Schmitzer Family Reunion

In fourteen days, I will be in Frankenmuth, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my dear cousin, Cindy-Loo-Hoo.

It began last year. When Cindy’s father, my dear Uncle Wayne, passed away in September, Cindy began planning to honor his wishes and bring him home to Michigan and to celebrate his life with the family here. As we began talking and preparing for the event, as Cindy’s travel plans began to solidify, it seemed the only logical thing to do was to take advantage of the opportunity and have a good old-fashioned Family Reunion. After all, if Cindy — whom I have never met in my 30-some years of life — was going to make the trip all the way to Michigan from Florida, we had better make it worth her while and gather as much of the family as humanly possible.

In some regards, the past ten months have been a blur. The brainstorming, the planning, has taken more time and attention than I expected. In my mind, it was just yesterday that we decided to really open up the reunion and send invitations to cousins outside of the immediate clan. It was just yesterday that Cindy told me she just wanted to make it through the holidays and get to the summer, so she could hug all of her family. It was just yesterday. And now suddenly–we are fourteen days from Cindy’s arrival; fifteen from the Reunion.

Am I excited?

I am feeling overwhelmed at the moment. There is still so much to plan, to think about, to prepare (not to mention the food). And in the midst of all of it, there are personal things happening that are vying for my attention. I just want to enjoy this Reunion. The Schmitzer heritage is such an enormous part of who I am, and the family history I can glean from a gathering like this is going to be heavier than a February blizzard. I have to be prepared and be smart about recording information.

In spite of all the time and thought already invested, I feel very, very unprepared.

Still, I know that once we get on the road, I am going to be overloaded with excitement. Until then, I just need to keep focused and keep working through the wrinkles…

Pax Christi.
Sarah

The Three Loves of Herman Schmitzer

January 19, 1973.

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. Though he died several years before I was born, he is a man who continues to shape my life, as well as (I know) the lives of all my cousins. In a world where being remembered requires that we be the very best at something, score the most points in a game, make the most money in our field, come up with the newest and bestest fad diet, write the seven-book series that the world is waiting on with held breath (GRRM, this was for you…get writing), having the most “friends” on the f@cebook, etc., ad nauseum, there seems to be less and less legacy; more and more fame.

Legacy is something greater. Legacy changes the way people think, changes the way people behave. Even thirty years after his passing, Herman Schmitzer changes us.

When asked about his teaching career, he was quoted as saying, “The three loves of my life–and in this order–are my religion, my wife, Margaret, and music.”

Herman Schmitzer

I thought of this quote last Monday at our first rehearsal of Choral Society for the semester. We are singing a compilation of Lutheran choral works, which means that two of my own loves are melding into one: my Lutheran faith and music. If you don’t know already, I believe there is a strong connection between theology and music, so to have these two things coming together in a semester of song is really overwhelming for me–overwhelming in a good way.

I wish, more than anything, that he could be in the audience this April as we perform these pieces. He would, I imagine, take such delight in it. I know I will.

Another Random Sunday

December 2, 2012

The most wonderful thing about my family is…

Did you know that I’m singing in a choir? Yes, of course you did. This is my second semester as a member of the Marquette Choral Society. It is, quite honestly, the best decision I’ve made in my adult life. Not only am I geeky-in-love with music and singing, but I am geeky-in-love with the incredibleness of being in a choir.

This weekend is our Christmas Concert, Carols in the Cathedral, which is performed at Saint Peter’s Cathedral. You’ve never heard Christmas until you’ve heard it in a Cathedral. You want acoustics? Baby, you’ve got acoustics!

As we were rehearsing last night for the first time in the Cathedral, something happened. I was standing on the far right where an Alto 2 belongs, and I was feeling nervous about the distance between us and the Basses. I find that the Alto part always makes more sense when I hear the Bass part. And there was an entire half an Alto section (the Alto 1’s) separating us. I was a bit anxious. We arrived at the song with The Great Alto Conflict (as I’ve come to call the dissonance at the end of Alan Smith’s There Is No Rose) and I thought to myself—this is going to fall apart. Right here. On the risers. In the Cathedral. We’re not going to be able to hold these notes without the strength of the Bass part in our immediate hearing. So there we were, gently descending on those beautiful words—“transeamus,” meaning “let us go” or “let us follow”—and I heard the most remarkable thing.

While the 2’s held firmly to our middle C, the 1’s D struggled against us. It was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. It was like the rest of the choir existed, in that moment, only to give context to this beautiful juxtaposition of the C and the D. We found ourselves in relation to one another. And suddenly, it didn’t bother me that the Basses weren’t right behind me, because I realized that we can’t just understand ourselves in terms of one other part; we must understand ourselves in terms of each other part.

It is the same in a family. You don’t understand your character, your identity, your dreams, your talents, your weaknesses, your passions simply from one relationship. You begin to understand yourself most fully when you hear your part in the context of the other parts.

And you know what the greatest thing about this is? The greatest thing is realizing that all of us are learning and growing at the same time. While I’m depending on you to help me understand my own self better, you are depending on me to do the same! In that regard, we are a very fluid, very malleable unit.

That’s the most wonderful thing about my family: We’re still being made into the people we are, and we’re doing it in context of one another.

Stay Rooted!

Aunt Sarah

Family History, part III

Well, folks? This will be my final post about my recent Family History vacation. And what remains to be said?

There is something magical about returning to the land of your fathers (or in my case, the land of my mother’s fathers). To walk there, to breathe the air, to look upon the fields and the Cass River, to drive on the roads and see the old homesteads where their friends and neighbors lived–it is magical. It brings history to life. It takes names and dates that we’ve known in ink–on birth, marriage, death, census records, etc–and photos and memoirs, and it pulls them out of some obscure thing called “the past,” and makes it part of the here-and-now. In a sense, it brings our families back to life.

But what is especially magical, I think, is having family that still lives in those places. I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The few towns I’ve ever lived in my life have been “small towns,” so I know the great honor and the great entrapment of being “a local.” Those families that have lived somewhere forever, and know all the weird little stories–that’s what the Schmitzers are in Frankenmuth. I love being able to sit at my Uncle’s house and listen to the stories of our family’s home. It’s all those odd tidbits that I was never going to find on the internet.

And…it’s more. You know, I mentioned before (and will likely mention many, many more times before I die) that my uncles’ interaction with each other reminded me so much of how my own brothers (Steven & Jer) banter. As John and David were talking about David being Grandma’s favorite, and how John would get in trouble for things that Dave instigated (which I can totally believe, by the way), all I could hear in my mind was Steve and Jer telling the story of the time they tried to move the washing machine. And the freezer. Totally unrelated story, of course (it had nothing to do with either of them getting in trouble), but…the back-and-forth banter would’ve been the same. You knew that they were going to tease and mock and blame each other without mercy, and yet, you also knew (without question) that they’d been in it together.

That’s the thing. Family History isn’t just about capturing the names and dates of your ancestors. It isn’t just about building an impressive Family Tree. It’s so much more. It’s about bringing to life the characters who’ve shaped the context we find ourselves in. It’s about seeing the similarities–not just between siblings, but among extended relatives who have no reason to be behaving the same way that you are. It’s about connecting to those who belong with us. It’s about understanding how and why we do belong with one another.

In all of this, I am quite overcome by two distinct feelings: First, it is the realization that the Schmitzer line is only one of the many I have to research, and Second, it is the awareness that it’s not enough to capture the past.

Somehow, I must also learn to capture the present.

Family History, part II

My Great Agenda for the Family History trip included two very personal stops.

I had heard rumors some time ago that the old Schmitzer house was still standing on South Dehmel road in Frankenmuth. I was given a photo from my uncle of the Johann Michael Schmitzer family that, if I’m not mistaken, was taken at the house on Dehmel. This was the home where my great-grandfather would have grown up. To say that I wanted to see the house was an understatement. To stand where my great-grandfather may have stood, where his daddy and granddaddy may have stood–the idea has been drawing me for some time. In the end, no one was certain where the house was–though I think Uncle David knows more than he realizes! I’m not disappointed that we didn’t make it to the house on Dehmel road, because I know it will be the first thing on my Great Agenda for the next trip. It gives me a place to begin.

The other point of interest was Frankentrost. Mom has told me about growing up in Frankentrost, but the few times we’ve passed through the small town, I haven’t thought much of it. After all, the house where they lived is no longer there; the church has burned down and been replaced. It just doesn’t hold any visual memory for me to connect with. However, one of my cousins shared a photo on FB last year that showed my dear Grandma tending her flowers:

When I showed this photo to my mom last year, the first comment she made was that this was Frankentrost! You can see the old church in this image, and the driveway. On this side of the photo, beyond the flowers, was the house where my mom grew up. Though the landscape and buildings have changed, I wanted to see the place where they lived and served (and they did serve–behind the church was the Lutheran School where my grandfather taught). It meant so much to me to see where they lived, but I know it meant a lot to my mom to see it again, as well.

The greatest part about the trip, though, was spending time with family. Not only did I have a fantastic time with mom and Jer, but it was so nice to visit with several of my cousins, and my aunts and uncles. We never had those strong connections as children, so to be building those relationships now as adults is very important to me.

My Aunt Judy did something remarkable. She brought photos to my mother that she’d been hanging onto. Remember when I said I was surprised to find the Schmutzer record? I hadn’t been expecting it. It was the same with these photos. No one had known that I’d been wanting (something fiercely) the two photos below. And yet, Aunt Judy had been holding them for my mom. Now…I’m enormously thankful that Judy held them, and also that my mom didn’t mind sharing them with me!

The above is my Grandma Schmitzer’s family. From left to right, the four children: Genevieve, Margaret (my Grandma!), Ewald Jr, and Norman Raatz. Seated in front is their mother, the infamous Grandma Hanson (actually, my great-grandma, Jennie Pieczynski–the good Catholic girl who married a Lutheran boy…I’ll take Family Mysteries for $1000, Alex).

And here, we have the Schmitzer brothers. Handsome fellows! From left to right, Alois Sr, my grandfather–Herman, Richard, and Alfred.

What a precious gift–to see the faces of my grandparents and their families!

Family History, part I

I made it! I’m home! And I am…maybe…ready to start writing about the few short days I spent in Lower Michigan. What an overwhelming and wonderful experience!

You need to know that I went with an Itinerary. In fact, further, you need to know that I’m a pain to travel with because I always get wound up tight about things being “unplanned.” So I made a plan. Mom and Jer made the trip with me, and they were so good about deferring to my Great Agenda. And OH! what an Itinerary it was! I had such high hopes. Unfortunately, my Itinerary was out the door about an hour and a half before I was–yeah, I overslept. Right. Great way to start a trip. Hehe.

Friday began at the St. Lorenz church office in Frankenmuth. In my search for birth and baptism records (trying to confirm some information I’ve known but have not been able to prove thus far), my camera batteries died. Listen, after oversleeping, being seated next to a very self-concerned family of four at the Tiger game, and scorching to a very blistery sunburn that left my face raw, the batteries were about my breaking point. I was ready to head home.

And then it happened. We found it.

Schmutzer.

Mom had told me many years ago that the Schmitzer name was Americanized, that in its original form, it was spelled with a “u”, or possibly a “ue.” That’s a nice story, of course, but until that moment in the St. Lorenz library, I had never seen evidence of it. What an unimportant revelation, in the whole scheme of things!–except that it blessed my heart. It was a tidbit that I hadn’t come expecting to find; it wasn’t on my Itinerary.

After going through birth and baptism records, we met with a church historian for a tour of St. Lorenz. Let me just offer a shameless plug here: If you are ever looking for an historian in Frankenmuth, Dave Maves is your man. We were very impressed, not only with his wealth of knowledge, but with the flow of information and his character. We could tell he was genuinely interested in the history of the church and community.

The church itself is spectacular. I’ve never been so impressed with a protestant church before. Jeremiah was blown away–and I’ll leave him to share all the interesting tidbits with you. Dave walked us through the stories of each of the stained glass windows, which was so incredible! I remember thinking how very powerful it must be to sit in that church every Sunday with the reminders of your past and your founding all around you. It must be humbling. It’s so sacred!

But if you want to know the best part about the church (and I bet you’ll be surprised), you have to see the organ!

Why am I so in love with this organ? Firstly, just as a musician, it is a gorgeous instrument. But more importantly, my Grandpa Schmitzer played the organ. Now when I was growing up, we had an organ in our church–but it as not an enormous pipe organ like this. So when my mom used to tell me how Grandpa played and how beautiful it was, I really had no idea what she was saying. Let me tell you–after hearing this instrument, I am a convert. It is, perhaps, the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. It will never replace the love I have for the piano, but I am seriously amazed. I wish, more than anything, that I had heard my Grandfather play! My cousin Trisha can tell you a great story about Grandpa and this organ.

We spent Friday afternoon in the St. Lorenz cemetery, searching for graves of our ancestors and finding more than I’d anticipated. There were two really great moments there for me: First, when Jer and Mom began saying, “Bickel–you said we’re related to a Bickel; here’s a Bickel!” And, “Which List did you say we were related to? Was it Johann Adam?” At that point, I realized I’d sucked them into my filthy, wonderful world of genealogy. They weren’t just helping me find Schmitzers anymore.

Second, when I found Johann Michael’s grave.

If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know that I wrote about Johann Michael Schmitzer last year. Even though I know who Mike’s parents and grandparents were, I have felt a strong connection to him and the events of his life. He accomplished so much, sacrificed so much, loved so much. He came to this country as a young man, a teenager, and committed his entire life to his new home. I can only conclude, based on what I know of him, that he didn’t merely come on his parents’ convictions: Johann Michael Schmitzer came to America on a mission. He didn’t leave his heart in Neuendettelsau. What an amazing young man! His grave was the reason I wanted to do this trip–I wanted to touch his grave, see his name for myself.

That’s all I have for tonight.

Pax Christi,

Sarah