I have been hard at work lately on my cycle of Marienstadt stories and I am loving this. After I wrote The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood I was so in enthralled with creating the town of Marienstadt and its quirky, peculiar and yet oh-so familiar characters that I wanted to keep going. I absolutely loved several of the characters in that story. Father Nick was someone I wanted to spend more time with and Gretchen Fritz and her Calico Cuckoo Fabrics & Quilting Supplies shop just begged for further exploration. I loved so many of the townspeople, especially Andy and Annie Kneidl who own the sausage store, and Bob and Mandy Herzing who own the Maple Sugar Shack. And, of course, I was completely in love with Oliver and was in no way ready to be done with him. So I decided to keep on writing.
I sat down and sketched out a list of stories I wanted to try writing about all within the town of Marienstadt and with many of the same characters making appearances. Some of the stories would be funny, some sad, some romantic, some spooky. Each should stand on its own as a story but all will share settings, characters, etc. As I have been working on this more and more stories keep popping into my head.
I finished the first draft of one of them last week. It is a sad story and I found it hard to write but it is also an important story about something that really happened back during the Depression. I called it “The Confession of Genny Franck.” In it Father Nick gets called to visit 103 year old Genny Franck, the great-grandmother of Trish Ritter (from the Belsnickel story). Genny tells Father Nick that she has a story to tell him and then she'll let him decide if he wants to give her absolution or not. I'll admit I had a terrible time while I was writing it because there is so much pain in it but I think the ending is beautiful and uplifting so perhaps it is worth it.
I needed a complete change from that so I started a second story which I am calling “Peeper Baumgratz and the Sister's Snow-Plow” and I've never had this much fun writing anything in my life. I'm sitting here laughing as I write about a Marienstadt “character” who gets in trouble with the law and high-tails it to a hideout in the woods. Chief of Police Henry Werner, a gorgeously handsome but troubled man, recruits his old friend Oliver Eberstark to go into the woods and hunt for Peeper. Nobody should have this much fun writing.
There are several more stories on my list including one about a competition between two of Marienstadt's oldest families over how to make a proper dumpling and a saga about Jubal Winter, one of the town's earliest, and most mysterious, residents. This story is based in a story handed down in my own family.
I'm pretty sure I'm going to call the completed collection The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Marienstadt Stories. Trying to capture the true flavor and sense of the place in which I grew up is more challenging and yet more fun than I would have imagined. While writing the other day I remembered how my Dad and many of the other local people used the word “pritneer” - a word I've never heard used anywhere else. He would say, “it's pritneer dark out” or “the tomatoes are pritneer ready to be picked”. The word means “almost” and is probably a corruption of “pretty nearly” but in my mind it is such a local word.
This morning I read a post on the St. Marys Facebook page about the way dump-trucks loaded with cinders would come out after a snowfall and 2 guys with shovel would stand in the back and spread cinders on the roads to make them less slippery. I remember that so well as well as how many kids had tiny black lumps in their knees from falling and skinning them and getting cinders under the skin that never left.
It surprises me how memory works – the smells, the flavors, the sounds, the feel of what it meant to be a kid in a small Pennsylvania Dutch town in the fifties and sixties. Writing about it is pure joy – even with its sadnesses and shames.
Thanks for reading.