I started out last week thinking that I would segue from my Oldsmobile to the second most recent and so far longest car ownership experience of my life, but then I started to think about the ghost cars. My ghost grandfathers owned the ghost automobiles, spoken of as bit characters or color in the stories of my family after their flight from Hitler.
My mother’s father Arthur was born in upper Franconia in a town near Nuremberg in 1909, into an extremely well-to-do family that dealt in cattle and mortgages and land. When he was my son’s age, in 1919, he got a tutor – Henry Kissinger’s father Ludwig! (The Sabbath the week before Passover when Henry married Nancy Maginnes in 1974, my grandfather went with my mother to visit Ludwig and Paula in Washington Heights to console them on the mixed marriage – they were very religious.)
I have a family tree that wends its way back into the middle seventeenth century, and a Samuel Josef Bauer – a Jew with a last name! – in the court of one of the princes of the Holy Roman Empire, and that Joseph is a name that skip-hops down the generations, missing one or none, getting pasted on one or another male child in the direct descent, and it happens that Arthur’s father was named Josef and my middle name is Joseph, because Arthur’s father Josef was dumped in a pit in Kaunas in 1942.
Joseph and his brother Simon, and their families, were on HAPAG’s Orinoco, the ship that was right after the Saint Louis, and which bopped right back to Rotterdam from Havana with all the fleeing German Jews on board. None of the Bauers on that ship made it to 1945. My sister wears the name of Arthur’s forever twenty-year old first cousin Lotte, who was the one that survived the longest, but who is recorded to have died in late 1944 in Auschwitz.
Arthur got out by the skin of his teeth after a three-week sojourn in Dachau KZ, when he was given a ride into Switzerland in a friend’s plane across Lake Constance early in 1939. From Switzerland, he made his way to the United States, where he crashed in his second cousin Martin’s apartment in Philadelphia. Martin was married to Arthur’s great unrequited love, a Galician beauty named Fanny. Fanny had a baby daughter Nelly and became pregnant with her first son, my uncle Sol, while Arthur slept in the living room.
Arthur was drafted in 1942 and trained in Biloxi as a medic/baker, and he landed in the third wave at Omaha Beach. He was in the ETO until midwinter 1945, when his kidneys gave out near Aachen, and he went home to Philadelphia and a Fanny whose marriage was broken by Martin’s infidelity. Fanny and Arthur married in 1946 and started a bakery on South 56th St, the Home Bakery.
The cars only exist in the recollection of my mother, who arrived in 1950, and they were all practical small cars. Arthur bought a lot of English cars, two Fords, one Nash, and one Volvo before his kidneys killed him with uremic poisoning in 1982.
First, Mom remembers the Austins. These were not Farinas. One was an A40 panel wagon, and the other a whimsical A40 convertible, both from about the time Arthur moved the bakery to a little strip mall on the Baltimore Pike in Springfield.
In the late fifties, for deliveries, a Hillman Husky wagon was added, which was replaced in 1963 with a Rambler wagon – my mother insists still that it was a Nash – that was lent to my uncle Sol in 1967 for a drive across the country. Apparently, the Rambler had the aluminum inline-6 engine, and Uncle Sol drove it across the Rockies at, and I quote my mother “seventy miles an hour” which blew the head gasket somewhere in Colorado.
The Rambler was replaced with a 1967 Ford Galaxie wagon – my mother says “a V8!” – which did the deliveries until my grandfather closed the bakery at the end of November 1972, when he retired to the shore in New Jersey. Sometime in 1975, Arthur became Pop-pop, and I am informed that I rode in that wagon as an infant between the Catskills and the Jersey shore many times in the two years the car overlapped my life.
Pop-pop bought his last car, a white Volvo 244 DL, in 1977. I remember the three colored rocker switches in the middle of the dashboard, and the perforated vinyl? Leather? Of the seats and I remember his angel’s food cakes, and his sad eyes, and his belly. I also have a belly. My younger son has his name – Louis Arthur.
Pop-pop stopped driving with the last kidney failure in March 1981, and ended up in the nursing home in Linwood where he died just after Passover in 1982.
My father’s father Hermann Heinrich, the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of eldest son, was born near Wiesbaden in 1896. His father was a clerk at the Hoechst chemical works. Heinrich apprenticed with a shoemaker and then drafted into the army with his younger brother Arthur in 1914. Heinrich served on the Russian Front, and in Ottoman Turkey, and my father said his father talked about being in the army opposing Allenby in Palestine. He was buried in a shellburst and shot in the stomach, and mustered out with a first rank Iron Cross.
He became a traveling salesman for the Ferdinand May shoe combine in Frankfurt, and traveled throughout Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Scandinavia selling shoes and making commissions, which he turned into the ownership of a shoe store on the Oberstrasse in Boppard in 1931. He married my grandmother Else the same year, and settled down to run his profitable shoe store in a rich tourist town. But it was not to last. By 1938, the local Nazis were throwing hot tar on his shop windows and his tenant, formerly a close friend, was making vile death threats. Heinrich spent time in Dachau KZ also after Kristallnacht, and shorn of his property, he sent my grandmother to England in August 1939, and followed on the very last ship from Bremerhaven to Liverpool at the end of the month.
In England, Opa spent time interned on the Isle of Wight before being released to work at a bicycle factory in Southwark. My dad was born there. But Opa was afraid of Russian Communism, and in 1950, they all came to America to join Arthur in New Jersey raising eggs in Ocean County. The farm was at the intersection of NJ571/Bay Avenue and Hooper Avenue in Toms River, today under the JC Penney’s in the Ocean County Mall, and the first car my grandfather bought was a 1946-48 DeSoto. My great-uncle had a farm on Cock’s Crow Road in Lakewood and his son – my cousin Harry, twelve years older than my father, drove around a twenties Ford.
The DeSoto worked throughout the fifties.
Opa replaced it with a 1960 Valiant – a car my father remembers as having “really big fins.” This was bought because my grandmother had terminal breast cancer and the DeSoto was no longer reliable enough to drive her into New York for treatment.
After Else died in November 1962, Opa kept the chicken farm running until his emphysema made it impossible to continue. Dad came home from college and liquidated the chickens – to Campbells – and Opa replaced the Valiant with a 1965 Fairlane, which he used for the butter and egg runs and the visits to Dad at Temple in Philadelphia.
Opa’s last car was a 1970 Chevelle sedan bought at the same time he gifted my father a new Nova at medical , which my father took from my step-grandmother’s garage and began driving in 1980 after he sold his horrible 1977 Cutlass Supreme. I remember riding in the front seat next to Dad, with my two-year-old sister in between on a short hop from the Triangle Diner back home. The light unexpectedly turned red at Lake Street, and Dad hit the brakes, holding his hand out to catch Liz at fifteen miles an hour. Liz hit the dash and had to have stitches. There was no center seat belt in the front bench of the Chevelle. No air conditioning, no FM radio, and I think it was had Powerglide. The Chevelle lasted until 1984, when Dad sold it for $1300 and bought his second Oldsmobile. My older son Henry is named after Heinrich.