Our paths crossed occasionally, Maria's and mine, when we were frequenting Dave's Garden over the years. It wasn't until Cubits became a reality that she became my treasured friend. She offered to write her life story on the Writers and Words Cubit, and I'll leave you with a link to that at the end of this article. I realize now that I learned very little about her during those past years, only that she loved classical music, the art of the Old Masters, and great literature. I also learned that she grew up in Austria. I didn't know until this year that she lived there during World War II, a time most of us have only read about.
***Maria, you've lived your adult life in Massachusetts, but please tell us a little about your childhood in Vienna.
Maria: I was born in 1928, I will be 82 years old in October. It's amazing how a child remembers the good times and the bad while growing up. Sad to say, I do not remember many good times. Life was too serious for a young child, though there were a few good moments, like watching Papa haul Mama out of her chair to dance the waltz or a polka that happened to come over the radio waves. My sister and I would clap our hands to the tune.
From the time I was 10 years old until I was 17, I lived through a lot of turmoil. It was before and during World War II. Depression was rampant in Austria, many citizens were out of work including my Papa. He was a Master Gardener for the city of Vienna. Vienna has many beautiful gardens, but even they suffered negligence due to lack of money from the state.
As a result of the bitter conditions at the time, Austrians voted for Hitler because of his promises for a better life. I remember the signs all over the city enforcing the 'JA' vote. There was no 'Nein' vote. As my husband used to say, people will vote for the devil if they are starving.
The new regime brought with it many changes in our daily life. We no longer started our school day with a priest's prayer, instead the teacher would arrive greeting us with 'Heil Hitler' with a raised arm while we stood having to return with the same. My parents were ordered to pay an amount of money if we wished to attend a church. My Papa was furious and refused to pay.
But Papa was hired again to carry on with his job as Master Gardener, and we could once more buy food to eat. I loved watching Mama prepare meals, she was a great cook. I went with her sometimes to buy vegetables and fruit. It was on one of those outings with her that I saw quite a few men and women with yellow bands on their arm sleeves. Not knowing what they meant, I asked Mama. That was my first encounter with prejudice. I could not understand, and this puzzled me for a long time: how can people be outcasts in our country?
Life continued, I enjoyed school and my family was happy with food on the table. In 1939 my great grandmother asked Mama if my sister and I could spend our vacation with her while she visited her sister in the country. We watched how to make jams and jellies from the fruit that grew on the land. We ate fresh vegetables and meat that we helped bring to the house. My sister is Katerina and she is two and a half years younger than I am.
Just before we were planning to travel back to Vienna I looked out the window and saw lots and lots of soldiers, everyone of them leading a horse. I asked my great grandmother, whom we called Omama, to look too. She turned back to me with anger in her eyes, saying they are stealing our farmers' horses, she added thoughtfully that there may be a war.
As we arrived home once more, Hitler invaded Poland two or three days later in early September, 1939. World War II had started.
I remember thinking, what a terrible thing it is to take something that belongs to somebody else.
***I won't ask you to relive the atrocities of that war, Maria. I'll add the link to the rest of your story at the end of this article. I know that your Papa joined the German Army in 1940, and it was several years before you saw him again. I also know that you were the strength for your Mother and your sister during that time without him. You were the little girl who had to grow up too soon. Tell us a little about the good things you remember, you loved your studies, what else did you do with your time?
Maria: My studies continued, not just in school, but we were given tickets to see many performances in Vienna State Opera, Chamber music and Quartets in the Music Verein (Hall), a most beautiful old building on the Ring. We also saw many plays in the Burg Theater, another magnificent sight to see. I never saw anything written or played from countries that were fought against.
In school I studied languages and due to the fact I was allowed to skip one class from the middle school, I was almost a year younger than some of the other students. I smile now remembering saying to my teacher, "Why do we have to study English, we'll never use it?"
Then the air strikes were upon us, and school was interrupted often. Could worse times follow? Yes, they did! Food was strictly rationed, by the time I was 14, no more milk was rationed for me. No electricity, no water, no gas, and very little food. We quite often did without.
After Germany capitulated, Austria was divided into four zones: French, British, American and Russian. We had the bad fortune to live in the Russian zone. Occupational forces were routinely in charge. We still had very little food.
***Maria, it was during this time that the one good thing happened. Your future husband was an American with the occupational forces, wasn't he? After meeting your Richard, your life was about to change again. Yours is a very beautiful love story, and our readers will have to refer to the link in order to read all about it. But please tell us a little about him.
Maria: As Christmas came, Richard gave me a bottle of perfume called Chanel #5, I have always replenished it, never having used any other scent. He also shared with us the Christmas packages filled with lots of goodies his Mother sent him. During times when we were taking walks through the city, he would often carry a box of food from his mother. As children walked by with their mothers, he shared his own mother's gifts with the youngsters till all was gone.
My husband, who would be 86 years old were he still alive, taught me almost everything I had to know about plants, trees, shrubs, and weeds indigenous to New England. We would take walks in our woods. At that time we had 100 acres, so there was lots to see and learn. Sometimes we would sit still hoping a wild animal would appear, this way we'd meet deer and foxes. I wish I could remember the name of one of them. It was sitting high up in a tree, he told me it used to be hunted for its furs.
There are two plants he warned me about, one was poison ivy that included poison oak, an indigenous plant to this country. He mentioned that many plants from Europe were introduced to this country, but poison ivy was introduced to England by way of ships that were returning there from America. He said his mother used a garlic cut in half to stop the itching from the plant.
My daughters could not even look at poison ivy, or they would suffer from it, their faces swollen, causing the eyes to shut. The same with their hands, with fingers blown up to the point where they were spread as far as they could possibly spread. One winter one daughter was sitting by the fire and was infected again, most likely from a down draft.
The other plant my husband pointed out to not even think of digging it up without gloves, the roots are so poisonous. He told the children never to think the berries were something to eat. They are plants that seem to grow on the edge of our woods, squeezing themselves in between wild roses, pine and cedar trees. He also said he was not going to tell the children that the early settlers used its dark juice from the berries as ink. What always amazed me is that the berries are poisonous to humans, why were they not poison to birds? That's something I did not ask my husband.
(***Perhaps this second plant is known to us as pokeweed.)
I had a lot to learn about this country, especially being a very young urban person when I first came here. I only knew what grows in the manicured parks in the city of Vienna, even the famous Vienna woods had hardly any weeds. I asked my husband once, "Why are the woods such a mess here?" His answer was, "We just let them grow as is."
***Who was the greatest influence in your life, Maria?
Maria: My mother had the greatest influence in my life. I could talk to her about anything that was on my mind. She was my best friend and confidant. She reminded her two daughters several times when either one of us was opposed to the way something was to be done, saying, "Papa is the King, I am his Queen, and both of you are our Princesses." I have used the same words to my princesses and princes.
The other person who had a great influence in my life without knowing it at the time was my maternal grandmother. She was a farmer's wife and we visited every summer. Because of her, I adjusted to the country living that my husband called home, so very different from the very urban life I grew up in. To this day I have phlox in my garden because it reminds me of my grandmother's kitchen garden where she grew it with that wonderful scent.
***I know you enjoy books and music. Please share with us some of your favorites.
Maria: My all time favorite book is 'Gone with the Wind'. I remember very clearly my Mother reading the German translation, but at that time I was too young to understand what it was all about. Much later, I read it several times, first in German and then in English.
My favorite music is without question classical, that of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and other 17th and 18th century composers. It was their music I was brought up with in Vienna. I don't care much for neoclassical sounds, they are much too annoying to my senses. Operas also belong to my favorite performances, especially Italian works by Verdi, Bizet and Puccini.
Some of my favorite American composers are Gershwin, Richard Rogers, Victor Herbert and others in that group.
***We'd like to know about your home and your gardens, Maria, anything you'd like to share with us about them?
Maria: When Richard and I were married, we moved into a farmhouse. Our old farmhouse was built in 1845, complete with a barn, a carriage shed, and 100 acres. It also had 10 rooms. The home I live in now was built because of Richard's illness. It has only 5 rooms, and now I have about 20 acres.
My favorite plants are irises and daylilies. I like most flowers and I especially enjoy the first daffodils because I know then that spring has arrived. The roses you can see beside my house were my husband's grandmother's roses. We moved them here from the farmhouse, which originally belonged to his grandparents. This is why roses are so special to me, as well as the phlox that reminds me of my own grandmother.
I also enjoy planting arrangements in containers for out of doors and in vases for inside. Belonging to our garden club, I have had many lessons.
***We'd like to hear a little about your family, too, Maria.
Maria: I have four children, two girls and two boys. There are also four grandchildren, one grandson and three granddaughters. And I now have two great grandchildren, a boy and a girl.
My daughters, Thia and Lende, who also joined Cubits, are not only my children, they are my very best friends. My sons live too far away to be able to see them often. Richard and I brought our children up to be very independent, they do not interfere in my way of life, nor do I interfere in theirs, but if I need help or if they do, we are all very willing to help one another. I love to see all of my family when we get together.
I am most happy when I can spend time in the garden, though the older I get, the harder it is for me. Because of my impaired vision, I cannot read a book anymore. Reading used to be the most wonderful occupation in my daily life.
I also love to cook and bake, especially through the winter when there is nothing much to do out of doors.
I should mention Samson, my golden retriever. He has been a lot of comfort and a wonderful loving pet and protector for me. My friends in cyberspace are very important to me as well, I can't imagine life without the computer. I'd give up television before ever losing my computer!
***I know exactly what you mean about computers, Maria. Me, too! You've seen many changes, some good, some bad, since you came to this country. Do you have any thoughts to share about those changes?
Maria: In my opinion the worst happening that seems to go on and on is that wars are still being fought because someone wants something that does not belong to them, or politics or religion is not accepted by others.
Very often I think of reading so many years ago 'The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire'. It could happen here if many problems are not solved before the same thing befalls us.
***In Maria's signature line here on Cubits, you'll see these words:
"Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it."
Before I end this article, Maria wrote one more paragraph that touched my heart. I have no doubt it will touch yours, too. This is what she said:
Maria: I always knew if for any reason something should happen to my husband, I would take the children and move back to Austria. I will always be a Viennese deep down in my heart, and when he died, I was very tempted to do just that. But I was too old, and I would miss my children, the only thing that was still a part of him. Because he died on the same date I met him, I did go back. I searched for a hotel across the street from where we first met, and I said a final "Auf wiedersehen, my dearest Love."
***Maria, thank you so very much for sharing your story with us. It has been my pleasure to get to know you, and I am honored that you allowed me to interview you. Not only that, but I am also grateful that you shared your entire story on the Writers and Words Cubit.
Folks, if you'd like to read more about Maria's life .... in spite of taking place during WWII it is a true love story.... here is the link:
Maria, my love and admiration go with you.
If you'd like to chat with Maria, please do so in the comment threads following this article.