THE TAIL ON MY MOTHER’S KITE
(Omitted Chapter about my grandfather)
Stuttgart, Germany. February 8, 1869.
FOR A COLD EVENING in the wooded section of Stuttgart, the German wedding had an unusual aura of warmth and good cheer. Outside, the falling snow was quiet, relentless. But inside the biergarten--all stone and brick--the yellow-painted walls reflected back the heat of the revelers. Above their heads, alpine horns, antlered elk heads and multi-colored local flags lined the walls, adding to an air of festivity.
Surrounded by male friends, Christian Ludwig Heinrich Klumpp held up his beer stein to salute them. “Ach! I will soon lose my freedom!” he sang out, but one of them shouted back, “Jah! But you vill once more test your manhood!” and with that, the group roared.
Nearby, Margaretha Schnieder, sheltered within a cluster of women attendants, blushed in chagrin. So it was known everywhere then-—that Heinrich had once spread his masculinity throughout the village.
With the eyes of the revelers upon her, Margaretha straightened proudly. He is mine, she thought, and all his carousing is now over. She patted the skirt of her white, batiste gown. From this day forward, Heinrich will not dare be found in any bed except mine.
Outside, the church bells rang, casting solemn notes into the icy February air. Soon accordion music from within the beer garden seeped out through cracks around the window and joined the church bells in song. A wedding was always a fine reason to combine one kind of note with another.
THE KNOCK ON MARGARETHA’S door seemed innocent enough, though wholly unexpected. Heavy with child, she responded calmly to the midday tap on her oaken door, surprised to see the woman who stood outside. The Frau’s black hair was pulled straight back, and her face, once comely, was now a mask of fatigue combined with stolid German determination. A small boy in short pants stood at her side.
“Yes?” Margaretha asked.
The woman didn’t hesitate. Lifting the boy’s arm, she said, “This is my child, Karl--the son of Heinrich. An unexpected event . . . so it’s likely Heinrich does not know. But see? He’s the image of your husband.”
“You and . . . Heinrich?” Margaretha stared down at the child, the shock registering on her face, turning her pale.
“I am Rosina Wagner. Without money, I cannot continue to raise him.”
“You are asking for money? But Heinrich doesn’t have—“
“I want no money. For myself, I scrub houses, I am fed. But the boy here is too large, three years old, he can no longer come with me to each workplace. You must take him. You and Heinrich. He’s yours now.” Abruptly, she pulled the child’s hand from her own.
“Mine?” The other gasped. “I am already with child.”
“So I see. You will now have another for company.” Rosina bent to kiss her son. “Be good, Karl. Good-bye.”
Before Margaretha could catch her breath, Rosina had straightened and was striding rapidly away, with Karl looking after her, masking a sob.
For long seconds, while the boy’s sobs became audible, Margaretha stood in shock. She was torn. Mein Gott, this can’t be. How did this happen? How am I to take another’s child? But then the boy’s disconsolate crying tore at her. As he snuffled and gasped, Margaretha’s heart broke.
Awkwardly, she leaned down. “Oh, poor child,” she said. “Poor, poor boy. Come to me.” With that she squatted and took the boy in her arms. “Sweet little tyke,” she murmured into his hair. Above his shoulders she saw the looming trees, the darkness deep in the forest, expanding even beyond the obvious shadows. “We cannot leave you to the fearsome forest, can we? You will have a home.” Against her already-full stomach she rocked him briefly. “Oh, Karl. How shall we tell your father?”
THE FOLLOWING YEARS DID not go well for Karl. Joined by a half-sister, Marie, and later a half-brother, Gustav, he was treated by Heinrich as a nuisance—or worse, a pariah.
“Be good to him,” cried Margaretha from time to time, “for he is your son, too. Ignore him and he will hate you.”
His answer was a stony stare. And then, “Not willingly mine, he’s not. His mother brought him to taunt me--that I married you instead of her. She had other lovers.”
“He looks like you.”
“Bah! What does that mean, woman? I do not accept him as mine.”
“But you must.” Karl was now almost five.
Even as he grew older and increasingly resembled his father, the boy seemed to attract only added paternal hostility.
At last Margaretha felt she must act. Karl had now turned fourteen.
Telling no one her plan, she began earning money, often secretly, then hiding most of it. From the finer households she took in sewing. Washed her neighbor’s clothes. Served as a tutor, teaching children to read. On rare nights she handed over coins to Heinrich, but kept more for herself.
Within a year and a half she had managed the price of a boat passage to America. One day when Karl was still sixteen, she secretly and quickly packed a duffel with his clothes—garments that required minimum space, since he was full grown but only 5’6”. She found them both a carriage ride to Hamburg.
With great sadness, she stood with him on the dock and quickly kissed the youth she’d so lovingly raised as her own. “Be good, Karl,” she whispered to him.
It was the second time in his life he’d heard the same admonition—the second time he’d been sent away. But this time the love that accompanied him formed a comforting shield against pain, a layer that warmed him and eased his departure.
IN JULY, 1883, LISTED on the ship manifest, the Selisia, as a “joiner,” in possession of only one bag, Karl became part of New York City’s untamed, uncounted masses. With what ingenuity he managed to survive, even prosper, no record remains. Was he fed through the kindness of strangers? Given a job by dint of his youth and seventeen-year-old strength? Or did he simply find within himself the needed inspiration, bestowed so recently by a determined and loving step mother?
Documents show that Karl Wagner Klumpp was naturalized on June 12, 1889, and when he applied for a passport in 1896 at the age of 29, he listed his occupation as “barber.” In that 1896 application he wrote that he intended to go back to Germany and return “within one year.”
Though it is not known how or where he found Marie Caroline Hayoz, eleven years his junior, surely it was a fortuitous encounter.
However they chanced to meet, one fact remains: they were married on December 5, 1897. And in time the two ran a bakery shop in the Bronx.
IN MAY OF 1903, my father was born as the first child of Marie Carolyn Hayoz Klumpp, a birth that was followed three years later by that of a daughter.
My dad, Theodore George Klumpp, seldom spoke to us about those growing-up years, when he and his one sister, Margaret, delivered fresh-baked bread to their parents’ customers.
But for their children the parents had loftier goals than bread delivery: they managed somehow to send their son to Princeton and their daughter to Cornell.
Later I wished that somebody had recorded which parent--or was it both?--who inspired their two children to leave their humble Bronx backgrounds and enroll in two of the country’s most elite universities.
BECAUSE THEODORE ENTERED Princeton’s freshman class of 1924 without the customary social credentials, neither wealthy nor a member of Eastern high society--and in spite of his obvious good looks--young Theodore Klumpp was never invited to join the prestigious Princeton Eating Club. Thus passed over, he said, “I’ll form my own eating group,” and so he did.
It was during those Princeton years that Theodore must have met my mother, Virginia Allan. When she brought him home to meet Russell, her rich father’s approval was immediate. “He’s graduating Magna Cum Laude,” Virginia said. “And now he’s been accepted to Harvard Medical school,” which was all the prompting Russell needed. “Tell him to begin his medical education,” said Russell. “And send the bills to me.”
Thus did two amazing grandfathers converge to promote the career of one promising young man. For Russell it was an obvious decision to invest in a man whom he saw, correctly, as having a stellar future. Midway through his medical school education, according to the New York Times of February 14, 1926, Virginia Allan and Theodore Klumpp became engaged. The two were married later that year.
FOLLOWING HER BROTHER’S example, Margaret Klumpp, too, applied for admission to medical school. But she was told by the dean of Cornell, “I’m sorry, Miss Klumpp. This education would be wasted on you. You’ll marry and have children and drop out. We cannot squander a classroom seat on a woman.”
“But I won’t drop out,” she argued, “I give my word. No matter how my family life unfolds, I’ll still continue my medical practice.” With that promise taken at face value, she was accepted and became a dermatologist, one of the first female doctors in the United States. Keeping her word to the medical school--and in spite of an exceptionally good marriage to a businessman named Art Searing--she continued her dermatology practice for a lifetime.
Unfortunately, Margaret was unable to have children of her own, but instead she later became a loving aunt to her brother’s children.
ONCE GRADUATED from Harvard, Dr. Theodore Klumpp did his residency at the Peter Bent Brigham hospital in Boston, and was there when I was born. A short time later he was asked to teach medicine at Yale, and later at George Washington University.
Sadly, Karl Wagner Klumpp died in 1928, one year before his first grandchild was born. But he lived long enough to bask in the unfolding careers of his two children.
My father’s teaching years ended in 1936, when he was tapped to become the chief medical officer for the Food and Drug Administration, a position he held until 1941. Passionate about the problems of aging and a strong proponent of exercise (not then a universally accepted mantra), he began writing articles on the subject, including some which were accepted by my beloved Reader’s Digest.
Sometime during those years, after about five years of marriage, my mother divorced him. For my mother, we surmised, he fell short as a Casanova.
In 1942, Dr. Theodore George Klumpp was chosen by board members of Sterling Drug to become the CEO of Winthrop Laboratories in New York City.
With his new wife, also named Virginia, he built a home in Sands Point on Long Island, which, with its astonishing views of Long Island Sound, was featured in House Beautiful. This was the house where, as an adult, I finally came to know my father--not as a kind of specter during a fleeting appearance on our ranch--but as a real person.
Still, that week of our first acquaintance stands out as a transformative moment in my growing up.