It was time for my morning stroll. Maria had already begun her day by going to the lodge, making sure that the kids were running it in strict Von Trapp style, but with the friendliness of a small Austrian town. I, on the other hand, enjoyed these morning walks, not precisely a Wanderung or hike as you might call it, they just cleared my head for the day. For forty years, I had been able to forget about my former life in Austria, not that it was all that bad. I had lots of wonderful memories; it was just the ending that soured it. My Austria had changed so much from when I was a boy. My parents would take us to the coast, to watch the ships and feel the cool breeze off of the sea, before Austria lost its coastline.
We enjoyed many beautiful summers there by the sea. My wife and I had a wonderful life before her death. I wasn’t always so stern. Life had toughened me up. The loss of my wife’s inheritance by me trying to help a banking friend and then having to find a governess to raise our seven children was a lot to handle. Pushing away the emotions of it all just seemed easier to do, rather than deal with the disappointments that life had handed to me.
There was a part of me that I hadn’t shared with my family, at least not my children. I had always hoped that I would take that secret with me to my grave. The family thought I had stayed with the Navy, and they were right, they just didn’t know what I was actually doing with the Navy. I had to find a way to support them. Maria and I added three more to our brood, for a total of 10 children. It took a lot of Schnitzels to keep them full! I knew that there were those who didn’t want me to leave Austria. I had secrets that they did not want me to share with others in the world, but I had to leave that life behind. Opening a lodge in Vermont and getting into the hospitality business was a far cry from my vocation in Osterreich. The lure of being handed our old home on a silver platter from the previous owners was very tempting. I had always wanted to visit, but to be able to live there was more than I could have ever hoped for.
Somehow, I wish I could travel back in time and change some of the decisions that I had made, but that wasn’t possible. As soon as that mental statement left my mind, I was instantly reminded of why Herman Richter and I were working on Xerum 525. It was Hitler’s fascination with things that were not quite reality. Die Glocke was basically a cyclotron, a way to make enriched Uranium 233. I did not want to be part of that research, but I didn’t have much of a choice at the time. Everything that I had knowledge of, I had kept to myself. I didn’t even know that Herman was still alive. The number of coincidences was now becoming evident that they were not coincidences at all. Someone wanted me back in Austria, but who?
“Let me know what you find out Larz,” Brigitta shouted from the top of the stairs as I headed out to the car. “You know, I will,” Larz replied as he closed the door and almost tripped over their golden retriever Max who wanted to play. “Sorry, Max, not today. I have some investigating to do.” Larz settled into his trusty Mercedes that had seen a good amount of miles. “This just doesn’t make sense. Why would the embassy and Rolf both contact us within two days of each other? Rolf had to know that Georg would find out about his involvement with the NPD.”
The traffic was heavy this morning on I-89, heading to Burlington. The leaf peepers as we called them, were out in force, trying to experience the beautiful colors of the changing leaves in New England. I had to admit that the brush strokes that God used to paint the forests with, crimson red, golden orange, and bright yellow hues were pretty breathtaking, even if I had seen it every year for the past 40 years.
I finally reached the city and headed into the parking garage to find my designated parking space. Parking garages were essential in the city during the cold Vermont winters. As I got out of the car, I noticed that my boss Bob Adler was just pulling into his parking space, a couple of spaces down from me as well. As I headed to the elevator, he called out to me, “Hey Larz, glad we arrived at the same time, I wanted to chat with you a bit about this whole property settlement with your father in laws old home in Austria. I have been thinking about this whole thing over the weekend and did a little digging. You know that Austria lost their coastline after World War 1 and the captain wasn’t needed to sail a sub with their being no need for a Navy. “I know, he has told us that he missed being on a submarine, that he had always been fascinated with them,” Larz replied. “Right, but did he ever tell you what he did after that?” Adler said with a slight grin. “No, he said that his first wife died shortly after that and that the family had to sing to help earn money after the Austrian bank went belly up with most of his deceased wife’s inheritance,” Larz responded. “Have you ever heard of Die Glocke?” Adler asked. “No I haven’t, and my German isn’t too good. It sounds like The Clock. Am I close?” I said. “You are close, but don’t feel bad, I didn’t know either. It’s like Glockenspiel, you know, a bell. It means The Bell.” Adler admitted. “Great, now that we have had our German lesson for the day and we are almost at our floor, what does all of this mean Bob?” I inquired. “Well, your father in law had a background in physics and was offered a chance to help a young physicist, Herman Richter develops Xerum 525, a code name for something called red mercury. Georg had no idea what it was for or why he just knew that he needed income for his family. Of course, this was before the war. Scientists are always looking to advance their fields of study. Georg agreed, and he and his fellow physicist made a good amount of progress developing the stuff. Supposedly the substance allowed for some pretty far out claims. Even though Germany which needed naval commanders told Georg that they wanted him to command a U boat, my friend within the intelligence community said that the Nazi’s probably wanted to commandeer him to work with the rest of the scientists that were coerced to work on Hitler’s secret projects.” Adler said as the elevator doors opened up. “I’ll get with you later in the day to tell you what their old home in Austria has to do with all of this,” he said as he walked down the hall to his office.
I couldn’t believe that he was just going to leave me there wondering. What the heck was Die Glocke, and what did it have to do with inheriting a house? I walked into my office just as the phone began to ring. It was Brigitta. “Hi Larz, I just got off the phone with my dad. He said that he had just been contacted by an old friend, Herman Richter. Does that name ring a bell?” she asked. I stared at the phone speechless.
The news that I wanted to share seemed not worth sharing,
now that the bombshell had been dropped about Rolf and this new movement that was gaining ground in Germany. How could I take my family back to Austria when this type of evil was starting to rear its ugly head? How could I even bring it up?
“Father?” Briggita asked, “What did you and mother want to share with us?” Maria glanced over at me with that “Now what are we going to do?” look. I looked back at her, not sure how to reply. “I received a letter the other day from none other than Rolf. As you know, I have not communicated with him since that last night in the Abbey. In the letter, he said that our old home had fallen into disrepair and that the owners wanted to leave it to us in their will. I also received a phone call from the U.S. Ambassador to Austria asking if I would be returning to Austria as the owners of our old home had willed the home to us after their passing. This confirmed what Rolf had written in his letter. Your mother and I wanted to come to meet with all of you to ask if you would be interested in returning, if not just to visit, our old home in Austria, but what Brigitta and Larz just shared puts a whole different tone on this opportunity. Something is not making sense. It seems too much of a coincidence that Rolf and Mr. Grunwald from the Embassy would contact me almost at the same time.”
Everyone looked at me in disbelief while I explained the events of the last couple of days. “Dad, that is fantastic. We have to go back!” Gretl exclaimed. “How many people just leave you a house? I would love to go back. The issues in Germany are not in Austria……” “Don’t ever say that!” I shouted, “Don’t even think that.” You know what that kind of thinking did to Austria. We never thought that it would come to us, then friends and neighbors jumped on the bandwagon thinking that Anschluss would be a good thing for Austria.
The one thing that history teaches us is that man does not learn by his past mistakes.” Gretl looked back knowing that she had hit a nerve as Kristen shrank back in her seat, hating these conversations that she had hoped would never return. “I think that we should investigate why the U.S. Ambassador is involved as well as let me do some research when I return to work on Monday,” Larz said. “Sometimes when something seems too good to be true, many times it is. I’m hoping that these are just coincidences. I would also like to see what Rolf Gruber has been doing all of these years and why he felt the need to write to you knowing that you would have found out about our old home anyway through the normal channels.”
Maria spoke up, “I’m just glad that Liesl isn’t here to experience this, God rest her soul. She would have been heartbroken once again. I for one do not want to expose our children and families to any sort of danger again. Once was enough.”
“I agree Maria,” Georg said, “but something has been calling me back to that night in the Abbey and I can’t quite put my finger on why. In Rolf’s letter, he said that Leisl had contacted him right before we went on stage for the concert and that he wanted to help us escape and now you tell me that Rolf is one of the masterminds of this new movement. Something does not make sense Larz, something is missing.” “I agree with you, Georg. There are just too many coincidences. Does anyone else know about this?” Larz asked. “Only your mother and the rest of you here,” I replied. “Let’s keep this to ourselves while I do some investigating. In the meantime, let’s eat dinner. Brigitta has worked hard to fix us one of our favorite Austrian meals.” Larz said with pride. “Maria, let’s have some music. We don’t want your accordion to go to waste!” I said as the younger children came in from playing football in the yard. “Oh no, not accordion music!” one of the grandkids complained. Almost on cue, everyone let out a laugh just in time to break the tension in the room.
It was 1972, I lived in Nansemond County, recently annexed by Suffolk VA and I was bored. Living in the country there wasn’t a whole lot to do other than build tree houses, forts and ride our bikes. Halloween was just around the corner and I had trick or treat, ghost stories and pranks on my mind. I was too old to trick or treat so I had to think of something else to do for the season. Billy was my comrade in “crime”, not the illegal kind of crime, the bored country kids kind of crime. What could I do this Halloween season that would scare someone, but not harm them, at least not physically.
With Halloween around the corner, what night could I pull off such a prank? I thought to myself, tonight is Saturday night and my parents typically go out on their date night every Saturday. To be quite honest, this is the night when most of my escapades were launched. The two cats were away and I was the mouse that wanted to play. As I sat around that Saturday morning with my buddy Billy, I asked him “What can we do tonight that will scare someone?” We were sitting on the couch in my den and as he looked into space, his eyes fell upon these two ancient looking candle holders with rope handles. They looked like something from medieval times. Billy asked me, “What are those hanging on the wall? They look kind of creepy.” “Oh, those are portable candle sconces. You stick a big ole’ candle on the nail and you can carry them around.” I replied. Billy got this mischevious look in his eyes. They are pretty creepy and there are two, one for you and one for me.” I looked back at Billy and the wheels of a prank started to spin. “You know, if we put a large sheet over our heads, lit the candles and walked around, it would look pretty scary, but who could we scare?” Billy continued while grinning, “Your little brother, do you think that we could scare him?” “Probably, but we would need to do more than just wear a sheet and carry these creepy candle lanterns around.” I answered. “How about if we had scary music and turned the lights out in the house.” I added. “That could be scary but how would you pull it off?” Billy asked. My mind started to ponder of all the different ways I could turn this night into a spooky experience.
After Billy headed home, I started to think about what tools and other resources were at hand. I would want spooky music, no lights in the house, two sheets for ghosts and the candle sconces that hung on the family room wall. I had just started to experiment with home electricity and knew enough to know that our fuse panel had a bunch of glass screw in fuses that controlled different parts of the house. If lights were on in the house and you simply unscrewed a fuse, then the lights in that section of the house would go out. Seemed simple enough. Now, how to create creepy music. Back in the 70’s, you didn’t download creepy music from your computer because the personal PC hadn’t really been introduced in every home. I did possess an album from ‘Iron Butterfly’. There was a popular song called ‘Inagodadavida’ which if played at speed 16, would sound very scary. My parents stereo system was in the living room and it had a turntable with speed 16. I would keep that circuit turned off until the opportune time and then turn that fuse on, turning on the turntable and stereo to play the song at the preselected speed 16. I drew out a map of the different circuits of the house after testing what each glass fuse controlled. I would slowly turn off the circuits in the house one by one, starting with the lights in the furthest part of the house and one by one, the house would begin to get darker.
The next hurdle was going to be, how to keep my brother in the house when all of this spookiness started to happen. I had an idea. I could take the front doorknob and turn it around so that the keyed part was inside the house and the inside portion was outside, once the door was closed, he would be locked in.
My brother and I were not known for spending a lot of time together back then, so how was I going to get him out of the house so that Billy and another friend of mine could get dressed up in the sheets, light the candles and then start down the stairs from the 2nd floor acting as ghosts? My brother Drew had wanted to go on my adventures, but rarely did I let him. I would tell him that we were going to take a dozen eggs and go egg a few houses after our parents left for their date night. “Hey Drew, how about coming with me tonight to egg some houses?” Mom had just come back from the market and had a fresh dozen of eggs. “Sure, that would be great!” he replied. “Ok, when it gets dark we will head on out and cook up some fun.” I said with a grin on my face.
It seemed like forever for my parents to leave that night. Billy and his buddy Jimmy were down the street waiting for Drew and me to leave the house. Finally, my parents headed out the door. “We are off, behave yourselves and we will be home later.” they said as they left for the evening. The great Halloween caper had begun. “Ok, let’s get our ammo and head on out.” I told Drew. “Why do you want me to go with you? You never take me with you on these escapades?” Drew asked suspiciously. “I don’t know, I just thought it would be fun.” I replied, only not telling him which part of the evening’s events were going to be fun in my mind. Now that it was dark, we headed out. We walked around with 3 eggs in each coat pocket, 6 for Drew and 6 for me. We finally found some homes that looked like the owners were out for the evening. “Watch what I do.” I told Drew. I took an egg and hurled it across the yard. Splat, it hit the target, the front door and the yolk dripped down to the threshold as planned. “See, it’s that easy.” I told my brother. He chose a brick ranch a few doors down, unoccupied for the evening. He wound up like a pitcher on his mound and decided to hit the side of a large brick house. It found it’s target and made a cracking noise as the egg yolk found it’s way deep into the brick and mortar. “That’s not going to be easy to clean.” he said, very proud of
his first egging. “You’re right, we will have to see what it looks like in the daytime.” I grinned. After a few more houses and only 2 eggs left, I told him that we should probably save a couple of eggs for breakfast the next morning or we would have to explain what had become of a brand new dozen eggs.
It was time for the Halloween prank to begin. “Boy, that was fun!” my brother exclaimed. “Yeah, that was pretty fun.” I said as we got closer to our house. I noticed that all of the lights in the house were on. I had already put the record on the turntable, set it to speed 16 and had the stereo turned on. I had turned that circuit off so that when I turned it on, the music would begin. Right after my parents left, I had turned the doorknob around backwards so that it would do what I had intended it to do. I just hoped that Billy and Jimmy were in place. Finally, we reached the front door. I had left the door slightly open so that it would not lock. I opened the front door and pushed my brother into the house. I slammed the door so that it would lock. My brother looked at me wondering what was going on. I ran to the back of the house and opened the fuse panel. Based on my paper layout, I started to unscrew the glass fuses, from the furthest part of the house to the closest one where he was located. It slowly started to get dark, one room at a time. I turned on the fuse that controlled the turntable. ‘Inagodadavida’ started to play on speed 16, very slowly and boy did it sound creepy. Finally the last light in the house was turned off. Billy and Jimmy came walking downstairs in their white sheets. The candles were eerily glowing in the rope handled sconces that they carried beside them. They tried their best to sound like ghosts as they moaned while the flames of the candle reflected off of the stairwell walls as they descended. I was the one controlling the fuse panel, so I wasn’t able to see Drew’s reaction. Billy told me that Drew appeared very startled, but not really
scared. He took a piece of driftwood that was on the coffee table and started swinging it at Billy, not knowing who was under that sheet. Quickly Billy realized that Drew wasn’t going to start whimpering like a baby, but ready to fight his way out of this bad dream. In the tussle, the candle wax dripped from the sconce onto my parent’s new carpet. I ran around the front of the house and saw the commotion so I went back to the garage and turned all of the circuits back on to end the dream sequence.
When I entered the front door, Drew said, “You didn’t scare me a bit. I knew something was up when you wanted me to go egg houses with you. Also, when you pushed me into the house, I knew something was up. What kind of music was that? It was kinda’ scary and where did you get those candle holders?” “That was Iron Butterfly’s ‘Inagodadavida’. Wasn’t it creepy? I put it on speed 16.” I said very proudly. “Those candle sconces were the ones hanging next to the fireplace in the den.” I added. Suddenly I noticed something shiny on the stair carpet. It was wax from one of the candles that had spilled. “Aww man, I’m going to get murdered. Look at the wax on mom and dad’s new carpet!” I said as the reality of it all started to lower the satisfaction of our caper. Drew just stood there and howled, laughing. “You are going to be in deep water and you deserve it! Pretending to take me on an outing and then trying to scare me like that.” I knew that he was right. I did deserve it.
I told Billy and Jimmy thanks for taking part, told them goodbye and found a knife and a brush trying to get every bit of wax out of that carpet. Drew went off to watch TV or play his guitar. I don’t remember which. I spent the rest of the evening taking the sheets, throwing them in the wash, hanging the sconces back up, along with the new burn marks that candles had made on them. Do you know how hard it is to get wax out of carpet? When you don’t have Google around to ask what is the best method, you just pick at it until it looks ok. That took me forever.
The evening finally passed, we headed to bed, my parents got home and I made some sort of deal with Drew to not tell my folks what had happened. He had thrown a number of eggs at neighbors homes and he was not free of guilt. I’m sure I used that in my defense. I’m sure my parents saw the remaining wax on the steps, but I probably pleaded ignorance. Too many years have passed since I pulled off that prank, but to this day I still feel bad about trying to scare my brother and taking him out to egg houses on false pretenses. Yep, I could be quite an ass to my little brother, but as time passed we became closer. We both have businesses of our own, great kids and many fond memories of Nansemond County and all of the things we did. I’m sorry bro’. You know that I love you, but I know you weren’t so sure when we were growing up.
I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to put my thoughts together so that when the family was gathered, I would sound confident and in charge as usual. The problem was that I was not feeling confident and in charge. This was an unexpected call with many questions, and I didn’t have answers at this point. This was going to be more of a discussion with the family to find out how they felt about going back to Austria if only to visit our old home. “Maria, how does this look?” as I modeled my outfit, crisply ironed, complete with my Edelweiss Miesbacher Jacket.
“Georg, you look wonderful, a perfect outfit for this evening,” Maria said as she finished buttoning up her Austrian Dirndl dress. As I was admiring how beautiful she still looked in her Dirndl, I replied “Maria, you haven’t changed a bit. You wearing that takes me back to earlier times when the children were so young.” We hadn’t worn these outfits in quite a while.
We used to wear them quite frequently when we met guests at the lodge, but now we rarely brought them out of mothballs. We both felt that tonight was an appropriate time to wear them. Neither of us had spoken much about the letter and phone call, but we must have both been feeling the same way to wear our traditional Austrian outfits to Brigitta’s house.
“Do you think that your mom and dad have a clue as to what we want to speak with them about?” Larz asked Brigitta. “No, and I don’t think that the rest of the family has any clue either.” Brigitta replied. “I think that we should have talked to them about this earlier Larz. It’s just not right to have kept this from them since you found out, and to tell them at dinner.” “You know why I couldn’t talk to your mother and father about this, especially your father and the way that he feels about this whole thing.” Larz retorted defensively. “I know, I’m just not sure how it is going to all go down tonight. I pray that everyone keeps a level head.” Brigitta said trying to deescalate the conversation. “Well, once it is out in the open, we can at least discuss it. I am going to go downstairs and finish getting dinner ready for the family.” Brigitta said as she left the room.
“Kurt, do you know why Brigitta invited all of us over for dinner?” Kristen asked. “No, I really don’t. She sounded excited and nervous at the same time when she invited us over. I’m sure it’s nothing. They probably have a ski trip planned and want us all to go with them.” Kurt replied, trying to hold back an uneasy feeling about it all. The last thing he wanted to do was to get Kristen nervous about the evening. She was wonderful with the family except when the times that father became irritated over something that struck a nerve. Typically that nerve had to do with any conversation regarding the politics that led up to the second World War. I had made the mistake of reminding Georg that Adolf Hitler had been born in Linz Austria, something I dared not repeat. “Whatever it is, I’m glad they are feeding us!” I said as my stomach started growling.
Georg grabbed his jacket as he headed for the green Willy. Maria followed Georg as she found an unknowing employee to carry her accordion for music that she hoped she could enjoy that evening. As they headed to Brigitta’s home, they both said, almost at the same time, “I think we should take the family back to Austria, if nothing else, just to visit our old home.” “Georg, I was hoping that you were going to share that news this evening. I can barely stand the excitement!” Maria exclaimed.
The trip to Brigitta’s seemed like it took an eternity, even though they only lived 4 miles away. As we finally pulled into the driveway, I noticed that the rest of the family had already arrived. A few of the older kids were out on the front lawn throwing a football. “Hi opa, hi oma. You two look wonderful in those outfits!” Karl said as he threw the ball to Walter. “Danke Schoen Karl. Wie gehts?” I asked knowing that at least he understood a few German phrases. “Danke gut,” Karl replied knowing that I would be proud to hear him respond in my native tongue.
As I entered the house with Maria and her accordion toting “servant” close behind, I noticed that all of my children and their spouses were sitting in the large living room. It appeared that Larz had been busy scrounging around for extra chairs so that everyone could have a seat. Strange, as I figured that everyone would be in the kitchen drinking a nice glass of Gewurztraminer along with Brigitta’s signature Bavaria Blue Cheese Mousse with Gooseberry Chutney. This concerned me a bit as this put a different tenor in the evening.
“Now that father and mother are here, I figured that it would be best to let you know why we invited all of you this evening.” Brigitta began. Curious looks arose from the family with every cilia in their ears on end to finally find out what the big mystery was. Before Brigitta could finish, I jumped in, not wanting to downplay what had happened only a day or two before. “Your mother and I also have news to share as well, but Brigitta, continue.” Larz jumped in and picked up where Brigitta had left off. “As you are all well aware, my connections within international banking allows me to catch wind of anything that might affect the markets. Knowing our ties to Austria, my boss came to see me on Friday. Typically he is pretty upbeat, but this day he had a concerned look on his face as he shut the door to my office. He told me to have a seat and that he had heard from his Austrian counterpart in Vienna that there was a small grassroots movement that was beginning to gain traction within the alpine town of Berchtesgaden in Germany. “What kind of movement Larz?” I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer. “They are calling themselves the NPD or National Democratic Party of Germany.
It sounds nice and civil doesn’t it? My boss told me that they have been described as a neo-Nazi organization. and is referred to as the most significant neo-Nazi party to emerge after 1945.” My heart sank as my mind went back to 1937 and the rumors of what was happening in Germany started to fill the minds of fellow Austrians, thinking that being annexed by Germany was a good thing. “This can’t be happening! Surely both Germany and Austria will not put up with such a felonious group!” I shouted. “There is more.” Brigitta spoke up. “Larz has just found out that this whole movement has supposedly been spearheaded by someone that we know, or at least knew.” “Who is it, Brigitta?” Georg demanded.
His name is ……..Rolf, Rolf Gruber.”
I sank back in my chair. The dreams that I had been having had now just become a living nightmare.
Saturday morning I arose as usual. Maria was already checking in with our manager to be sure that our guests at the lodge were being attended to in the manner in which we wanted them to; Austrian charm and the efficiency of an Austrian Navy.
Getting out of bed was getting harder to do as the years passed. I wanted to blame it on old battle injuries, but to be honest, it was just the years catching up with me. This realization caused me to reminisce about an earlier time when I had more energy, and our family was much younger. Suddenly I remembered the events of the day before, the letter from Rolf and the phone call from the Embassy. This caused a jolt of energy to race through my body as the grogginess of a good night’s rest was suddenly displaced with questions, and I remembered the ambassador’s question, “Mr. Von Trapp, the Austrian government, wants to know if you will be moving back to Austria. ” Just when I thought that the rest of my life was well planned, no more surprises. I wanted to push the question out of my mind, but I had a decision to make.
The requirements of the will had to be finalized. Either we were going to accept their offer or let the state take over our former home. This was not just a decision for me; this was going to have to be a family decision. We were expected to go to Brigitta’s tonight. Maybe we could get the rest of the family to show up, and I could talk to everyone at once. I found Maria in our home office, a small room that we had converted into an office away from the lodge. She had just hung up the phone with our lodge manager Bruce while I approached her, bending down to gently kiss her cheek. She still had more energy than I ever did. “Maria, I know that we are going to Brigitta’s tonight. Do you think that we could get the rest of the family to show up? I want to talk to them about the letter and phone call that I received. This is a matter that we need to talk to the rest of the family about.” I explained. “I can call the rest of the family and see if they are available. Everyone is so busy. I will let them know that we have something to discuss.” she replied. “Ok, let me know who can go. In the meantime, I want to spend some time going over the ramifications of even thinking about this.” as I headed to get a cup of coffee in the kitchen.
“Kurt, this is mom. Brigitta has asked us over for dinner tonight, and I was wondering if you and Stephanie were available to…..” I was interrupted by “Mom, Brigitta has already asked us to come over, last week as a matter of fact and we plan on being there.”
Kurt stated. “Oh, ok we look forward to seeing you tonight,” I said as I hung up the phone. Strange, I wonder why Brigitta had already asked Kurt and Stephanie. My next call was to Gretl. “I called her number but only received her answering machine. “Gretl, this is mom. Your dad and I were wondering if you and Brandon were available to come over.” Before I could hang up, Gretl picked up the phone. “Hi mother, sorry I was just getting ready to go to the market to pick up some things for tonight. We are going to Brigitta’s, and I promised to bring something.” “You were invited too?” I asked astonished. “Yes, she said that she and Larz had something that they wanted to talk with us about. From what she said, she said that she was going to try and get everyone to be there.” My head started to spin. Georg wanted the family together so that he could speak with them about the letter, the will and the phone call from the Austrian Embassy and here was Brigitta wanting everyone to come together so that she could talk to us about something she and Larz had been thinking about. Could it be the same thing? She couldn’t be pregnant; she was way past childbearing age and happy that their children were out on their own. “Um, ok then I guess we will see you tonight. At this point, I stopped making phone calls. It seemed as if everyone was going to be there. I got up from the chair and walked into the study with a very puzzled look on my face. Georg looked up from the desk where he was busy writing on a piece of graph paper. He continued to use graph paper to write everything on from his days at the Academy in Austria. “Maria, now it seems that you have seen a ghost. What is it?” “All of the children have already been invited to Brigitta’s tonight. It seems that you will have your audience.” Maria replied slowly and cautiously. We both looked at each other asking ourselves the exact same questions I’m sure. This was becoming more and more confusing.
“I wonder if Brigitta received the same letter that we did? Can it be possible that Rolf has kept in touch with them all of these years? They couldn’t possibly keep that secret from me!” I said in my authoritarian and patriarchal tone. What I didn’t know was that tonight would hold even more surprises than the day before.
Have you heard the term “Golden Handcuffs”? I hadn’t heard of it until my brother mentioned it to me in a conversation a few years ago. Typically this refers to deferred benefits to keep an employee with a company for a stipulated amount of time. What if you are self-employed? There isn’t anyone that is holding you there, but there is another type of golden handcuffs that has nothing to do with employment at all; whether you are self-employed or work for someone else. Golden handcuffs can be self-created. You forge them yourself through obligations that you have made to mortgage companies, auto loans, private schooling, vacation clubs, resort fees, etc. The list goes on and on. When we see the glitter of something that we desire that has a hefty price tag on it and bite, we are not much different than a fish striking an attractive lure. Many times we find that the lure isn’t real; it’s just a pretty feather, shaped like a fly or worm. Either way, it has a hook in it. It’s called monthly payments or the outgo of cash in exchange for that thing or service we desire.
Take this simple test to see what color your handcuffs are
Hopefully, you have some record of where you spend your money per month. You can go online and find a sample budget. Here is one here. Step 1 Find out how much you spend
You have to remember to add all of the things that you spend money on per month. Don’t forget things like:
Gifts (Christmas, birthdays)
Auto repairs, licensing, taxes, and tires
Medical deductible fees for office visits
Credit card payments
These things above aren’t even big things like Rent, Food, Utilities, etc. Once you add all of these things up, write down the total. Now, take this amount and divide it by .70. (federal and state taxes) This amount is the gross amount you need to earn. Hopefully, you make more than this amount. Were you surprised?
Step 2 Go through and change the amounts or eliminate those things that you are willing to live without.
How did you do? You will quickly learn what color your handcuffs are. If you can’t cut anything, your handcuffs are made of gold. If you can only cut back on a few things, they are made of silver. If you can cut back 25%, your handcuffs are made of brass. If you can cut back 50%, your handcuffs are made of wood, and they aren’t handcuffs at all! What most of us find is that we have become accustomed to certain creature comforts and we aren’t willing to give up any of them, even to reduce stress and launch out on something that we are passionate about. We would rather have our stuff and perks than to change our lives. So, is it time to put up or shut up as they say? This depends on:
A. Do you enjoy what you are doing and the money is merely a result of doing something you love?
B. Do you dislike what you do and would instead do something else but the money that you earn from it is too hard to turn down?
If you answered A, congratulations, you are not wearing handcuffs of any color. If you answered B, what color are your handcuffs?
I had barely hung up the phone with Maria when the phone rang again. I picked up the phone, “Von Trapp here.” I answered in my usual formal tone. “Mr. Von Trapp, this is Henry Grunwald, U.S. Ambassador to Austria. I’ve been asked to call you on behalf of the Austrian government. I know that you and your family moved to the United States many years ago. Since you left Austria and later sold your home to the “Missionaries of the Precious Blood,” we thought that would be the end of your involvement with Austria, but the missionary society moved into a nearby building, selling the home to a Viennese family, the Torbergs. They did not have any children and decided to leave the property to you and your family in their will.
It was true, what was in Rolf’s letter was confirmed. Just then, Maria walked in with a puzzled look on her face. I held up my hand to let her know that I was on an urgent call. She put her bags down and waited for me to finish the call. “Mr. Von Trapp, the Austrian government wants to know if you will be moving back to Austria. ” I was shocked at the question. Move back to Austria? We had been in the United States for over 50 years. We were settled. Would Maria even consider it? “Mr. Grunwald, I will have to discuss this with my wife and family. This is very sudden. I need to let this sink in.” I replied. “Ok, I will let the Austrian government know that I have spoken with you and that you will get back to them. Have a good day sir.” He hung up, and I just sat there holding the phone. “What is it, Georg? You look as if you have seen a ghost.” Maria said.
“You are not going to believe what has happened today.” I handed her Rolf’s letter to let her read it. She opened it and started reading. With only reading the first few lines she seemed to lose strength in her legs and quickly took a seat on the couch to continue reading. “Can you believe this Maria? A letter from Rolf and the explanation that we have been asking questions about for half a century.” As she finished reading the letter, I could see that her eyes were moist from tears that had welled up over the words she had just read. “Georg, is this true? Could this be even possible?” I looked at her with a blank stare. “To top this, I just got off the phone with a Mr. Grunwald, U.S. Ambassador to Austria confirming what you just read. He said that the Austrian government wants to know if we plan on moving back to Austria!” Instead of being shocked, Maria hugged me with tears streaming down her cheeks. “Georg, I hope this is not a cruel joke. This is what I have been hoping and dreaming for since we fled Austria and let the home go to the Mission. I know that you were so upset with what happened during the war that I never even brought it up all these years. Our home is where I met you and the children. I feel as if the mountains have been calling me home for fifty years.” “Yes, I was upset to put it lightly, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t ever think about Austria. We have a business here in Vermont. We have grandchildren, roots here in America. How can we pack up and leave?” I replied. “Oh Georg, can’t we at least go to Austria, settle the will and go visit our home? I would love to take the children back. It’s been so long since they were there. I want to call them and tell them what has just happened.” Maria said excitedly. “NO! I shouted. This is not a nice little family vacation. This opens up deep wounds for all of us. How can I even look at Rolf after what I believed about him all these years? The pain is too great.” as I walked out of the room into my study. Move back to Austria. Was he out of his mind? The memories of a half-century ago flooded my mind as I remember sneaking out of my home that evening long ago. I thought that we would never see our home again.
As I sat there with my thoughts, I gazed upon Liesl’s picture on my desk. Just then I remembered her question to me that evening, “Will we be coming back here?” My answer to her cut me deeply, “Someday Liesl, I do hope someday.” Now that someday had returned, and I had a tough decision to make. Looking at her picture, missing her so much, I spoke to her as if she was in the room. “Liesl, I don’t know if I can do this.” as tears began to well up in my eyes.
Diversification is good, but don’t diversify due to boredom.
Do you remember New Coke? It was created in 1985, a new formula of Coke. What a marketing blunder. You’ve heard the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Coke along with many other companies have messed up a very successful business model by getting bored with what is working, thinking that others are getting bored as well, so what do they do? They mess with a very successful product that has performed very well. I’m sure it wasn’t just boredom, but wanting a larger slice of the market or copying what similar companies were doing.
It’s easy to point the finger at other’s blunders. Being successful is difficult
Being a copy cat is easy. We see what someone else is doing and figure that we can do the same thing or we “should” do the same thing. One of my favorite sayings is “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” I will have to admit that I have fallen prey to this tactic. If you have a successful business, idea, family, blog or product, don’t change it to change it. If it is successful and you are bored, then let someone else run it and start something else. Don’t change it because you are bored and then lose business or interest from others because you have left your core values. Do what you do best.
5 Guys Burgers and Fries. A Successful Company.
Whenever I go into a 5 Guys Burgers and Fries restaurant, I am amazed at how simple their menu is. They don’t offer Fried Chicken, BBQ and corned beef sandwiches, they offer great burgers and fries. They also provide hot dogs, but that is not why I go there. I go there to get a great burger and fresh Idaho fries. If they ever change their fries to some skinny fries, I will stop going there. They have a simple success story. I’m not trying to promote their restaurant, I am just amazed at their simple menu and hope they don’t start offering Gyros and Pizza. Stick to your core values. Know why your customers and audience love what you do and stick to it!
I am as guilty as the next guy
Yep, I’m as guilty as the next guy, but not the next Five Guys! I started my business online as an air compressor parts supplier. After repairing power tools for a good amount of time, I realized there wasn’t a whole lot of money to be made on small power tool repair, so I started repairing air compressors, the bigger ones that construction companies use. I began to make a profit and didn’t have to work so hard fixing small power tools. I started offering air compressor parts online, and the business started to grow. My mistake was that other companies were providing all kinds of power tool parts, drill parts, saw parts, leaf blower parts, you name the power tool, and they were offering parts. What did I do? I became a copy cat and started doing the same thing. After about ten years, I realized that I had left my core values. I could not concentrate on what had made me successful, and I didn’t have the time to focus on my core business. Instead of going deep I was going wide and shallow, and my margins began to slip.
Ripping off the band-aid is hard
I wrote several blog posts about ripping off the band-aid. I wrote it because the band-aid I needed to rip off was 1,000’s of products that I had put on my website that were not air compressors. This was going to mean a loss of sales, but I had to do it. I had to get back to selling just burgers and fries, what I knew best. On January 24, 2019, I did just this, and it hurt. All of the thousands of hours I paid people to add all of this product would now be removed, but once I did it and accepted the results, I have found that by focusing on the core business that I know, I have seen my margins increase. I have fewer suppliers now, but I have more time to spend time with them coming up with creative ways to market their products and even coming up with our solutions when companies stop making a specific part so that we can help our customers continue to use their existing equipment.
It’s hard to go back to something when you think you were moving in the right direction, but continuing to walk away from what I know was keeping me up at night. I’m glad about the decision that I made to return to what made me successful. Maybe you will too, that is if you have gotten bored and changed the formula for your own Coke.
Update on ripping off the band-aid
I ripped off the band-aid and the hardest thing was the unknown results. Sure, it was tough to do, but after 6 weeks since ripping it off, our sales have not fallen one bit. As a matter of fact, our sales are up a bit compared to last year. My focus has returned to what got us here in the first place. Our margins are better and we have reduced a lot of wasted energy on products that we just needed to let go.
The Von Trapp family now resettled in Vermont, enjoying a thriving Lodge that they built with their children and grandchildren. They love their new country but Austria whispers in the back of the parent’s and the children’s thoughts while they fall to sleep each night.