Faith of our Fathers Print
Grand Mom
Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

grand mom

I am most thankful this year for my astonishing discovery that traveling in Europe is still possible in your 80’s as long as you have a young and loving travel companion.

I recently did it with my 26 year-old granddaughter, Hillary, and a fun-loving group of Luxembourg Americans. There were 29 of us plus three guides.

Touring the countryside

I loved the rides on the tour bus each day because they were never too long (Luxembourg is only the size of Rhode Island) and the scenery was magnificent.

Every small town was centered on their little Catholic church proudly poking its steeple into the sky as a promise of better days ahead.

I could imagine my ancestors building their lives around their faith. It was their anchor, their inspiration, and their strength as they struggled to rear their large families only to see them depart for America in search of more land to cultivate.

Miles and miles of lush green hills displayed their fertile vineyards along the west side of the Moselle River, while Germany gathered their harvest along the east banks.

It was harvest time in September, and we Luxembourg-Americans were happy to help them celebrate their bountiful grape harvest.

The Schlink Winery entertained us with a welcoming party in which many of their dignitaries turned out in addition to the 32 of us and our own guests.

Family member visit

Cousin Ewald Fixmer drove six hours from his home in Munich, Germany, to join us for that dinner after finding a hotel room across the street from ours.

“Your wife will let you go all that way to meet a woman you only met on the Internet?” his co-workers at the Audi plant had asked him.

“Sure, why not?” he replied. “She’s 83 years old.”

That night we also met John Schlink, our volunteer driver for the next day. It was to be a free day in which we could separate from the group for independent research.

Searching for relatives

I was delighted that Ewald could go with us because my search was for a Fixmer, the great grandfather of my husband’s. My ancestry search had hit a brick wall with the death of Bob’s grandfather in 1914. We knew only that he had emigrated in 1891 along with three brothers and a sister. The sister died on the ship and the brothers separated when they reached Illinois.

John drove the three of us to Bech, an area where he himself had grown up and from which the Fixmers had emigrated.

We were thrilled to see the pretty little country church still standing despite centuries of wars, but locked to weekday visitors.

It was the little cemetery that was most alive and in full bloom, evidence of a caring gardener.

It was my granddaughter Hillary who was the first to spot the Fixmer family plot. It was a huge tombstone at least seven feet tall.

There they were: Pierre Fixmer and his wife Anna Jaeger! So that’s who they were? Pierre and Anna. Jaeger is a new name to add to the family tree.

And here was another new name: Margaret, the youngest daughter who stayed behind when her five older siblings left. And a year after she buried her mother, she buried her 14 year-old son, and later her husband.

And old Pierre lived to be 90! What stories these tombstones tell.

John Schlink pointed out that each family has to pay a large annual fee for the upkeep of the graves. Someone still cares.

We had hoped, of course, to get at the church records which could tell us so much more, but that was not possible. The pastor has 10 other parishes. We even located the one in which he lives, but he was not at home. John and Ewald will pursue this.

Mass with archbishop

Another highlight of the trip was being invited by Archbishop Fernand Franck, head of the Catholic Church in Luxembourg, to a private Mass which he held for us in Notre Dame Cathedral in the crypt.

After the Mass, the archbishop himself gave us a tour of the cathedral. It was beautiful beyond words and he followed it up with a reception for us in his own residence.

We had wine (of course) and so many appetizers that we had no need for dinner that night. All of us had posed for a picture with him in his beautiful garden and when we were back inside I approached him and told him I wrote for the Madison Catholic Herald and asked if he would pose for a picture with me. He agreed without hesitation and set his wine glass down on a nearby table.

“Oh yes,” I laughed, “We must look good.”

“No,” he replied, “We must look natural.”

I guess it is more natural to be without a glass of wine than with one. Even in Luxembourg.

I am thankful for the faith of our fathers . . . and for good wine.

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