When I was in the US for my most recent visit, my uncle was able to finally show me his project over the past year: a statue of Saint Anthony in the church cemetery dedicated to the memory of our family’s past, present, and future. That sobering experience was of course followed up by a barbecue and great times with the family at his house, which he and my aunt always seem to arrange when I am in town and for which I am very thankful. However I have not been able to stop thinking about my family history since that time and have decided to finally put down a few words to page.
It seems only fitting on all saints’ day.
One of my earliest memories of my grandparents is leaving their house after a weekend visit. Walking across the porch to our parked car in the driveway, we would wave goodbye and more often than not grandpa would shout us a parting “mach’s gut!” as we pulled away.
As a child, I didn’t even know what it meant other than that it was something said when someone takes his leave. It wasn’t until I started learning German in high school that I learned that it best translates to “take care” but literally means “do well.”
Growing up in such a large, extended family, you are surrounded by people who are a lot like you. Growing up in a small town in southern Indiana, you are surrounded by a lot of people who, while not family, are still a lot like you having the same German heritage. But even as a child I could tell there were some things that set our family apart from my fellow classmates. From simple things like being studious and finishing my homework, to helping out someone who wasn’t quite getting the lesson, to the simple gesture of always remembering to say please and thank you, such instincts just seemed natural to me and it was jarring to see when such acts were not common for all of my friends and classmates. Slowly I began to realize how much I owed to my family. Slowly I began to appreciate how important it was to do well.
My father taught me to always keep asking questions and learning. My mother taught me that only my best was good enough. My grandmother taught me what true kindness was. And grandpa proved to me the value of tenacious hard work and always doing what was right. These are the values of my family and I am reminded every day how far they have taken me.
Having lived and worked for years amongst Germans, it is clear that there are traits common to our shared heritage. Though one trait that sets us apart is genuine unreserved geniality to friends as well as strangers and of course to family, which I enjoy whenever I visit. Returning home is never anything less than warm and convivial. And getting together is as natural as if I had never left.
Visiting the cemetery on my most recent visit helped put my family’s legacy in perspective. Seeing the statue of Saint Anthony dedicated to the generations of our family past, present, and future was a humbling experience. While standing at my grandparents’ grave as my uncle told stories of my ancestors resting throughout the churchyard, I saw just how far those values brought us all and at what cost. The future is built on those who have gone before us and our family has laid an uncommonly strong foundation. For this I am forever grateful.
To grandma and grandpa and the rest of my family who are no long with us, I am deeply thankful. And to those who come after me, I trust our values will serve you just as well as they did me and the rest of the family. To you I simply say mach’s gut.