Carol Yalcinkaya-Ferris (USA/Turkey) is now a retired English-language instructor who spent many years teaching at colleges in the USA and at many universities in Istanbul (Bosporus University, Koç University, Okan- and Piri Reis University). She lives and writes in Istanbul and San Diego.
A LOVELY BRIDE SHE WAS IN 1900
Loveliness does not change with centuries. Children are born innocent and their parents protect them as long as possible. Cunegunes, my maternal grandmother, was born in the spring of 1884. Her mother had been one of the lovelies of her day. She was noticeably tall and well-proportioned with light-colored hair which dropped to her waist. Her blue eyes were remarkable with a tinge of green. She spoke both Slovenian and German for in those days Slovenia lay in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Parents would tell their girls that well-spoken German was something a young man valued. He would be proud to introduce her to his family someday. And, who knows, there were many princes who often came to their province during the hunting season for deer. A beautiful woman was more enduring than a deer shot dead. Yes, the prince could hang the rack of horns on his estate wall but a beautiful woman could accompany him to a royal ball. It had been heard that even a prince might fall in love with a well-brought up girl. If she could converse in German and sing with the beauty of a canary’s voice, there might be a golden cage to keep her safe.
In the late summer of 1883, during the annual harvest, a provincial ball would be given and any girl who had a long dress could attend. Young suitors from all around would be coming in their colorful leather lederhosen with suspenders holding them up above the knees. There were also many young men with beautiful blue/green eyes, fair skin, and fresh beards newly trimmed. Young girls had practiced dancing with other girls so that, if they were asked, they could follow the one-two-three of a waltz. Every heart was filled with anticipation. One might be chosen to dance; one might be offered a glass of apfel wein.
And, so it was, with her soft blue dress matching her magic blue eyes, Cunegundes’ mother appeared with her little bouquet of forest violets which she had hurried out to pick one-by-one in the early morning dew. She had saved a satin ribbon to wind around the stems of the violets so that there would be a little tail dangling. Her mother, dearest mother, had loaned her only pair of kid gloves from her own wedding day. These gloves were twenty years old but still soft and they just fit. Our young innocent blue-eyed maiden smelled as fragrant as the violets with her scented soap from the family trunk where all treasures were kept. Mother had also loaned her narrow wedding slippers with a slight heel to give some height. Once a girl had married, there was no other time to wear such precious shoes again.
The town folk had assembled as dusk settled and candles twinkled in the lanterns lining the stone walks. Proud parents strolled with their daughters between them and everyone was headed towards the town hall. At eight o’clock, a well-polished silver horn would announce the commencement of this harvest festival. Each housewife had brought her best piece of pastry and set it on the tables under the trees. Big barrels of that “apfel wein” were set up under other trees. Daughters would ask to meet their girlfriends inside the hall. The young girls, so excited in their finery, would stand together but dare to peek looking for which young men might try to catch their eye. Such excitement had never been felt by the younger girls who had not been old enough the previous season.
There were always a few girls who had one or two years of experience from the previous festivals; they were a bit more bold than the ones who were just sixteen or seventeen. My grandmother’s mother was one of these older girls, nearly eighteen, who was more than ready to be noticed and to dance as many times as possible. In fact, she had already met a very handsome soldier who had come from just across the border in Germany. He had come to the festival last year and he promised to come again if he were still assigned to represent his government. Our Anna had looked here and there nearly giving up hope to see her officer just one more time. “Oh, where could he be?” she fretted to her closest friend. The first waltz had begun and her feet were eager to follow a dancer with colored tights and green lederhosen. She had been looking so intently in front of her that she failed to notice that her young man had already entered the door and crept up behind her.
Her best friend was already being led to the floor but where was her beau?
Just when her heart was sinking with no hope left, Paul, the young officer, tapped her lightly on her right shoulder and she blinked. She turned and, suddenly, there he was. He seemed even taller than last year and perhaps a bit thinner. He was well-shaved this year and as fine a man as Anna had ever hoped to catch. The music began again; he took her gloved hand and led her to the edge of the dance area. Her heart beat with the waltz and her joy could not be denied. His own gloved hand found the curvature of her slender back and they were swept into the crowd of colorfully dressed youth.
As they danced, they became reacquainted. He teased and said that he had nearly not come tonight. “Oh,” she looked up into his eyes. A year had been a long time to wait and she knew that her feelings had taken root. She had let him give her a soft kiss goodbye at the end of last year’s dance and that kiss had kept her dreams warm for a year and a day. She refused to think of any of the other neighbor’s sons or of the occasional other soldier who came into this provincial capital. Her heart was set; she was set. If Paul would ask her to walk outside in the moonlight, she would acquiesce.
She had watched her parents during the last year and understood their attraction, especially as the long evening’s candles began to burn low. Her father would catch her mother’s eye; a few minutes later, her mother would softly say, “Come dear, let us say our prayers.” Anna’s mother would sit and Anna would kneel by her bed. After the “Amen,” Anna would let her mother pull her quilt right up to her neck. Those beautiful blue eyes would gaze into Paul’s as if he were near but not a word of this passed her lips.
Paul could not hold her tightly as he led her around the floor. He asked if she would like a cool drink hoping that they could have a few minutes alone under the lanterns outside.
He too had dreamed of pulling her near, looking into her eyes, and hoping that he could read a message of love. He had written to his parents and hinted that the girls in Austria were even more beautiful than the ones in their town. His family was quite comfortable, but he couldn’t be sure that they would accept a foreign wife for him. He could only hope but he was determined to win this beauty—both body and soul. He had heard the other officers tell of their conquests and he knew how to proceed. He was not coarse but he was a full-grown man. It was time to have more than a stolen kiss.
These two lovely, lovely young people were able to slip away and what happened was as natural as eating a fragrant apple tart soaked in thick, sweet cream. At the first chance, Paul pulled Anna as close to him as he could. He brushed her soft hair and looked down into her magnetic eyes. “Anna, I love you.” Nothing had halted her: “Paul, I have dreamed of this night for one year.” Since neither of this couple had had any experience of their own, Paul asked Anna to follow him to a nearby hill, away from the lights and the crowd. He took off his jacket and laid it on the mound. He asked Anna to come and sit on his legs. No sooner than she had sat, he kissed her mouth and then her neck. He laid his soft officer’s hand over her heart. Although Anna was still a dear, sweet girl, she had decided that if Paul would want her favor, she would bestow it.
The young couple became warmer, even in the cool evening air, and each kiss led them towards the danger that every parent fears. Paul’s manhood stood up and Anna’s womanhood trusted his desire. Nature took its course and the outcome could be expected. Hardly a half hour had passed; a lifetime of guidance, prayers, and hopes all dimmed as nature had her way. Anna begged to see him soon, as soon as possible. Paul promised to come to town again within a month. Each lover stood and straightened his clothing. Paul shook his jacket but laid it around Anna’s shoulders. It had become a bit damp as early August could be like that. They wandered back to the twinkling lanterns along the walk and Anna saw her friends laughing with their dance partners. The time had passed and now it was time that the girls should go home to their sweet dreams.
Luckily, Anna had not stained her dress in the grass. She tossed her hair and it looked as though she had danced it into waves. The long awaited festival had come and was now gone. The evening had been so romantic, so filled with longing for the lips that were as determined as hers. Her parents had waited on their balcony and when they saw her safely near, they felt reassured that all was well. With only a lantern burning, Anna was able to avoid close exam. She kissed her mother good night and slipped into her room. Quickly, she removed her dress and hung it on the door. She would check it later. Now, she knelt and thanked God for sending her darling, Paul, to her just once again. A million thoughts weighed her weary mind. No eyes could resist such a weight.
Each new day brought Anna closer to seeing Paul in the coming month. At night’s, she prayed for his safe return. In the morning sunlight, she studied her face in the little mirror tied to her window pane. At the end of the first two weeks, Anna had expected to feel her monthly aches but they seemed delayed. Three weeks passed and, finally, Paul was due to keep his promised visit. They would meet near the white gazebo encircled with primroses. She would ask mother for some stale bread to feed the swans on the pond near the gazebo.
The appointed day came and Anna dressed with special care. She hadn’t had much of an appetite for two weeks and her dress was a bit looser than before. She feared that Paul might not come. She broke the bread into the smallest pieces to make it last as long as necessary. Sometimes, she dared to gaze far along the walk. Waiting for one month was as bad as waiting for one year. Her prayers were heard and answered. Just as in the dance area, Paul crept up behind her and created a breeze to carry his kiss. Anna turned in a second and her heart took life. It became a little butterfly and it fluttered to his warm chest just above his own heart. He reached to take a few bread crumbs and tossed them directly to the swans. “Geliebte,” he whispered, I adore you.” His eyes gazed into hers but he saw that something was amiss. “My own Darling, what can it be?”
Anna hardly knew how to explain her situation and, in a minute, he realized what must have happened. “I must speak to my parents,” he informed her. “Do not worry.” “They are kind and we will ask their guidance.” Paul had planned to spend an hour but he had to meet his fellow officers in a short while. “I will make a trip to Germany in the next month and visit my parents for one week. I will meet you again in October on the third Sunday.” There was nothing that Anna could do but to accept his plan with a brave face.
Each day seemed a week and each week, a month. She had become even thinner with less and less of an appetite. Her mother understood that Anna was very unlike her cheerful self. She wondered what could have happened and why Anna had not spoken.
Finally, Anna’s mother suggested that they walk out to the nearest farm and see if they could find some homemade cheese and some softer curds for pastry which they had often made together. As they walked and passed the usual town crowds, Anna’s tears began to sparkle in the sun. “Anna, Anna, why?” “Mother, you have ever been my best and most loving friend. I must confess something that will hurt you and make you sad. I met a foreign officer last year and again this year at the autumn festival. We loved on the grassy hillside and, now, I am not well.” With all of the love and patience that a mother could gather under the weight of such news, she hugged Anna and said that nature will take its course. “We can only accept and do our best.” “Have you informed your officer?” the loving, gentle mother asked. Anna explained that he would return after talking with his parents in Germany. This gentle mother comforted Anna saying that she herself would discuss this information with her father and that the three of them would meet with the young man when returned to town.
At last, Anna had found some relief for she had no hope of any change and no solution for such a serious situation. They came to the farm and collected the curds and hard cheese. They drank a glass of fresh milk with cream floating in it. On the way home, Anna’s mother soothed her and explained that she was not the first girl to have such a problem. “First, we must speak with the officer.”
As slowly as each day and week passed, the time came for Paul’s return. Anna dressed carefully after washing with the scented soap. She twisted the garden flowers with a ribbon and tied her hair off her ears. As the time approached, she left her home and walked to the gazebo. This time, she found Paul there watching the swans. He seemed sad as he stood alone. “Paul, Paul.” He looked into her eyes and she understood that his eyes lacked the joy she had imagined. “My parents would like you to come home with me.”
Rather than asking Paul what his news was, Anna simply led Paul to her home. Her parents had sat on the balcony waiting for this unexpected visitor and his news. The parents entered the house from the balcony while Paul followed Anna through the front door. He bowed to Anna’s mother and then to Anna’s father. He kept the position until Anna’s father bid him to sit. “My Son, we are all God’s children. We must do what is proper.” “Paul, inform us if you have some offer.”
Paul kept his head bowed; he could not look into anyone’s eyes in this cozy room being warmed by a small glow in the hearth. “I have informed my parents about Anna’s situation. Naturally, they had not expected this to happen.” “They understood that I love Anna, but they reminded me that I am not permitted to marry during my stay in the army.” “I would lose my assignment and my future as a professional soldier.” “My parents have offered to pay a comfortable sum of money for Anna to be cared for until our child is born. At that time, we will send a young couple to collect the baby and provide for them to take her to America.” “Anna will be free to have a new life after such a great sacrifice.” Paul hung his head and waited for any mercy.
The family pride had evaporated. The parents felt no envy for their daughter’s compromised future. There was nothing to be gained from anger. They would not demand that this errant youth should marry their daughter; it seemed impossible. The solution Paul offered was more than they could have hoped for. Paul remembered that his parents would send a lawyer to discuss the details. Everyone stood and Paul asked to be alone with Anna. The parents walked out into the garden.
Paul held Anna’s hands but she did not look up into his eyes. “Anna, please, can you ever forgive me?” She remained silent not knowing what she could say. “It is my future,” he rambled as if that could have any meaning for her. Still, Anna could not nor would she speak. She walked to the door and Paul understood that their parting was imminent. “Anna, may I ask for one favor?” “May I have one cut of your curl to carry in my portfoy?” Without hesitation, she reached for her sewing scissors and snipped a golden curl. It was the last kindness and token of love that she could willingly give him.
And, that is the story behind my maternal grandmother’s origin. She was born on the saint’s day of Cunegundes on March the third in 1884. Her mother first lost her heart and then her child. Cunegundes was gently laid into the arms of her new parents and eight years later sailed off to America from Bremerhaven never to return to Europe. And, after another eight years, just after Cunegundes had married at the age of sixteen minus a few days, her parents sailed back to Europe never to see America again. Only time softened these blows. Cunegundes’ mature husband loved her with great devotion and, together, they brought nine more children into this world. And, from their ninth child, their very last one, I became the first and beloved granddaughter of Cunegundes. Nearly one hundred years later, I myself came back to find that gazebo by the lake and the little hill with the green grass growing.