Why I Picked A Swiss Grandfather
Being on good behavior has its compensation in heaven the same on earth. I remember a time way back, about the middle of the last century, up in the never, never land.
I’d been on pretty good behavior for quite awhile when one fine day, my Guardian Angel said to me, “I want you to study the countries of the Earth.
Because you have been good, I’ll let you pick out the one where you think you’d like to live. In about three score years from now I’m going to send you down to Earth for one lifetime.
“Countries change so, how will I know what they will be like in the next century? I queried. “That’s a good question,” said my Guardian Angel, “no country is any better than the people in it, or their ideals, and ideas. Rather, pick a man who will one day be your grandfather. Pick him for the country that is his background now and be satisfied to let the future bring what it may.”
Picking out a Grandfather from a country whose ideals were impressionable was a tall order. I thought I would never finish studying the countries of the Earth until one day I came upon Switzerland.
To me, it was the most beautiful of all countries that I had viewed. But we had been taught that is beauty is sometimes only skin deep. Perhaps, I thought the beautiful sky-pointed Alps, the profusion of wildflowers below the snow-capped mountains, the lakes, the quaint Swiss houses, the cleanliness and preciseness of the towns was only a thing of beauty. Perhaps, the people were not as fine as the beautiful countryside; but I determined to find out.
First, I studied the background of Switzerland and found to my delight that it was the oldest democracy in the world, in ancient days it was called “Helvetica.” Like most European countries, Helvetica went through its primitive period, with its domination by Imperial Rome. But, one day chosen delegates from the three countries of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, formed a political and military alliance to maintain independence against the Duke of Austria. This was on August 1, 1291. Through the centuries that followed, August 1st remained a Swiss National Holiday, because the document formed then contains ever the principle of its later constitution, even the one that governs Switzerland today. The document is called the Deed of the Confederation and is what dates Switzerland as the world’s oldest Democracy. Before another century had rolled around, five more Cantons were added by various treaties and Switzerland was hailed as a European power.
I studied this background reverently, and thought, “those people must have what it takes.” In a small territory, hemmed in by antagonistic larger countries, that had the determination and the fortitude to establish their independence.
Studying Switzerland’s background further, I found that she had suffered several centuries of hardships. The Reformation took its toll and subsequent internal political dissension weakened the little democracy, and I found myself worrying for her—forgetting that I was studying history that had already been written. Then I came upon the last part of the 18th century when the roar of the French Revolution rolled across the Alps and for the first and only time overturned the Confederation. The period of 1798-1804 was known as the Helvetica Period, I learned.
But, I saw that the Swiss were not to accept the new arrangement—although it took them until 1815 to restore the confederation. By that time, the twenty-two Cantons of which still make up the country had formed the Confederation and the system of the Cantonal sovereignty set up then and still exists today in a circle of Federal Union.
So much for background history, Switzerland inspired me, next I wondered about her achievements artistically. It didn’t take much study to find that their famous Abbey of St. Gall, laid down 1,200 years ago, was a hearthstone of the Arts in the middle of a barbarous Europe; that Calvin had founded the Geneva Academy of Arts in 1558 and that sculptors, painters, and musicians abounded in the little Democracy.
I saw the industries of the busy people of Switzerland, the herdsmen, the watch makers, the cheese and chocolate makers, and heard the happy peasants yodeling on the mountain sides, saw the St. Bernard dogs, beautiful, gentle, efficient. I read about the William Tell and his apple and was impressed. I got a fleeting glimpse into the future and say that this little country would be the seat of the Universal Postal Union, which would govern the mail service of the World.
By this time, it was quite apparent to me that Switzerland was as great a country as it was beautiful. I was convinced of its beauty, of its history, even of its aesthetic side. But, no truly great country can be great unless its people have compassion. Were there any great men or women in this beautiful spot that sacrificed their lives and their finances to help their fellow man? I didn’t have to go very far to find such names as Johann Pestalozzi, whose love of children and personal sacrifice for them, became a symbol of guidance to other countries throughout the world and of Jean Henri Dunsant, young man of a wealthy Zurich family, who devoted his life to helping the afflicted, who reduced himself to a state of poverty to help those in need, who founded the International Red Cross Society, which today has spanned to the four corners of the Globe, with its humanitarian program.
I felt numb with happiness. I felt sure that I had found the country that I wanted my Grandfather to come from. I sat down on my crossed legs and hummed softly, I looked down again into Switzerland, and as I did I suddenly saw a young boy walking the street of Schaffhausen. I heard my Guardian Angel say softly, “Have you made up your mind?’ Yes, I said, “I want a Swiss Grandfather.” She pointed to the young man in Schaffhausen and said, “Some day along about sixty years from now he will be your grandfather.”
I looked again, and heard the young boy, Conrad Bollinger was his name, saying Good-bye to his friends for he was leaving for America. I jumped up quickly. “But, he’s going to America,” I said to the Angel.
“That’s right” she answered, “there’s a new county over there—it needs the best that the rest of the world can give so that it can grow. Your Grandfather will have the ideas and ideals of the oldest democracy in the world as he establishes his home and family in a new democracy, which is trying to get over it’s growing pains.”
I must have fallen off to sleep then and it was some thirty years later when I awakened. I looked down again and this time I saw America. It took no time to find the young Conrad, but was much older now. He had fought in the American Civil War and was working for the Government of the United States.
My Guardian Angel appeared again, “Now,” she said, you can even see your mother.”
I looked carefully until I saw four children in their teens, three girls and a boy. They are your Grandfather’s children,” said my Guardian Angel, “the second from the youngest—Margaret is her name—will someday be your Mother.”
I rocked and hummed again, I felt good. I wondered if I would look a little like Margaret when I became an earthly child. I thought, who could have picked out a better country than America in all this world, with a better background than one stemming from Switzerland. In fact, I felt pretty lucky. I had already seen both my Grandfather and my mother.
Again, I must have fallen asleep and the next thing I knew I woke up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York in the United States of America and someone said, “It’s a girl”
Note #1: August 9, 2013.
I am Alice Margaret Fisher. I was named after my grandmother and great grandmother Margaretha Bollinger. I am the granddaughter of Edith Margaret Fisher/Faulstich. I am the great-great-granddaughter of Conrad Bollinger, from Beringen, Switzerland. I retyped this article, written by Edith Fisher more than 60 years earlier, and furthered the family lineage into our Swiss ancestry as a result of her early work.
Our Swiss grandfather’s family now dates back to Hans George Bollinger, Born about 1588.
I am proud of this rich history and our deep roots. As a result, when I completed a study abroad to Europe in 1994, and thereafter I took my two young daughters with me and we traveled to Beringen, and Schaffhausen Switzerland.
We landed in Beringen on July 31, 1994, it was my youngest daughter’s 12th birthday. We being the first to return as a direct line descendant of Conrad Bollinger. The village was exactly as my grandmother wrote, and they opened up the little museum and bought my girls an ice cream on Sunday pouring their history and lives out to us in earnest while we spoke a triangle of me with my broken French to the women in the village who then in turn spoke Swiss-German, to the Museum curator.
Note #2, May 14, 2009
I’ve begun contributing to a Beringen, Switzerland History Project
With much pride and love to my Nana, you and your work will not be forgotten!
Alice Margaret Fisher
Faulstich was a pioneer student and collector of postal history. She campaigned extensively to have postal history recognized as a category at major exhibitions. She was a founder of the Postal History Society of the Americas (now the Postal History Society, Inc.). Faulstich helped the PHS through its early years as the first editor of its Postal History Journal, and as president from 1965 to 1967.
In her philatelic career, “Dee” edited Covers magazine, The Essay-Proof Journal and was associate editor of Western Stamp Collector. She wrote a stamp column in the Bergen (NJ) Evening Record and later in the Newark (NJ) News.
Faulstich built world-class collections of the postal history of the American Expeditionary Forces and the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in Siberia during World War I.
His name is Frank Woodruff Buckles (born February 1, 1901) he is, at age 108, the last identified living American veteran of World War I. He lived near Charles Town, West Virginia which is not too far away from where I live. He was the Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation. Source: Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Buckles
There was until very recently also a single female service member who was still living and not to be forgotten:
Charlotte Louise Berry Winters (1897-2007), one of the first women to enlist in the U.S. Navy, and served as a Yeoman (F) Second Class clerk at the Naval Gun Factory at the Washington Navy Yard.
Here is a list of the last surviving WWI Veterans by country as noted on Wikipedia.
Therefore, I dedicate this blog post and the next post which follows to the W.W.I. veterans, their families and to all veterans and their families.
And, finally I dedicate this blog as a result of the work which my grandmother did in behalf of the Siberian A.E.F of W.W.I.
Her name was Edith M. Faulstich (Fisher).
Let them not be forgotten.
To begin briefly, in 1995 I received a package from my father just before the Christmas holiday season. At the time, I was busy running to and from work, entrenched in raising my own three children as a single parent and doing my own research for my Master’s dissertation as a full-time graduate student. I had my hands full and very little time for letters or letter writing.
My life then was in full fast forward, at warp speed. In short, I had very little personal time and even much less time for any hand written letters.
But, that is the crux of this whole story, one of hand written letters. I digress a bit….
At any rate, I quickly scanned the hand written note from my father, wherein he stated that my uncle was thinning out some old family items from boxes and trunks in his basement.
Again, this seems to be a recurring theme by the way.
Basements and trunks.
My dad stated in his brief note to me that he thought, I might like a few of the family items, and he was forwarding them onto me. I am now the keeper it seems of some of the aging yellow papers. I put the papers away for safe keeping. And, that’s where they sat.
It’s already been nearly 15 years and I commented to myself, “Wow, time flies.
This weekend I opened the manila envelope which contained my grandmother’s published article written back in 1963, “A Find!- Mail to the American Expeditionary Forces in Siberia, 1918-1920. ”
And I have brough out her yet unpublished book The Siberian Sojourn (exception there was one tiny publishing which was sent to the direct family members of the A.E.F. and to many of the veterans themselves).
The Siberian Sojourn and the 1963 article are her stories about postal letters written to and received from the forgotten American soldiers left in Siberia during WWI. Why is the relevant? Well, let me take you back a bit further on how this whole “letters thing” all began, more recently only 6o or so years ago.
In 1945-1947, Edith Faulstich began writing about Philatelic subjects, born as a result of simpler beginnings when she was a single parent raising two boys. She collected stamps with her children as a way to share something together, as a family.
There were no malls or the Internet nor cell phones back in her day.
Her “Saga of the Mails” expanded and her family hobby became a life avocation. During her early work and research, many of the A.E.F soldiers were very much so still alive, but passing with time. She sensed the information and data from mails and postal history to be important. And, today we now only have one WWI Veteran left living.
My Nana, Edith Faulstich contacted the A.E.F WWI Siberian veterans one by one, with letters all hand written and sent through the mail. It took a great deal of time. There was no instant messaging, text messaging nor email back then either. I found in reading her work, life moved much slower than today. And, even farther back where a single letter sent to Siberia took 6-10 weeks or more to arrive, if it got there at all.
This gift of a letter from my father now comes full circle, some 91 years since the actual A.E.F. Siberian Campaign; 1918-1920 which my grandmother worked tirelessly on. I am a grandmother now and it hardly seems fitting to just stuff all this paper in yet another trunk, to be completely forgotten.
I have become acutely aware of the passing of time. The passing of generations. The passing of history and all of our W.W.I. Veterans. And, now my own nephew is about to be deployed to a far off land in about 30 days or so.
Therefore, I’d like to ask the virtual masses online, does a single hand written letter with a postage stamp still hold any enduring value today? Like it did 91 years ago? And, more importantly, does it have value to our soldiers currently serving overseas somewhere
far from home?
Well, I know in looking backwards to W.W.I., that the voices of our Veterans are forever enduring because of Edith M. Faulstich’s intuition, insight, and research to “FIND” those letters and then to write about a single event with her discovery and subsequent article “A Find!”
Somehow, she innately knew way back then that “the covers” were important (a cover is the envelope the letters are shipped in). It is because of her work that her great-great grand children and other Veterans families of W.W.I. will know of her gift in seeing and knowing the “value” of a hand written letter.
And, please do not forget to take the time write a soldier.
Thanks Nana, to all our Veterans and our soldiers currently serving today.
Please read the next post, “A Find!”
Written by Edith Faulstich, reprinted in 1963 & today reprinted again on
Memorial Day, May 25, 2009.
dedicated to Edith M. Faulsitch (Fisher)
and her life’s work as a postal historian relative
to the American Soldiers (A.E.F) in Siberia during WWI.
Ms. Faulstich was also an internationally known
Philatelic Jurer, journalist, and
the first woman president of the US Postal History Society.
It is my hope to keep her writing alive without personal gain.
All the work herein is Copyrighted under her name(s),
and should be cited as such.
Faulstich, Edith. M. “The Siberian Sojourn” Yonkers, N.Y. (1972-1977)
I will be importing the original blog. In the mean time you can go here–> http://edithfaulstich.blogspot.com/