The Resilient Major Anton Andreae

I am going to tell you a story about the man who was the first person in our family history to step foot on United States soil. His name is Major Anton Andreae and his story changed the way I look at myself and my very resilient family.

I remember as a child, being fascinated with an old picture album that Mom has of some of my ancient relatives. I was fascinated because these relatives looked rich. The photos were professionally made in a studio back when photos were only made in a studio. My relatives, in these photos, were wearing elegant clothes and exquisite jewelry.  They sat in chairs covered in real fur. This was impressive to me because my parents never had that kind of wealth. My relatives were all loggers or farmers. Even in their Sunday best, they looked nothing like the people in these photos. Who were these people, and most importantly, what happened to all that money?

A few years ago Mom dug up an old obituary of My Great Great Great Grandfather, Major Anton Andreae. For simplicity in this story, I will just call him Great-granddad. She sent me a copy of the obituary and the story in it made a huge impression on me. For the first time, I caught a glimpse of who those rich people were in that old photo album. That obituary also explained how my Great-granddad’s family became the loggers and farmers that I know to be my family and most importantly, it told what happened to all that money!

My Great-granddad Anton Andreae was born in Frankfurt on the Main in Germany, an important city centre, world renown for commerce, culture,  and education. In this bustling trade center, Anton’s family was wealthy and prominent. Anton’s father, my Great Great Great Great Grandfather, was a rich merchant in the East India trade industry which included some of the wealthiest people in the world.

Anton Andreae was given one of the finest educations in the world in a school in Switzerland, the same school where Napoleon the third got his education. At school Anton learned to speak both French, and English and later in his life learned to speak Hungarian and Polish. In total he became fluent in five languages.

After his extensive education, Anton joined that military and became a Major in the army. Frankfort on the main was under the subjugation of Austria at the time. Hungary was also under subjugation of the Austrians and Anton was sent to fight with the Hussars in Hungary for Austria. Unfortunately,  the Hungarian revolution broke out when Major Anton Andreae was fighting in Hungary and the Hussar regiment that Major Anton Andreae belonged to, broke rank and joined forces with the rebels.

My Great-granddad was forced by the rebels to fight his own country. He was finally able to escape and fled to Turkey as a fugitive. The obituary does not tell how he managed to escape, but now because of his ties with the rebels, Major Anton Andreae was no longer safe in either Hungary or his own country of Germany. My Great-granddad then fled Turkey where he hid for a short time until he found a way to Constantinople and from there gained passage to America, landing in New York. He traveled almost immediately to Wisconsin where he settled down. Upon arriving in New York, Anton Andreae was still quite young and still had considerable wealth. I imagine that he retained his wealth through family ties. The obituary speaks of a brother living in New York who was in the silk industry.

Anton left New York almost immediately to make a life for himself as a businessman and family man in Wisconsin. I like to think that Great Great Great Grandma was already there waiting for him. He began his career in Wisconsin as a prominent businessman, however, each and every business that he started ended in failure of some sort. During his career in business, his company was burned to the ground six different times. He started in a brewing business, then went into the grocery business, had a flour and feed store, a clothing store, a whole sale liquor establishment and finally a saloon which also folded. Finally, Anton Andreae managed to get hold of 160 acres of land under the homestead act which he cultivated shortly before his death.

Now I finally know what happened to all that money! My family went from riches to rags in the one short lifetime of Major Anton Andreae.

But, I also took away something completely unexpected from this story. The obituary describes my Great Granddad, Major Anton Andreae as, having many genial qualities, as being well esteemed in his community, and having many friends who spoke highly of him.  He may have died a poor man but, he was no scoundrel. He did not give up even when the going got tough.

The obituary says that Great-granddad had “eight or nine children”. Those eight or nine children had children and those children had children who became the farmers and the loggers that I know to be my relatives today.  My relatives all have those same genial characteristics that Great-granddad had. Most importantly, my family is made up of people who know how to pick up the pieces when their luck is down and keep moving forward. They are resilient. I, for one, choose resilience over money any day.


China, Women’s Rights and the Round Table

In China it is well known that “Women Hold up Half the Sky”. At least that is what I was told several times when I was there during three weeks in September 2014. “Women Hold up Half the Sky”.

My husband, Mark, and I were invited to China by Beijing Normal University. Mark was invited as a research scientist and I was invited to assist graduate students to practice English. My job was to hang out with graduate students each day and hold a conversation in English. I got to choose what we would talk about and the issue of Women’s rights in China soon grabbed my attention.

The reason Women’s rights in China caught my attention was because of the round table dinners my husband and I were invited to nearly every day that we were in China. Over the span of three weeks, that is a lot of round table dinners! There were many things that seemed odd about these meetings at the round table and I want to go over a couple of things that intrigued me in reference to women in Chinese culture.

Every dinner or lunch, we were invited to, had the same format. There is always a separate room in a restaurant or meeting hall with a large round table. When we enter the room everyone mingles around until it is determined where everyone will sit. A discussion ensues about who gets to sit at the head of the table. Even though the table is round, the spot against the back wall is always the head of the table. The person seated at the head of the table had to be the most important person in the room. Each person defers politely to the other until the most important person is agreed upon. There is usually a good bit of friendly banter until the issue is resolved. The next two important people sit next to the most important person at the head of the table and so on until the table is fully seated.

Eating at the Round Table in China

Eating at the Round Table in China

I noticed early on that there were never any women at the head of the table unless it was to sit next to her husband. Only one of the many dinners I attended had an important female professor near the head of the table. Mainly, the women were collected at the least important side of the table.

The second thing that I noticed was that no one ever drank anything unless a toast was made. There were times when I became quite thirty, waiting for a toast to be made. A toast can be made between two people or the whole table. Men are expected to drink alcohol and often strong clear liquor is served. As the dinner progresses and more and more toasts are made, the men are strongly encouraged to drink ever larger quantities of liquor. My husband had to swear he was allergic to alcohol at times to avoid consuming large quantities of liquor. Women on the other hand are never pushed to drink liquor and often drink something non-alcoholic like tea or juice. I was very relieved about that. By the end of the dinner many of the men, particularly the men at the head of the table, were sloshing drunk.

It became clear to me that much business, including making contacts and resolving plans is done around these round tables. Many deals are struck over a toast of liquor. This led me down the road to asking many questions concerning equality for women in China. I asked several graduate students as well as some of the professors that I sat next to at these round table dinners.

I started with the most basic question: Are women equal to men in China?

The answer that I received was a resounding “Yes!” The Chinese I talked to went on to clarify things like: Chairman Mao made men and women equal soon after he came into power in 1949. It was Mao who said that “Woman hold up half of the sky”. I was also told unequivocally, that China is more equal than anywhere else, even the United States! I was told that at Beijing Normal University, woman entering college have a separate entrance exam from the men that is much more rigorous, because women score so much higher than men on these exams. This is one of the results of equal education for women. I was also told that as a result of equal rights for women, many women are excelling in sports and outperformed their male counterparts at the Olympics. It was clear that women had made many strides since the days of foot binding and from when Mao declared men and women equal. All the Chinese I talked to presumed that equal rights for women were a good thing and they were clearly proud of the strides that had been made for woman in China.

I felt uneasy with these answers though, since my experience at the round table dinners did not suggest that women were equal to men. I never saw a woman sitting at the head of the table. So I was prompted to ask: “What about women in positions of power? Are there as many women in positions of power as there are men?

Everyone I asked said; “No, there were not many women in power”. Of course I had to know why not and it surprised me how many people answered the same way: I was told by both men and women that “Women do not like that kind of work”. Men also sometimes added that “Women do not want to give up their power in the home and that there is so much to do in the home.” I found it interesting that only the men said this. One woman told me that she believed that these round table business meetings with all that drinking were an impediment to women getting in. It was hard to get invited to the head of the table and women do not drink like men. You are expected to drink if you are at the head of the table.

I then asked the young women graduate students if they will be contented to work in the home and let their husbands have the better paying jobs. None of them seemed satisfied to do that. I asked the young men graduate students if they think they will be contented to have their wives do all the work at home. They thought they would like that, mainly because none of them knew how to cook, but they didn’t think their wives would agree to do that. The young men were more concerned that it might be difficult to find a wife because there are more men than women in China as a result of the one child policy.

My experience in China with the round table dinners and the questions that it evoked about women’s rights in China gave me just a small glimpse into Chinese Culture. There were many more questions that I wanted to ask but I only had three weeks. I am grateful to all the Chinese who answered my many questions thoughtfully and sincerely. I am very curious to see what happens next with all these educated and talented women in China.

Five Kids

“I never wanted five kids” mom says casually as we are rolling cinnamon and sugar into a layer of store-bought dough that had been rising all morning in a warm sunny window. “The doctor never told me about birth control until after the fifth one; I really only wanted one or two.” I am fifteen years old and convince myself that being the second oldest means that I am safe; that I am a wanted child. I imagine what my family life would look like with just my older brother and me. I could not help thinking life would be calmer and more in control than our current reality which was anything but that.

Doctor Cook and Doctor Phefercorn have a clinic that services our small town of Dorchester as well as other small towns on southern edge of the north woods of Wisconsin.  I often hear my Aunts discussing which one of them they go to and which one is more of a quack than the other. Dr. Cook once diagnosed my sister with a spider bite and sent her home when what she really had was rheumatic fever and should have been sent to the hospital. The doctors are respected but not trusted.

Most families in the area have five kids except a hand full of very large Catholic families. Those families are talked about: “There is no way that one family can handle that many kids. They have to be getting welfare. How can anyone even keep track of that many kids?” Maybe most people wait for the doctor to bring up birth control.

Mom is proud of the fact that we always have food on the table and there is always a bowl of fruit in the kitchen for us to snack on. Mom grew up in the far north woods and life was not as easy for her. As a child, she sometimes wore clothes that her mother made from gunny sacks. Milk and cheese were not on the table at every meal.

I know very little about my mother and what it was like for her as a child. The rare snippets I have are from little things that she let slip in rare moments when her guard is down. She doesn’t like to talk about the past. If I ask a pointed question, the response is something like, “Oh I don’t know, that was so long ago, why do you want to dredge up that old stuff?”

I have been to the little shack, in the north woods near the equally tiny town of Spirit, where my mother’s parents lived and where my mother was raised.  The grey, wooden shingled one story house seemed swallowed up by a  field of tall, wild grass where rabbits waited for me to feed them Twix cereal. The house was sparse and poorly lit and my grandmother’s ailing sister, Great Aunt Tillie, lived in an overly humidified bedroom on the side of the living room. Mom talks about the miles and miles she walked to school through the woods in knee-deep snow. The relatives before Mom came over from Germany to be loggers. I guess there is not a lot of money in logging.

I never wonder very much about my mother’s past or about what her dreams might have been and what she wants from life. She is just my mother. She is the person I fear at times, hate at times and respect at times but she is never a fully realized person with wants and needs of her own, separate from mine. We are living the generation gap. In her world you do not talk about dreams and desires. The belief that you can be anything you want to be in life is one I pick up in school. For Mom, life is hard and you do the best that you can and then you die. You play the hand you are dealt.

I don’t think I will have five kids.


“I just quit my job.” I say to my parents at the other end of the phone. I had nothing else to say but I babbled on about being burned out and couldn’t do it all anymore, trying to explain my rash behavior to them as much as to myself.  “I am thinking of moving back to Wisconsin, closer to home.” I end there. “I’ll send the truck down.” Dad responds. I had not really made the decision whether to move home or not but I was happy for Dad to make the decision for me. I had no plan. I had one more paycheck coming, the rent was paid through the end of the month and the girls would be on summer break by then.  Maybe it was the right thing to move back. How had I gotten 2,000 miles away? I knew the answer: I had been running away from home for as long as I could remember. But maybe family was what I was missing. There seemed no other viable option. The antidepressants I was taking numbed my thoughts. I might just as well let someone else make the decision. I had nothing.

The truck arrived two weeks later, my dairy fed, blond haired, blue eyed cousins taking turns behind the wheel, driving a big Dodge diesel my Dad is proud to own. My cousins are both young, in their twenties; this is their first time crossing Wisconsin state lines and I know that they feel like they have hit the jackpot with this drive to Arizona. I meet them in the parking lot of my apartment. As I walk up to the passenger side door, Rod swings it open spilling empty beer cans onto the pavement. “We saved them all, all the way here,” Rod burst out before I could say a word. “Do you have a camera; we need to get a picture of this. Your dad is going to shit! There has to be fifty of them!” My cousins are laughing and going on about the beer cans, careful to let me know they were not drinking and driving. They just want to see my dad’s face when he sees the picture. “This will be great!” I notice their beer bellies and imagine they probably were drinking and driving but I laugh with them and turn to go get the camera.

With the help of my cousins, I load the truck with everything I can manage to squeeze on. Dad has jerry rigged the truck bed with wooden sides to hold a higher load and has sent along tarps to tie it down. My rock ‘n roll vinyl will melt in the Arizona heat and I don’t bother to load them. I also give a neighbor the pretty antique hat collection I have managed to pull together over the past six years. My two girls and I will leave Arizona in two weeks after Kelly graduates high school. We will drive Daryl, my youngest to LA to fly overseas to be with her father for the summer in Japan. Kelly has decided to see what life with her Dad in Milwaukee might produce for her. I will head to my parents home alone. This will be my first summer without the girls in years.

It is a wet year and the flowage comes nearly as high as the dock. The frogs are hatching like crazy this summer. At night I hear them peeping as they make their journey up from the water and cover the ground as far as they can disperse themselves across my parent’s one acre lot in the north woods. The sound seems deafening at times; the peeps slipping into one another in cascades and torrents like water traveling over rocks but in higher pitches and tiny shrills. The unceasing peeping starts in the quiet of the evening at the same time my thoughts start winding round and round in my head. As darkness falls the frogs keep me company and break into my heavy thoughts waking me up to the night around me.  Then as I drift back into thought the peepers carry my labors along. I am not alone. I have the frogs.

Each morning I step very carefully on my way to my parents’ cabin from my little shack trying not to step on the baby frogs the size of my finger tip. I always flatten a few of the tiny creatures and imagine their little bones crunching under my feet.  They are fragile like me, still making their way in the world. They are small and unprotected from the heavy steps of humans who tread thoughtless of the tiny bodies under foot. They are stomped out so easily, a life ended before it even begins.  I feel like that too: I have not yet begun, or maybe I am always beginning again. Like them I have not gotten past the front yard of my parents’ home to the safety of the big woods and out on my own. I am still here, readying myself for the foot to come down, stomping out what little flame I have left. The peepers and I live life on the edge and yet they keep moving, each night more make it to the safety of the woods. Each night another batch bravely starts their journey. Even though several will not make it, they move forward. Why have I moved back? What am I doing here? Why can’t I find my way forward?


December 2, 2011

I have taken the week off from doing something completely different. My plans each fell through, the cold weather set in and I just wanted to stay in my warm cozy house and curl up with a nice book and a cup of coffee.

I have enjoyed the fun of getting out there and doing something out of my routine. It has caused me to think outside my box and to get out of the house even when it was after dark. It has even cut into my TV watching time but not to the extent that I had hoped. I have discovered that TV has crept into my life in the way cookies can and before I know it I am addicted. I have never been good at going cold turkey. I have quit drinking coffee on more than one occasion by going cold turkey and have always started back with a vengeance worse than before I quit. So if I want to ease up on TV, cookies and coffee I have to do it slowly like getting into a cold swimming pool. When I was a kid I could jump in even though I lived in Wisconsin and the pools were unheated. Now I prefer to go in gently and I scream just a little when I get waist high. I may be waist high right now with new things in my life. There is the new house that we are closing on next week; I am suddenly missing my old house and I have not even moved yet. I know the water will be fine once I get in but right now it is a bit of a shock.

Neither am I one to have stringent criteria in my life; the only rule I have is that there are no rules. So it is not hard to take a week off from doing something completely different. I have liked what has come out of this little experiment. I have especially enjoyed the blog. I think writing about each little new thing I am up to has given it a life of its own that I may not have focused on if I had not written it down for me and the world to see. I am forced to sit with a memory and pull pieces from it that would otherwise get lost in the hectic pace of life. It’s not that my life is hectic these days but I still maintain the habits of a hectic person. I do not savor the moment because I am scurrying on to the next. Writing slows that down.

At this moment I am sitting in a cushy chair at the Starbucks with Van Morrison playing an old tune on the overhead speakers. The sky is one grey cloud covering the view of push ridge out the window. Snow flakes and Peanuts like cartoon skaters decorate the plate glass windows and the chairs are filled with patrons of all ages chatting to each other or reading their newspapers and Kindles or madly typing on computers. This has to be the best spot in the world right now.