Welcome to Episode 39 of Navigating the Fustercluck—a podcast full of snackable insights to help you navigate the everchanging world of creativity & marketing.
My name is Wegs, like eggs with a W, joining you from Deaf Mule Studios in Dallas, for a special edition of the show.
A common thread thru many of our episodes has been the art and impact of storytelling. Since this is the week of my birthday, and some of you have asked for more details about me personally, I thought that we’d share a story I told live on stage for a local storytelling group called Oral Fixation. It’s a story about me and my father. It’s a story that may just give you some ideas on how to present your stories. Business. And personal. A story called, The Triple Special Day:
The Triple Special Day
With an uncertain hand, I took the dull shears, and cut off 5 locks of his bone-white hair.
One for my mother. One for my older sister, Lea. One for my younger sister, Karen. One for me. And one for which I had special plans.
30 minutes had passed since my father had drawn his last breath. Staring down at his face, two things struck me:
First, I was not placed on this earth to be a barber.
Second, over the years, my father and I had come a long way.
A long, long way from the gaping silences, and years of me going M.I.A. from every major holiday but Christmas.
Back then, it seemed like only 2 topics were non-combustible.
Sports was one.
Bonafide Cheeseheads, fondue, and not blood, ran through our veins.
Then there were my grandparents.
Mama & Papa had died while I was a toddler, yet lived on in stories.
Take their wedding…
Grandpa called it…
The Triple Special Day.
As dad told it, after WWI, Austria— lederhosen, not kangaroos— was hurting– badly.
Still, on August 4th, 1924, my grandfather, two of his brothers, and their three brides, married in one large ceremony in a small village called Putzleinsdorf…
(Population 300, counting the cows & pigs. 400, with the chickens & geese.)
According to the local paper:
Probably never has our place experienced a celebration like that on August 4th.
To escape hard times, 11 days later, all six boarded the Hansa, the ship that would take them to America.
While they often dreamt of it, my grandparents were too poor to return.
Over the years, Grandma would helplessly sob over the letters announcing the deaths of her sister, brother, friends and father.
The closest my grandparents ever got back to Austria was when dad took them to see the Sound of Music.
Sometimes, I would ask him, Dad, do you think you’ll ever visit Austria?
We’ll see, he’d say.
For me, however, it was only a question of when.
Shortly before my 28th birthday, my answer finally arrived.
The U.S. Postal Service kindly delivered it to my doorstep…
At the time, I was living the dream, but not sleeping much in Chicago. The mad boy had become a “mad man”, writing ads for beer.
At long last, I felt free of my parents, teachers and my hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Or as I called it back then, “Kenowhere”.
I felt like I’d made it— at least at first.
Over time, a creeping feeling started gnawing at me– I couldn’t escape my way to happiness. Not even a world-class city like Chicago truly felt like home. Disappointing, because growing up, I just knew that Chicago was my pre-ordained destination.
The letter my mailman delivered that November day would take me another direction, and time zone all together.
Even in a mountain of circulars, bills and my 12th overdue notice from the Columbia House Records Club, this letter stood out.
The envelope had striped-edges, looking as if it actually cared about the message it cradled inside. The postage was like art. I took this odd-looking letter down the block to my favorite hot dog stand—the infamous Wiener Circle, where I ordered two red-hots and an order of cheese fries. The lava-like queso from a can glowed atomic orange.
Carefully, I opened the letter. While written in English, it looked like it was from another country, probably because it was from another country…
November 1, 1993:
You will sure be surprised to receive a letter from Europe from a foreign.
Therefore, I want to introduce myself, my name is Wolfgang Wegerbauer.
I am 36 years old and I live in Austria.
The brothers of my grandfather were emigrated to the United States after WWI…
…My grandfather was in touch with them, but after his death, the contact was broken, and so I know nothing about my American relatives.
I want to change this and get in touch with them.
I made a computer-research for the name Wegerbauer in the U.S. telephone directories. I found 17 entries.
You are one of them, therefore I try to find out in this way, whether you are related to me or not.
This was my invite to go find my story in the old country. I kept in touch with Wolfgang. He even came to Chicago to visit, and hear some blues.
But it took me five years until finally, I booked two tickets to Austria.
One for me…and one for my father.
The two of us, along with Wolfgang and my Uncle Leo, knelt together in the pews of St. Vitus, the site of the triple-wedding in Putzleinsdorf.
We also visited the place my grandparents met. Castle Altenhof. No, they weren’t royalty.
Grandma was a nanny, while grandpa was contracted to do some carpentry.
Granpa got lost in the castle, and barged into a bathroom.
There Grandma was holding the royal successor over the royal chamber pot, so he could perform his royal ‘doody’.
(Hey, every romance has to start somewhere.)
Later, we dined at the home of Wolfgang’s parents, Gertrude & Alois. Locally-crafted lace draped the table. Our reflections shone in the silverware. And the artery-cleansing, homemade elderberry-wine made me feel very, very happy.
I told Wolfgang that I had no idea just how good Austrian hospitality was.
Jim, Austrian hospitality is good, Wolfgang said, but understand this: during the hard times after the 2nd World War, your grandparents and the others sent packages full of flour, sugar and clothing…
Tonight, we remember those packages…
And now this trip would be one that my father and I would never forget.
After returning to America, the words “I”, and “Love” and “You” came out a little easier than before.
Soon, we were talking more on the phone. And not just about sports.
It was at that time that I started to call my father, “Papa”. The same name that he called his father.
I hoped that Papa had one more trip across-the-pond left in him. He didn’t…
…dying 5 months before helping my Austrian cousins Judith, Hannes and many more pull together our largest family reunion yet in Putzleinsdorf.
The 90th anniversary of the Triple Special Day.
40 descendants from those 3 unions, joined by 150 Austrians gathered to say mass where they had said their vows.
Followed by a reception where they had celebrated theirs. Taking photos exactly where they had taken their wedding photos.
Finishing back at the family homestead, legally ours, since 1634.
There, the Austrians had a surprise awaiting us. For months, they’d been rehearsing a musical created just for their American relatives.
It was a parody of the Sound of Music incorporating the story of the Triple Special Day.
Like a time-warp, my grandparents, great-aunts and uncles were all alive again.
Singing. Dancing. Taking their final bow in the old country,
accompanied by a 15-piece orchestra.
Waving his baton was my cousin, Norbert, a frequent conductor for the Moscow Symphony.
Cousin Clemens, Director and 1st chair violin of the greatest symphony in the world, the Vienna Philharmonic, played beautifully.
Austrian National Television covered it.
After the show, we ate and drank, and of course, told stories.
With a belly full of beer, I walked off alone into the woods and I fumbled about in search of a stone. Reaching into my pocket, I took out a small, plastic baggie, and removed the 5th and last lock of my father’s hair.
Placing it beneath the stone, so a part of him would always be there.
Visit Putzleinsdorf, Austria, and you may just find it.
Just like my father and I found something special there all those years ago.
Because sometimes, you have to travel far away to get close to home.
Time to Take a Short Breather… (EXHALE.)
…We’re here at Deaf Mule Studios to remind everyone that this is Navigating the Fustercluck. And I’m your host, Wegs. And that was The Triple Special Day, a story I told at a gathering of the Dallas-based storytelling group, Oral Fixation. I hope it gives you some ideas on how to share your stories.
Well, that about wraps up our 39th episode of Navigating the Fustercluck.
Here from Deaf Mule Studios, I’m your host, Wegs, like eggs with a W, and thanks again for listening in. Until next time, please feel free to reach out to me personally at email@example.com or NavigatingTheFustercluck.com, where you
can find transcripts to this episode and every other of our 38 efforts. Finally , remember, stories are the building blocks of understanding. So thanks for sharing yours. So, here’s to you. Here’s to the future.