Monday, March 22, 2010

Kleines Dorf und der Sonnenschein (Small Town and Sunshine)

Ugh. I am so sick of being on my computer. It’s my own fault, really. For my American Constitution class, we each had to choose a colony for our semester project, and tomorrow we are supposed to turn in a working bibliography/list of possible sources. Well, I made the mistake of choosing Rhode Island. I thought there would be plenty of information on colonial Rhode Island. As usual, I thought wrong. And so, I spent the last 2.5 hours vainly searching the internet, OSU’s online databases, and everywhere else I could think of. But unfortunately, there wasn’t much to be found. I repeat: ugh. This might just be a hard paper to write. And it certainly doesn’t help that I am in Austria, attempting to find books about America’s smallest state. Oh well. Even though I am really tired of staring at this screen, I decided to continue staring at this screen—so I could update my blog for you! :)

While I am feeling rather frustrated about this homework assignment, I won’t let it get me down. I’m in Austria, so I will follow the advice of Fraulein Maria in the “Sound of Music” and think of my favorite things, and then I won’t feel… so… baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad! (that is my attempt at visually portaying the ending note of the song’s finale. I think I was a little off-key, though.) :/

Anyway, it won’t be that hard to think of my favorite things; I have found plenty of them here! Life is going so well. And it keeps getting better all the time…
Last week, I got to spend a lot of time with my friends, which was wonderful. The week was busy, but awesome: Dinner with friends on Tuesday, dinner with friends again on Wednesday (hamburger with pumpkin-seed-oil sauce; it was among the best burgers I’ve ever eaten!), going to an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day with my friends, having different friends over for another Mexican food and peanut butter cookies dinner on Thursday, and then an official ESN international dinner extravaganza on Friday. I pretended not to have a gluten allergy that night, and even though I felt sick afterward, it was totally worth it. Everyone brought a specialty from his or her home country: Spanish omelets, Hungarian goulash, French cheesecake, Swiss cheese (seriously!), German Apfel Struedel, Croatian something-I-couldn’t-pronounce-but-tasted-like-funnel-cake—and everything in between! It was incredible, and my taste buds were very, very happy.
Saturday was a day I will never forget; I got to visit the tiny town of Alkoven, Austria, where my great-great grandfather Peter Lehner was born in 1850. Getting there was a long process: a three-hour train from Graz to Linz (Austria’s 3rd-largest city). I barely missed the train to Alkoven (I was buying my ticket just as it was leaving the platform), so I had to wait an hour and a half for the next one. But it was oh so very worth it! The town of Alkoven is adorable, positively precious. About 5,000 people live there, and most of them come from families that have lived in Alkoven for generations on end. And they were seriously some of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Let me tell you about what happened.

I had two main goals in going to Alkoven: find the church where Peter was baptized and find the house where he was born. Twenty-three years ago, my Mama and Nana (my grandmother, Peter’s granddaughter) visited Alkoven and managed to accomplish both those goals. Fingers crossed (or in German “thumbs pressed”), I hoped I could do the same. Goal number one proved relatively easy. I walked into a cute little flower shop and asked the women working there where Kirchenstrasse (church street) was located. After five minutes of walking, I goal number one had been realized. And the church was beautiful! Going inside, I found the baptismal font just as my mom had described it; I got goosebumps and tears came to my eyes as I touched the font where my great-great grandfather had been baptized 160 earlier. How many people can say they have done that? Not very many, I don’t think. Needless to say, it was a very meaningful and moving experience for me. And then to think that my Nana had been there, too, only a few years before I was born, well, that made me want to cry too. You see, I lost my Nana last spring; even though I know she is in heaven and I will see her again someday, I still miss her an awful lot. But I have a feeling that God let her peek down from above while I was inside the church. And despite the wave of sadness, that thought made me smile.

Having found the church, I had accomplished half of my mission; now I just needed to find the house. Just outside the churchyard stood a gray building where the pastor lived. My Mama had told me that the church kept records of all baptisms and that, if the pastor had the record book, he would be able to tell me what house Peter had lived in. Unfortunately, however, the pastor was not home. Somewhat frustrated, I wandered back to the church and did what any normal person does when feeling somewhat frustrated: I hung out in the cemetery.
What? You don’t hang out in cemeteries when you are disappointed or frustrated? But the company is so down to earth and empathetic… Just kidding. Ha ha

Actually, I went back to the cemetery and started taking pictures of the headstones belonging to “Lehner.” And, boy, were there a lot of them! Either the Lehners have an unusually high mortality rate, or there are many of them in Alkoven. I’m inclined to think the latter…. By the way, this was the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen; it was perfectly kept with flowers and crosses and colors everywhere. So if you are feeling somewhat frustrated and you are looking for a cemetery in which to hang out, I highly recommend the one in Alkoven.

Well, anyway, apparently I wasn’t the only visitor on this particular Saturday afternoon. Whilst I was capturing headstones for posterity, a middle-aged woman approached me, looking friendly but bewildered. Her expression said something along the lines of “why in the world are you taking pictures of graves?!” (in a nice way). But before she could ask, I explained to her my situation and that I was looking for my great-great grandfather’s house. My Mama had told me it was either #14 or #18 (they were numbered in the order that they were built. Cool, huh? If we did that in America, though, I think my house number would be 543,343,689,292…435. And that is simply too long to remember).

Back to the story. So this lady, whose name turned out to be Rosemary, decided to make my mission into her personal mission as well. Forget whatever else she needed to do or if she already had plans for that Saturday, she was now my assistant, and she was going to do whatever she could to help me find that house. Our first stop was a bakery café right across from the church. Here she explained my story to the two women working; they proceeded to bring out a couple books containing the complete history of Alkoven, including the history of each house and who had lived there. And then, over coffee, we went through them both, page by page, searching for possible leads on the Lehners. Here we discovered that house #14 wasn’t actually a house (I couldn’t understand what they said it was; they had really difficult accents), but it had been torn down and replaced with a new building. But house #18 happened to be right across the street from the bakery, so we went over there—stop two on our quest. We talked with the cute old couple who live in house 18, but they didn’t know anything about Lehners. They even asked more of their neighbors who happened to be outside, but no luck either. At this point, there were at least 8 or 9 sweet small-town Austrians trying to solve the mystery of my roots. It was so precious. I just wanted to give them all a hug. Meanwhile, one of the women at the bakery got our attention; she had found some Lehners who lived on a farm just outside of town and she thought we should go ask them. So Rosemary and I bid adieu to the house #18 and company and drove to an adorable farm about three minutes away. And though we talked with the owner and her grandmother, they both knew nothing of Peter. Alas. Rosemary drove me back to church and, before going back to her regularly-scheduled Saturday, she asked for my email, so she could ask the pastor and let me know what she found out. About 30 minutes later, I was on a train back to Linz. I wasn’t disappointed that I hadn’t found the house, though; on the contrary, I couldn’t stop smiling because of the genuine kindness of a dozen strangers in Alkoven, Austria.

I spent the rest of the day exploring Linz by myself. And though Linz wasn’t particularly remarkable and I couldn’t locate most of the points of interest in the tourist booklet, it was an absolutely fantastic day. It was so refreshing to spend an entire day by myself—or rather, just me and God. Much-needed and so , so rewarding.

Then Sunday was equally wonderful. The weather was gorgeous—sunny with a high of 75 (Relient K reference, anyone?), so of course, I decided to wear my Chacos. I could feel my feet smiling. :) After church, I went to the Stadtpark (city park) and played volleyball for 2 hours with friends—some old and some new. Then we went out for icecream in the Innenstadt (beautiful old downtown area). At 18:30 (6:30), I met some other friends for dinner, where we stayed at talked until 21:30 (9:30 p.m.). All in all, it was a lovely Sunday and part of a fabulous weekend.

This week is going to be rather hectic, I’m afraid. I have a lot to do before I head out for Easter break. But it will definitely be worth it! On Friday, I fly to Ireland, where I will visit Dublin, Galway, the Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher, Killarney, and then go back to Dublin, from whence I will fly to Italy, where I will go to Pisa, Rome, Florence, and Venice. I’ll then basically head straight to the Czech Republic, where I will spend a few days in Prague and a day or so in the picturesque eastern Czech Republic. Did I mention that I am excited? Because I am. :)

Well, I am really tired… which means that I probably ought to call it a night. As usual, thank so much for reading my blog; that really means a lot to me. And while, because of my blog, you are updated on my life, I am likely rather clueless about yours. That being said, I would love to hear from you—how you are doing, what you are up to, and how I can be praying for you. So please feel free to send me an email or a facebook message or a snail-mail letter (I’ll give you my address, if you want it) or a carrier-pigeon… anything! It would make my day to hear from you. :)
But I know everyone is busy, so no pressure. Even if I don’t hear from you, know that I still love you all and am praying for you. More importantly, though, know that you are loved by the One who created springtime and sunny days. And whether you live in Alkoven or Rhode Island or anywhere in between, He cares about you, and He’ll never let you go.

Until next time…. Ba ba! (bye bye!) :)

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