Tag Archive | family history

How Julius Fischer came to Michigan City (and so much more)

How Julius Fischer came to Michigan City (and so much more)

By David Weiss, based on my own childhood memories, along with the recollections of my father, Frederick Weiss, and some written notes from two of my great uncles, Ernie Fischer and Fritz (Frederick) Fischer.

My great-great-grandfather, Julius Fischer, was already 50 years old when he came to America from Germany to start a new life. He arrived in Baltimore in 1891, alone, bringing with him a trade—rug weaver—a trunk filled with his few possessions, and a heart full of memories and hopes.

From Baltimore he headed to Chicago where it seems he might have had some relatives willing to help him get established in America (although I don’t know that for sure). As I said, he came alone, but not entirely alone. Among the memories in his heart were his wife, Emma (39), and four children: Frederich Rudolph (14), Ernst Gustav (12), Gustav Adolph (9), and Ernst John (4). Ernst John was my great-grandfather.

Obviously Julius had a great spirit for adventure heading to America. Yet I am sure that the rush of excitement he felt as the day of his departure approached must have been equaled or more by the uncertainty and sadness bidding his family farewell. There would be no phones lines or internet to connect them. No Skype to allow face see face across continents or to keep fast-changing children familiar. Only letters, which, like people, crossed the ocean on ships that were slow … on ships that sometimes sank. It was surely a farewell thick with emotion for all of them.

I imagine that over the weeklong passage Julius must have replayed that farewell in his heart again and again, memories heaving inside him while waves heaved this way and that outside the ship.

Once in America, however, alongside those memories there were also hopes. Most especially the hope that with each rug he wove, he came a bit closer to weaving Emma and his sons back into his life. He knew the cost of passage for the rest of the family; and he had already calculated how many rugs he had to weave—and sell—before he could send for them to come join him.

When Eastern Orthodox artists create icons, each brushstroke is a prayer, imbuing holiness within the final image. When Navajo medicine men create sand paintings, they carry healing power, seeking to restore balance or wholeness to life’s broken web. I’ve never seen one of my great-great-grandfather’s rugs, and, for all I know, they looked quite ordinary—and soon enough looked simply well worn by foot traffic. But I’m certain that those woven rugs carried within them all the intention and love of a man whose loom moved steady and sure like the waves that could one day bring his family home to him. No less than the finest sacred art, his rugs were icons of hope and wholeness.

At last! Finally, as the summer of 1892 ended, Julius had saved enough money so that he could send it to Emma, instructing her to book passage for herself and the children as soon as she could. Imagine the joyful anticipation on both sides of the Atlantic. All their long absence and deep longing was about to be rewarded. Emma booked their passage on a steamship for the fall and began packing their things and counting the days. I’m not sure that anyone but Julius ever saw the letter she sent confirming their travel plans, but I am sure that her words were filled with warm delight and hope.

Julius took a train from Chicago to New York to meet them upon their arrival. He made sure to reach the city a day or two before the steamship was due. America may have seemed like a promised land, but New York was already a big city—and no place for a woman with four children in tow. He would be waiting for them.

And so he was. Waiting. Three long days, anticipation slowly turning to anxiety—and then to anguish. Every ocean passage was a gamble. Even the strongest and fastest ships were dwarfed by the sheer power and occasional fury of the ocean. One day news reached the port: the ship on which his family was traveling had been lost at sea. Swallowed up in a violent storm that meant no harm (storms never do), but nonetheless swept all the passengers and crew to their death.

Julius was heartbroken. That’s a word too easily cheapened. We’re “heartbroken” when it rains on the day we had planned to go the beach, or when our favorite team loses a big game. But Julius was H E A R T—Emma—Frederich Rudolph—Ernst Gustav—Gustav Adolph—Ernst John—B R O K E N. Shoulder-shaking, fist-pounding, lungs-heaving, stomach-lurching grief swallowed him. And like Jonah’s whale, it spit him out on the shores of New York … where he had come to meet his family only to lose them instead.

In a dark daze he rode the train back to Chicago. While the car clacked against the rails, in his mind he unraveled every rug he’d woven in America. Why?! Did he bargain with God—making desperate pleas and promises? Did he rage against God—uttering curses that would haunt him later? Did he imagine smashing his loom into a thousand pieces when he got back to Chicago—back to the home that would never feel like a home again. Who knows.

But he did get home. And as quickly as he arrived he left. I don’t know why. A man in such deep grief often gives few answers—and certainly needs to give none at all. Perhaps to mourn and sulk, perhaps to make a clean break with a broken past, perhaps in the faintest hope for healing, he moved on. But back then, 51 and widowed was an old age to make a new start.

In any case, Julius packed up and left Chicago, traveling a short ways south along the edge of Lake Michigan until he came to Michigan City. Compared to Chicago it was a small town, barely 10,000 people, a place where one could be alone and new—but not for long. He didn’t settle here; not at first. He simply rented a room from a family that took in single men as boarders. The Jantzen house stood at the corner of Michigan Boulevard and Roeske Avenue—where Horizon Bank stands today (2012).

I suppose he was quiet about his loss—that’s the way “we Germans” tend to be. And anyway, there was always plenty of loss to go around. Julius knew that he wasn’t the only man to have risked—and lost everything in coming to America. Still, in later years friends would tell how he would walk to the lake front daily, spending hours watching the water. Lake Michigan was hardly an ocean, but stand on its shore and it passes well enough. He uttered curses, whispered prayers, and hurled questions. From the beachfront, if the wind was just right, it whisked the sand along, whistling a low sigh that echoed his grief.

Barely a month later, not even long enough to establish a familiar routine in a new town, his life would again be forever changed, but we’re not quite there yet …

A little over a month before, in Germany, a mother and her four children waited eagerly, then anxiously, to board a ship for America. Anxiously, because one of the boys was showing signs of measles. What if they were not allowed to board the ship—what then?

Anxiety became anguish when she was told unsympathetically, “Ma’am, the whole family must be quarantined until the illness runs its course. An ocean vessel has perils aplenty without adding measles to the mix.” So they were quarantined in the city for a couple of weeks until all the boys were well again. Of course, she could have written a letter explaining this to Julius; perhaps she did. Perhaps the letter itself was lost as sea, sunk with the ship that never reached New York, the ship that Julius never realized did not hold the family he held in his heart.

Emma fretted throughout their days in delay, but she had no way to know the tragic news that had met Julius in New York. Once released from quarantine she immediately booked a new passage on the next steamship. Thus, while Julius moved his belongings and his grief to Michigan City, Emma, as fiercely devoted as he was devastated, willed the wind and the water to carry her and the children from one shore to the other as fast as possible.

She knew he would not be waiting for them in New York, but she could not have known that he would be grieving her death. She arrived at port in the late fall of 1892—without a husband to welcome her—exactly as Julius had not wanted. But God help any stranger who had wrongly crossed paths with this woman on her way to find her husband.

Once in New York she and the boys boarded a train for Chicago. Exhausted by the long passage on the ship, they probably slept, or dozed at least, for much of the 35-hour ride to Chicago. But as they neared the city a rush of excitement began rising inside her. She had the address, and soon—SOON—she would be home and they would be a family. Again.

But imagine, while Emma and boys bumped along into the city, memories of their father quickening their pulses—at the same time Julius walked across town in Michigan City, his steps slowed by the memories that ached unrelentingly as he walked back to the house he boarded at, the house that was friendly enough, but was so far from family.

Julius slept that night as he had each night of the past month: restless. In the dark of his dreams the ship still creaked and groaned before breaking up. Voices still cried out to him. As always, he was helpless to do anything. And he woke in the morning as wet as if he’d been swept overboard himself.

The next morning in Chicago, fresh off the train, Emma collected the children for the last leg of their journey. Well, “fresh” off the train is wishful thinking. After a week on a ship and another day-and-a-half on a train they were hardly fresh. But the readiness to be home pushed them all forward.

Until: “What? What do you mean he doesn’t live here anymore?! He knew we were coming. He sent for us.” And then the long breathless silence as the neighbors told her what Julius had told them. Four weeks of unfathomable grief hit her hard and fast, and she collapsed into sobs. Yes, they were alive—it was true—but in that first moment she knew all at once, in an instant, the grief that had battered Julius over the past weeks.

She was wordless, until the same love that allowed her to feel his grief allowed her as well to end it. “Where? Where is he now?” There was not a moment to lose. They raced back to the train station and boarded a Michigan Central train for Michigan City.

I cannot imagine that train ride. But I would bet that the four boys added the word “awe” to their vocabulary that day. Their mother had not simply gotten them to America, to Chicago, and soon to Michigan City and their father. She had—if it were possible—pulled them all from the depths of the sea and brought them back to life again!

At the train station in Michigan City—the old depot building down where the railroad tracks pass by the entrance to Washington Park today—she asked around frantically. She demanded: “Who knows Julius Fischer? A rug weaver. A grieving man. Who knows him?! Where can I find him?”

Finally an uncertain response, “I’m not sure, Ma’am, but there’s a ‘single’ (an unattached man) who just took up boarding at the Janzten place a few weeks back. I’m thinkin’ he’s your weaver.” “Take me there! Now!”

It is an exaggerated and rather irreverent notion that Germans expect beer in heaven, but it is a fact, well-attested, that it was a beer truck willing to carry Emma and her four sons from their death back to their dad at the Janzten house.

Here I pause. There are some places too holy to venture, even imaginatively, so I will not attempt to describe the reunion that followed. Take equal and abundant measures of disbelief and joy, laughter and tears, shouting and silence, dancing and simply holding tight. That’s as close as I can come.

And I don’t know where they slept that first night. The Janzten place only had a few odd beds for single boarders, but just maybe that night they made room for a whole family. A whole family.

I will guess at this, though. That night, wherever they slept, Julius was struck by the irony that he had gone to New York to find his family—only to lose them. And he had come to Michigan City because he had lost his family—only to be found by them again. It’s small wonder that he stayed in Michigan City, founding the Star Rug Company, where he weaved rugs until he retired. Where else could he possibly have wanted to be?

* * *

This is the fourth in a series of family history vignettes.

Hans Fischer and the Angels

Hans Fischer and the Angels

By David Weiss, based on the recollections of my father, Frederick Weiss, and some written notes from my Great Uncle Ernie Fischer.

It was April 1917 and Hans Fischer was sick. In those days illness could move through an entire community silent and sure, like a sand dune, creeping unseen during the night until it engulfed your own home without warning. In the Fischer household only Hans was sick, but I doubt anyone considered that good fortune. Hans was really sick.

Hans was 5 years old and the second-oldest of six children born to Ernst and Pauline Fischer (they would have 3 more children born in the following years). An older brother was 7, and his two younger brothers and two younger sisters were 4, 3, 2, and newborn. It was a full home, and as Hans’ illness grew worse everyone hoped for the best—and everyone feared the worst.

It seems that Hans had developed complications from the measles. The measles were bad enough in the days before vaccines, but when they worsened from a skin rash, fever, and cough into a systemic infection an awful waiting game ensued. There were steps that could be taken to ease the fever and combat the chills. Unsophisticated things like cool rags on the forehead or blankets piled on and then pulled off at least gave a frantic parent something with which to busy themselves. Teas and soups might hope to take the edge off a cough. But against the illness itself, both medicine and love seemed impotent.

Hans fought the illness with all the fury of a five year-old. Which is to say, his tiny body longed for life with every God-given instinct it had—and his tiny body was battered by the gale force of a disease that took no pity on children.

Who can imagine the anguish that Ernst and Pauline felt daily as they watched little Hans flail about in discomfort, one day seeming to rally, the next day seeming to fade. Who can know the way his struggles weighed on his older and younger siblings; his disease possibly a threat to their health, his suffering the measure of each morning, afternoon, evening, and nightfall for the whole family. But even in this tragic tale there are twin moments of Mystery, small signs of that which is simply Greater Than, that which holds us and in which we live and move and have our being.

The first moment came late in the afternoon on April 25th. Hilda and Ernie, three and two years old, played on the floor not far from the crib in the living room where Hans spent his days tossing and turning. Their toddler energy was small comfort to Pauline, but the need to care for her other children, including the newborn Gert, may have been her only balm in those long days. That afternoon, though, as Ernie and Hilda amused themselves, Hans suddenly stopped his restless rocking. His eyes catching the beam of sunlight that danced through the picture window, he exclaimed in German, his words punctuated by wonder but not by fear, “Look, Mama, the angels!” It would be his last lucid moment. Almost immediately the feverish twitching engulfed his tiny body again.

His mother felt a rush of comfort and anguish. Like Mary in the Bible, she must have wondered to herself, “What can this mean?” Did she mention Hans’s strange words to her husband that evening? Did she share them immediately with any of the womenfolk who no doubt came around to offer aid as they were able? We don’t know.

Later that night, in the wee hours of April 26, the second moment arrived. Sometime after midnight, with little Hans’s crib pulled into the parents’ bedroom and set at the foot of the bed, his breathing began to wane and the restless movements found their rest at last. It was silent, this coming of death. No screams or cries, only a certain holy stillness. Nothing even to wake a parent—except that Pauline did find herself awake. Sleep came to Pauline fitfully those days, when it came at all, but she was exhausted and sound asleep, when, ever so gently, she felt herself awakened as the room, the house itself, seemed filled with what she would later describe simply as “a fluttering of wings.” Thunderous yet soft, this beating of wings came to her as sheer comfort. Before she reached the crib she knew that little Hans was no longer there.

There is no doubt that she wept bitter tears of grief for his little life cut short; little doubt that his death left an ache in her heart that stayed with her all the rest of her days. But there is also no doubt about this, because she did tell these stories after Hans had died: she was convinced that in the afternoon Hans had received the comfort he needed by a glimpse at the angels soon coming to carry him home. And she was certain as well that what had awakened her in the night was the blessed assurance of a host angels, their wings fluttering as if to say as St. Julian of Norwich said: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Alongside the ache in her heart she carried the comfort of those angels all the days of her life.

… There is a brief second chapter to this story, and a third as well.

By the time that Hans died, Ernst Fischer had attended St. Paul Lutheran Church for twenty-five years, from his youth into adulthood. A devout parishioner, even a member of the church council, he was by all accounts a member in good standing. Except by one account.

We sometimes forget how quickly the past becomes a different country, a place of customs entirely foreign to us today. Only 100 years ago at St. Paul Lutheran one’s church giving came in the form of a pew rental. You paid a fee for the pew you sat in at church. The pews closer to the front cost more money; thus the front pews came as a mark of status and wealth. But every pew cost some money. And for this family of eight, what with food and clothing and now illness as well, money could be more than scarce. Ernst had fallen behind in his pew rent.

After Hans died, Ernst met with the pastor to make preparations for the funeral for his little son. It was a hard meeting, for sure. But then came a harder meeting still, when the Board of Trustees summoned Ernst and told him that because he was behind in his pew rent they would not allow the church bell to toll while Hans’s casket was led out of the church.

There was no denying: he was behind. Bills had piled up everywhere. But this was his child—moreover God’s child—and he had died at the same age that Ernst was when he first ventured into St. Paul Lutheran on a Christmas Eve so many years earlier. Could nothing be done to toll the bell for this little one?

No. There were expectations to be upheld, not just for Ernst, but also for the whole church. No exceptions could be made. So, on a day filled with weeping and wailing during the funeral service, what Ernst heard most loudly was the silence of the untolled bell as Hans’s casket was carried down the aisle and made its way to the cemetery.

At some point, maybe that day, maybe years later as he recounted the bitterness of that silent bell, Ernst made clear that on his funeral day he wanted no bell to toll for his departing casket either. The disgrace that the church felt was sufficient for his child would be sufficient for him as well.

A lesser man might have internalized the bitterness of that day and allowed it to consume him and alienate him from the church, or worse, from God. But Ernst was a bigger man. For fifty-five more years he remained faithful, not only to God but also to St. Paul Lutheran. He served the church and the school in elected office, exemplary character, generous spirit, and seasoned wisdom. By the time he died in the summer of 1972 at the age of eighty-five, he was an icon of the church.

It was neither stubbornness nor vindictiveness that kept the bell from tolling as his casket was carried down the aisle that day in June. It was a father’s love for a child, strong as yesterday, that led his children to honor his wish. His casket also departed the church in silence—but not in disgrace. The silence allowed him, in one last gesture, to honor and accompany Hans who had died so many years earlier.

And although it isn’t in the stories I’ve heard, I will add it here, because I’m sure it’s true. If you had listened carefully in the silence left by that untolled bell, you would’ve heard again, there in the sanctuary of St. Paul Lutheran Church, a great fluttering of wings … and maybe even the voice of a little child, this time exclaiming, “Look, Papa, the angels!”

* * *

This is the third in a series of family history vignettes.

Pauline and the Train Ride from New Orleans to Chicago

Pauline and the Train Ride from New Orleans to Chicago

By David R. Weiss, based on the recollections of my Great Uncle Dick Fischer, who heard the story from Pauline (his mother) herself. It reminded me immediately of the tales spun by Huck Finn every time he needed to be someone other than himself.

My great-grandmother, Pauline, was born in 1890 in Chicago to a German Lutheran family. Tragically, her mother died in childbirth—along with her twin sister, Magdalene. So she was raised mostly by relatives in Chicago.

Her father was a well-to-do businessman. He made his money in the window business, being the person who would sell the windows to large office buildings. Eventually he wound up down in New Orleans, where he became something of an important “man about town.” In fact, when President McKinley visited New Orleans in 1901, he was part of the color guard of dignities that escorted the President through town. Somewhere in the family there’s an aerial photo of President McKinley and his horse-mounted escorts in which my great-great grandfather Spring appears.

While in New Orleans he met and married a Catholic woman and together they sent for Pauline, who was 6-7 years old at the time to come join them in New Orleans. She came down and lived with them for about 2 years. She attended (and lived at) the Sacred Heart Academy, a very nice boarding school, and during the summers she lived with them at home. By all accounts she got along fine with her stepmother, but she was NOT happy attending a Catholic school. It felt to her like she was being asked to betray her Lutheran faith.

This was an era when “Catholic” and “Lutheran” were fierce rivalries and very mistrustful of each other. She felt so bad about being “turned” Catholic against her will at this boarding school that she made plans to run away, back to her relatives in Chicago. She saved up her allowance money until she had enough to buy a train ticket from New Orleans to Chicago.

When she was only 8-9 years old she bought a ticket and boarded a train without telling anyone of her plan. But just as the train was getting ready to depart a pair of Catholic nuns who’d also boarded the train noticed Pauline—a young girl all by herself—and they asked her why she was traveling alone.

Well, Pauline knew that if she told them the whole truth she’d be turned in as a runaway and sent back to her father and stepmother … and to the Sacred Heart Academy. So she invented a slightly different “truth” that worked very well.

Flipping the facts exactly opposite, he explained that some years ago her Catholic mother and sister had died up in Chicago and that her father had recently married a Lutheran wife down here in New Orleans and had brought her down here to raise her up Lutheran. She confessed that she was running away because she had Catholic family back in Chicago that would raise her up right in the Catholic faith.

Well, these Catholic nuns were only too happy to help a “Catholic” girl run away! They kept her company the whole ride up to Chicago (they were riding the train on to Milwaukee). They even paid for all her meals and made sure no one bothered her. At the Chicago train station they blessed her for her courage and bid her well. And then Pauline quickly found her way back to her Lutheran relatives who did raise her up right, but in the Lutheran faith.

Pauline successfully made her “escape” from New Orleans because, like Huck Finn, she knew how to think quick on her feet and tell the “truth” that needed to be told in that moment. She kept in touch with both of the Catholic nuns by mail; one of the nuns lived to be 101 and remained a pen pal to Pauline until she died.

Years into their correspondence, Pauline eventually confided the whole truth to both nuns. There were no hard feelings; by then the friendship they’d come to share was stronger than the faith that they did not. It’s a humorous tale of mischief and adventure, but it reminds us, too, that the real merit of our differences is always best seen when framed by friendship.

* * *

This post is part of an occasional series of family history vignettes that I’m working on.

A First Christmas Eve in America (1892)

Ernst Fischer and that first Christmas Eve in America (1892)

By David Weiss, based on the recollections of my father, Frederick Weiss, and some written notes from my Great Uncle Ernie Fischer.

When my father was a child Christmas Eve meant many things, but there are three things that stand out for him to this day.

Christmas Eve meant the Sunday School Christmas program. At St. Paul Lutheran Church it meant that for everyone. There was no late night candlelit service. In a day when most families were connected to a church—and when “connected” meant that most families were in church most weeks, and most kids were at Sunday School most Sundays—in that day, the only worship service on Christmas Eve was the Sunday School Christmas program.

Every child had lines to learn, a song to sing, or a role to play. So Christmas Eve was a bundle of nerves—“Would I say my lines just right?” “Would I remember the song?” Would I move to the right place on cue?”—blended with excitement and a solemn sense of responsibility. Children didn’t simply go to church on Christmas Eve, they were church on Christmas Eve. That’s the first thing.

After the program was over the family would gather at Grandma and Grandpa Fischer’s home (my great-grandparents). There were eight Fischer children now grown up with children of their own, and most still lived in Michigan City, so this gathering featured a growing array of grandchildren. And, in the Fischer family on Christmas Eve, the grandchildren all had a second solemn duty.

Once assembled, each would repeat their part from the Christmas program for Grandma and Grandpa and the rest of the family. Because in this family, and most especially on Christmas Eve, to be family was to be church was to be children. Faith and family interwove themselves into the joy of the holiday. That’s the second thing.

But most of all, there is the third thing. After the children had done their recitations, Grandpa Fischer, becoming in a real sense a child himself all over again, would do his recitation. He would tell the Christmas story as it happened in his life.

In the telling Grandpa Fischer would become little Ernst Fischer. At age five, he was a new immigrant to this country, having traveled from Germany with his mother and three older brothers just two months earlier, to join their father in America.

That first Christmas Eve in America (1892), Ernst wanted desperately to go to church. So one of his older brothers took him down to the center of Michigan City, where the towering steeple of St. Paul Lutheran Church must have seemed like it marked the center of the world. My father doesn’t remember hearing why neither parent went along; perhaps as a new immigrant family they were still finding their place in this land. In any case, five-year old Ernst knew what he wanted for Christmas: he wanted to go to church.

When the prophet Isaiah writes, “a little child shall lead them,” he was perhaps thinking of a child like Ernst. When Jesus said that the Kingdom of God was to be entered with childlike faith, he might have had in mind the trusting hunger of a child like Ernst. Many of us have encountered a child who has spoken or acted with providential wisdom at some point. In 1892 in Michigan City that child was Ernst John Fischer.

Bundled against the cold, Ernst and his brother trudged through snowy streets until they reached the church. Whether in 1892 there was already a Sunday School program or whether this was a regular worship service I don’t know. But Grandpa Fischer would then tell how when they arrived at the church door his older brother lost his nerve and refused to go inside.

Now “older brother” means ten or thirteen or fifteen years old, so it is not hard to imagine that when the walk to church suddenly becoming entering the sanctuary of a unfamiliar church on a holy night, any one of us might have shrunk back as well, especially if we, too, were less than two months in this new country. And that’s what Ernst’s brother did. He said, “Sorry, kid, no way. I got you here, but we’re not going in.”

Outside in the twilight Ernst burst into tears. Who knows why. He was only five years old, and why should a church service—even a Christmas Eve service—mean so much to a little boy. But cry he did, pleading with his brother, “Please, can’t we go in?” Still, as stubbornly as Ernst wanted in, his brother wanted out. Between their tug of wills and whispered words back and forth, suddenly a booming voice interjected, “What is this? No child should be in tears on Christmas Eve!”

That booming voice, coming from a tall man and shrouded in a bushy beard, might well have sounded like Moses himself, but it was, in fact, the voice of Pastor Johannes Vollmer on his way inside to lead the worship. Both fears and tears were scattered. Pastor Vollmer’s booming voice was filled with good cheer and kindness. He greeted the boys warmly and ushered them inside.

It was Grandpa Fischer’s first Christmas Eve in America, and he spent it, as a five-old, hungry to celebrate the birth of the Christ child—and finding that hunger met with an altogether unexpected Grace in the booming voice of Pastor Vollmer and the welcoming people of St. Paul Lutheran Church.

That Christmas Eve St. Paul Lutheran Church became Grandpa’s church, and it remained so until he died 80 years later. And what my father remembers is how important that first Christmas Eve was to Grandpa Fischer. Each year when he told the story, the emotion—even the tears—of five year-old Ernst came back afresh. All the grandchildren listening knew they were hearing a recitation as sacred as anything in the Holy Writ.

After Grandpa Fischer died, Uncle Bob, one of his children, took over the telling of the tale for several more years. And even Uncle Bob’s cheeks glistened, moistened by the memory of a story where the good news of that first Christmas in Bethlehem—and the good news of that first Christmas in Michigan City—became intertwined. Faith and family. Children and church. From generation to generation.

Grandpa Fischer grew old. When I knew him he seemed ancient, but the third thing my father remembers is how at every Christmas Eve Grandpa Fischer became a child again, reminding all of them that the truth of Christmas is longing for—and being found by a Grace bigger and wider than we could have possibly imagined in the first place.

* * *

This post is part of an occasional series of family history vignettes that I’m working on.