For the month of February, I will be posting to my blog excerpts from my young adult novel "Norma's Revenge" as I work on character development. Your comments, critiques, and suggestions are welcome. Today, character development of Lucien Forster.
Chapter 4 – Lucien Eduardo Forster
Heinrich went back to work at the Zeppelin factory and tried hard to get excited about making aluminum pots and pans. After piloting the great aluminum airships, the possibility that utilitarian manufacturing would hold any bit of allure was remote. For the first year, Heinrich’s frustration was distracted by the joy of his marriage to Loredana. Their relationship grew as they developed their own unique method of communicating. Their sentences were distilled down to the raw expression of emotions and needs, creating in essence their own multi-lingual poetry. Loredana accepted her new home with enthusiasm and only in the early mornings did Heinrich sense any hint of regret. Despite her persistent letters to both of her parents, she had yet to receive a reply. After seventeen years of being immersed in music and the emotional mayhem that a family of ten created, Loredana’s sense of sadness and abandonment was one thing that Heinrich could not take away regardless of how he tried. Loredana’s lifeline came through correspondence with her various siblings, but mail delivery was still haphazard even a year after the Great War. Heinrich’s own relatives eyed Loredana with suspicion and distance. She was passionate, emotional, and without much effort had disturbed the quiet reserve that was the mark of the Forster family. Heinrich was the one and only child of his parents, and they had expected that he would marry a fraulein from Lindau and they would all break dishes in their home, a traditional Bavarian custom to bring good luck on the marriage. No dishes were brought to their small apartment, let alone broken. But Loredana could tolerate being ignored and dismissed as long as she and Heinrich were together.
But much of that changed when Loredana told Heinrich that they would soon have their own family. She was carrying their first child and the first Forster grandchild. She channeled her energy on preparing for and welcoming the baby and took long peaceful walks along the shores of Lake Constance. As her pregnancy progressed, her belly grew larger and it became impossible for the Lindau shopkeepers to ignore Loredana’s radiant joy. Their cold reserve melted and they often slipped small treats into her shopping bag, shared with her age-old family recipes to assure the good health of the child, and made predictions of whether she was carrying a mädchen or junge. Heinrich’s family began to make small gestures of acceptance by presenting Loredana with the christening gown that had been in Heinrich’s family for several generations and educating her on the traditions that were bestowed on all Bavarian babies. She should eat two apples a day to ensure the baby had rosy cheeks. Blandness prevailed in all menu items for fear that too much spice would cause the baby’s blindness. And Loredana was warned to stay calm and avoid fire unless she wanted a baby with unsightly birthmarks.
On May 26, 1922, Lucien Eduardo Forster was born. He was a healthy baby boy with his mother’s dark hair, his father’s vivid blue eyes, and a rosy constitution. His name was of great controversy with the Forster family. Tradition dictated that the first male baby would take the name of his paternal grandfather, but Heinrich’s father’s name was Dagobert and Loredana could not imagine her precious new baby with such an old-fashioned name. Neither Heinrich nor Loredana had followed traditional conventions up to now, so they named their first-born, Lucien, a name that meant “of light.” Heinrich did insist that she honor her family roots and so Lucien’s middle name was in honor of her father because ‘he gave me the music in my heart.’ She wrote again to her parents in Milan with news of their new grandchild.
30 May, 1922
Dear Papa and Mama,
You now have a new grandson who was born on the 26th of May with great ease. He was eager to enter the world and has brought great happiness to both Heinrich and me. He will be christened Lucien Eduardo Forster and will wear the christening gown of his father, Heinrich. Mama, I know you are asking if he will be christened in The Church, and as I have written to you on multiple occasions, The Church does not just belong to Italy. It is here in Lindau and the Latin prayers and masses sound the same in their church as in the cathedral of Our Lady of St. Francis. I believe the Father and Mother Mary that we all pray to for the protection of our children, is the same.
Lucien has his father’s heavenly blue eyes, but his deep black hair is Macchiano down to its roots. I can tell already he has our love of music within him. When he cries (that too, is Italian; in both boldness and phrasing) all I have to do is hum the melody from Verdi’s Caro Nome and he coos with delight. It is a Bavarian tradition not to let the baby leave his mother’s bed for the first six weeks, so we sing, coo, and fall in love with each other each and every day.
You may never forgive your daughter for her impetuous flight in pursuit of love and happiness, but please welcome Lucien, this baby of light and peace, into your hearts. His cheek is fresh and sweet awaiting the warm kisses from his Nonno and grandmama.
A daughter’s love never ends,
Loredana Macchiano Forster
Heinrich held his son, swaddled in layers of lace and coverlets and felt overwhelmed by the power this small child had over him. How could a fabricator of aluminum pots and pans teach his son of all the wonders that exist in the world? He wanted not only to encourage him in taking his first steps but also share with him the sense of adventure to be had when one’s ambitions take flight. Loredana was blissfully occupied with the care and nurturing of Lucien, and took little notice of the quietness that had entered Heinrich’s heart. He would return home from the factory and observe Loredana doting on her son in play, while nursing, or while bathing, as if watching from outside an invisible window. One such evening Heinrich interrupted their routine.
“A child should have peace not fear.”
Loredana smiled at him. “My Lucien just needs a song and he has peace.” She began to hum a lilting melody.
“It won’t last. A mother’s song can only live in his heart. It can’t protect him from out there.” Heinrich gestured toward the door. Loredana was perplexed. She had never seen her husband sound so stern, and there was so much emotion in his voice that it exposed a slight tremor.
“Heinrich, what is it? What has happened? There is no happiness in your voice.” It was then that Heinrich told her to the best of his ability that there was great unrest in Bavaria and the rest of Germany. He was not a political man, but he was a man of great instinct and intuition. It was what had kept him alive as he ferried his airships between bullets and bombers during the greatest war the world had ever seen.
“There is great change underway. It is not for the good, that I can tell.”
“Then, we will go to Italy. Italy will not change.” It was then that Heinrich gave her a copy of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. She looked in his eyes, and for the first time saw a tiredness and sadness she had not detected before. The Italian newspaper told of great change in Italy as well, the fascist party had won control of the country and the country was besieged with strikes, restructuring and unrest. Loredana did not know what the political changes had to do with their new family, but she could tell by Heinrich’s tense face that whatever they were, they troubled him greatly.
“It is time for us to leave. For your sake, for Lucien’s sake, and for our family’s sake.”
“Leave? If not Italy, where? Heinrich, what is wrong?”
“I have been asked to return to the sky. It is my dream, but I will not do it for the Germans, and I will not do it for the Italians.”
“If not them, than who?” Loredana detected a flash in Heinrich’s eyes and saw a sense of excitement that she had not seen since the day they eloped via train from her hometown of Milano.
“America? It is so far away. Away from all we know.”
“It is a place of hope. In America I can return to the sky. They are a country of exploration, of adventure. I fear our future if we stay.”
So it was that night that Loredana and Heinrich made their decision to embark upon an adventure once again, but this time with baby Lucien in their care. They kept their decision from the rest of the Forster relatives until after they had booked their passage from Hamburg to New York. Heinrich was one of the few still employed at the Zeppelin plant, but with the shortage of coal in the country, a necessity in the production of aluminum, many before him had lost their jobs and were living in poverty. Heinrich knew that he would not be replaced when he gave his notice, so he waited as long as possible. Together he and Loredana carefully organized their simple belongings into three large traveling trunks. Heinrich’s parents wept at the news but knew that there was little hope in Germany since the Great War. Their tears were the largest display of emotion that Loredana had witnessed outside of the obvious pleasure they took in spending time with their grandson, Lucien. Loredana wept with them, as the magnitude of their grief embraced her and touched the longing she had in her own heart to see the faces, hear the voices, or feel the gentle touch of her own parents. She had written her siblings -- Margarit, Theresa, Marco, Donello, Antonio, and Giacomo -- of the decision to venture to America. She knew at least her sisters would bring the news directly back to her parents. That is why it broke her heart even more when she still did not hear from them directly. The distance between Lindau and Milano was several days by train, but America would create an even greater, seemingly irreconcilable chasm between her and her beloved Papa and Mama. Finding reconciliation seemed hopeless even if they were going to the land of opportunity.
Before leaving, Heinrich’s friends and family arranged for the town photographer to take a family photograph with all the relations, and then one of Heinrich, Loredana, and Lucien. It was a struggle to get Lucien to be still while the photographs were being taken. As Loredana looked at the images many years later, she thought everyone looked appropriately solemn, except for Lucien. He had a curve to his closed infant mouth and you could detect a slight twinkle in his eye. Even at one year of age, little Lucien was like his father: ready for adventure. On Loredana’s tweed lapel, was the moonstone brooch. Its beauty and intricate craftsmanship stood out even on a routine family photograph.
The threesome traveled by an all-night train to Hamburg. They would be among the first passengers to make their way to America on the maiden voyage of the grand steamer Westphalia. Lucien was startled by the hustle and bustle of the port town, and even with his easy disposition, it was a hard journey. They had purchased third class passage with a small sleeping cabin that the three of them could occupy as a family. Lucien slept with Loredana and Heinrich climbed up the ladder to the upper berth. The large roll and swell of the sea made Lucien content and he slept well during their two-week long passage. Heinrich made quick friends with some of the crew and was fascinated to learn about the large boiler and steam combustion system that propelled them across the Atlantic Ocean. Despite being adventurous spirits, the thrill soon wore off as seasickness, influenza, and other ailments swept through the third class hold. The cabins smelled of vomit, disinfectant, and urine; and there was the sound of someone crying or moaning filled every void from what were once strong young men. The only respite was in the open air of the outer deck. Many families with children were terrified to let their children go out to the fresh air on the passenger deck in fear that they would somehow be swept overboard, but Loredana took Lucien and firmly held him in her grasp to breathe in the sea air. The three of them spent most of the weather friendly days outside the cabins, and Heinrich swore later that it was the only thing that saved them from the terrible discomfort and disease that took hold of hundreds of their co-travelers. Loredana said it was the power of the moonstone brooch. Never once did she remove the brooch on the trip whether for fear of losing Heinrich’s original pronouncement of love or because she believed it held protective powers.
They arrived at Ellis Island, on July 4, 1923, two weeks from their departure date, and spent their first day in America standing in long lines and being subject to confusing questions and humiliating exams where they were checked for lice, scabies, respiratory ailments, and screened for the deadly Spanish influenza. Heinrich had studied some English in preparation for their trip, but the immigration officers talked so quickly and had little patience. “What’s your name? Do you have your papers?” Heinrich presented their documents and the gruff officer looked at them. “Henry Forester, is that right?”
“Well in America, you’re Henry Forester. Is this your wife? What is her name?” The officer looked at Loredana in a way that made her feel very uncomfortable and she held Heinrich’s arm even tighter.
“Loredana Forster und mein son, Lucien Forster.”
“Take it from me, you’ll do better with names like Laura and Luke.” Despite the comment, Heinrich politely turned down the agent’s suggestion and filled out their documents with their complete names. He had read how people could lose their identity at immigration if they were not careful.
The agent looked up at Heinrich and said with a wink and a whistle in perfect Italian, “Bella donna! Now stay together and move it along!” Loredana blushed and looked to Heinrich for support. Heinrich clenched his jaw. He might not know much Italian, but he did know that the immigration agent had just made a pass at his wife by calling her a beautiful lady and he had stood by and let it happen. Lucien’s good humor dissipated as they were shuttled from line to line, with no sign of progress in sight. Heinrich and Loredana refused to let Lucien out of their arms for fear that he would somehow be lost in the large sea of immigrants. At one point the men and women were separated, and Loredana panicked at the thought if never seeing Heinrich again. She imagined herself lost in a strange country among a sea of thousands of disoriented foreigners. Lucien was allowed to stay with his mother, but he cried and struggled as only a muscular one-year old can, but he finally fell asleep exhausted, resting his head on his mother’s shoulder. Finally, Heinrich, Loredana, and Lucien were reunited as they were let out of the hot, airless building to wait in yet another tiresome line to embark upon the final ferry to New York City. As they stepped into the fresh, yet humid summer air, they could see the Statue of Liberty majestically lighting the way to their new home.
As the fresh air blew across Lucien’s face, Loredana lifted him up to his father’s sheltering shoulder and his bright blue eyes danced as he pointed toward the towering statue. Heinrich looked to Loredana and then to his son’s expectant face.
“Lucien Eduardo Forster, this is your new home.”
 German word for young lady.
 German word mädchen means girl, and junge means boy.