Wedding picture in my book

A book is a connector.

That’s one of the surprising things I learned after Jumping Over Shadows came out in April 2017. But now it’s been two years. The fanfare of book events has died down, and I am focused on getting Book No. 2 ready to launch this fall.

Whenever I’m asked, “So how is your book doing?”

I say, “It’s chugging along nicely.”

Indeed it is. In fact, it is doing more than that.

My book is still making connections.

Last weekend, I received this email:

Subject: your book, etc.

Hello Annette,
I just read your book, Jumping Over Shadows. A lady at church in Lubbock, Texas read it and knew that I was from Munich, so she told me I should read it. I have really enjoyed it, but especially when you wrote about your mother singing “There’s A Place For Us” at your wedding party, and that she had sung in the Extra Choir at Gärtnerplatz Theater in Munich. 

My mother singing at my wedding party, June 6, 1988

I knew immediately that that was Beverly. Beverly and I sang at the same time in the Extra Choir! I recognized her in your family picture there.—and then of course reading of the Berndt family name cinched it.   I also recognized details that Beverly had told me about your family and you and your husband.
I am a Christian from a fellowship that really reveres the Bible (Old and New Testaments) and knows it well, so I, too, am interested in learning what it was like for you to convert to Judaism and what your real life was like.
I really admire your research and your going back to the places and the cemeteries to gather facts and take pictures!–the fact that you did a lot of that alone.
I also admire your finding your way into the Writing Life.  Wonderful.
I would like to reconnect with Beverly and tell her about reading your book. I have tried calling her number she used to have.  Does she still live upstairs in a type of hotel looking over the lake?
She had her beautiful piano there. Was it Tutzing?
[…]
I wish you all the best, you and all your family members, with a special greeting to Beverly.
Sincerely,
Becki Schwarz

Isn’t this the most amazing email to receive? What are the chances that someone from Texas stumbles upon my book and knows my mother from when they sang together at Gärtnerplatz Theater in Munich? Is this a small world or what?

I also love that this circle of connection links my mother’s creativity and art with mine.

Whenever I tell my mother that she was a great role model for me in embarking on a second career at 40, and an artistic one to boot,

she just smiles faintly and shrugs it off. As a young woman she wanted to go to college to study music, and indeed she did. But her parents did not support her and after a year she had to give up and became a secretary instead. Not a bad thing because that’s how she eventually met my father.

But she kept playing the piano and singing along to my dad’s opera records until he began urging her to take voice lessons. And so, when she turned 40, she did.

Through trials and errors, many a tough voice teacher, joining this and that choir, and especially many instances of asking herself, “Why bother?”–my mother eventually fulfilled her dream of becoming an opera singer.

In the spring of 1988, the same year that I married, converted to Judaism and moved to the U.S., I spotted an ad in the newspaper for auditions to join the extra choir at Gärtnerplatz Theater, one of Munich’s two opera houses (Clearly 1988 was a seminal year for us!). I egged Mom on to apply, and she did. Next thing I knew, I was accompanying her to her audition, waiting in a nearby restaurant for her to return. I still remember the wood-paneled smokey atmosphere in that place.

When Mom returned, she of course didn’t know yet that she had made it. But I remember how calm she was before and after. Clearly, all her years of practice, singing in choirs and performing solo at celebrations had paid off.

More than a decade into her journey, she was already a consummate performer.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to share much in Mom’s career at Gärtnerplatz. Her first theater season began when I left for graduate school in the U.S. that fall. When I came home for visits in the summer, theater season was usually over. Nevertheless, it felt good to leave her to pursue the career of her dreams while I embarked on my new life in Chicago. By then Mom had been a widow for three years.

While it was bittersweet that my dad did not get to witness Mom on the stage of one of Munich’s opera houses, it was also good for my siblings and me to witness what amazing things were still possible for her.

She sure made the most of it, including a connection that so many years later circled back to me. I don’t quite remember when she retired from Gärtnerplatz. These days, Mom, at 82, struggles with her memory, but music remains her friend. She still plays her grand piano, and she still sings in a choir, now with my sister, who got the performer bug from Mom. My sister also plays piano, clarinet and saxophone, that latter two of which she only started learning to play in the last few years.

Clearly, picking up a creative career in our forties runs in the family.