddenly heard a big roar in the sky. Bombers dove out of the clouds to attack the train. The engineer did not know whether he should stop or try to outrun the planes. He was unable to make the decision. Some people ordered him to stop while others ordered him to go on. It did not take long for many of the people to become hysterical. Finally the engineer brought the train to a stop. Most of the women and children escaped through the doors or jumped through the windows. In the aisle there were two German soldiers. They also climbed through the windows and helped others getting out. The passengers were running to take refuge in the dark forest of the Sachsenwald. Two of my girls had also already been helped to get out of the train through the windows. They had crossed the adjacent tracks waiting to run into the woods. Next the soldiers helped two more of my little girls jump out of the window. They too stood on the tracks waiting for their older sister, Hannah, to climb through the window, jump out, and run with them into the woods.
Suddenly everyone screamed outside and inside the train. It was a scream that made your blood curdle. Hannah was pushed back into the train by a soldier. In the next second an express train rushed past [on the tracks] where my two girls were standing a moment ago.
Everyone looking suddenly became speechless. I pushed my way to the door, screaming, “My two little girls are gone! My God, have mercy!” But then the pale face of a soldier appeared through the window saying, “They are saved. They are under our train.” Then I could hear his cries to the engineer not to move so that my little girls would not be crushed by our own train.
I immediately called all my children to come back into the train. “If we die, then we will all die together.” I said.
Slowly the train pulled away from the Sachsenwald where Bismark rests. [Magdeburg,] the destination before us was now a burning city. The bombers had done their job really well.