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, how America shapes Heinrich & Loredana Forster.
Chapter Six – Land of Opportunity
On July 4, 1923, Heinrich, Loredana and Lucien Forster arrived in New York City amidst a celebration of red, white, and blue. It wasn’t until a year later that Heinrich and Loredana realized that the patriotic reception that greeted them was not a typical welcome for the thousand of immigrants that made their way into the city, but a celebration of America’s own independence. Loredana for many years would tell Lucien about the thousand of flags that greeted them from the tall windows of buildings and the streets were covered with the ticker tape of earlier parades. A complete stranger handed Lucien a bright red balloon and from that point on the Forsters felt welcomed to their new country.
Heinrich had made arrangements for the family to stay in a small apartment for several days located in “Little Italy.” He was well aware that anyone of German heritage was still regarded as the enemy, even in this land of the free. They relied on Loredana’s ability to make friends and converse with the Italian community to get settled. Heinrich had a plan, one that he understood, but never spoke about. He asked Loredana to ‘have trust’ and she had no reason to doubt her husband. Lucien thrived on the flaky pastries and starchy pastas, staples of this “Little Italy” and soon he shed the telltale sign of a new wasting immigrant for the round and rosy glow of a healthy toddler. Several days after their arrival several uniformed men knocked on their door. Loredana was visibly afraid and begged Heinrich not to leave with them. During the Great War, many who left with uniformed officials never came back.
“Loredana, have trust.” Heinrich kissed her forehead and indicated that he would be back. For the next six hours, Loredana paced the floor of the apartment, peering out of the window and watching the door to the apartment expectantly whenever she heard the sound of footsteps on the stairway. Lucien vied for her attention, pulling himself up on the furniture, the hem of her skirt, and finally by teething on the handle of her handbag. Finally, as the sun was setting Heinrich burst through the door sporting a gigantic grin. Loredana ran to his arms and could not stop her tears of relief. He was startled by her reaction, and brushed away her tears. “My Loredana, don’t cry – today we begin, again.”
“I don’t understand. The uniforms? The men? I thought you were not coming back.”
“Oh, I am back and my wings have been restored!”
“Loredana, those men were with the United States Navy. They have asked me to join them, teach them, and work with them once again on the airships.” Heinrich, swung Lucien into the air with such force that an exalted squeal escaped from the child’s lips. Loredana had never seen her husband act with such euphoria. An element of reserve that she had always assumed was part of his heritage had been peeled away.
“Navy? Airships? Military service? No more war!” Loredana stomped her foot with her final words. On one hand, if not for the war, if not for the agreements and compromises between countries causing the delivery of Heinrich’s beloved airship to Italy, they would have never met. But to Loredana, any military uniform denoted war and destruction regardless of country. She did not want to bring her son up in an environment of fear and secrecy.
“Loredana, the war is over. I will be working to restore the airship to the sky. I will work for flight and freedom in this America.”
“This makes you happy, yes?” Heinrich lifted Lucien into the air and looked into his curious blue eyes, smiling without hesitation.
The Forster family quickly made their home in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Heinrich went to work with the U.S. Navy in the development and aviation of the next generation of airships. He was one of a few select pilots selected to pilot the USS Shenandoah, one of the first post-war airships to be commissioned by America. Heinrich led the team that welcomed the USS Los Angeles, the final airship to be relinquished by the Zeppelin plant and make its 82-hour transatlantic flight to its new home in Lakehurst. Heinrich welcomed her as he would a long lost relative. Just days before the Los Angeles made its maiden voyage; Heinrich also became a United States citizen. He joined the crew and over the next six years he became the leading aviator trainer for airship aviation. In order to survive the harsh economic times, the Zeppelin Company had joined forces with the U.S. Goodyear Company and transferred all of the patents and expertise of the Zeppelin airship to Goodyear’s Akron plant. It was no surprise when Heinrich was recruited to work for the new Goodyear-Zeppelin Company as the number one trainer of airship pilots and the key test pilot for the company. Loredana felt a sense of relief as they transitioned from military to civilian lives.
Lucien was now seven years old as the family made their way from New Jersey to Akron, Ohio, their new home and that of the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company. Loredana and Heinrich had tried to have more children, but after two miscarriages and one stillborn child, their hearts would not endure the misfortune of losing another child any longer, and they focused on the upbringing of Lucien. On their eighth wedding anniversary, Heinrich surprised Loredana with a gift of a tabletop phonograph record player, with a complete set of opera recordings. The phonograph player utilized the latest technology, sporting a handsome mahogany cabinet. The hand crank was removable for packing and storage, and was one of the first models to feature variable speeds. The standard 78 records were being pressed to vinyl and there were experimental “long play” recordings that could fit almost twice the amount of music on the same size record. Loredana filled her days with the sounds of the opera and reminisced about the lost luxury she had given up of hearing this remarkable music almost daily at La Scala. Occasionally they would make the 30-mile excursion into the larger city of Cleveland when The Metropolitan Opera came to tour. Loredana sent away for more recordings, showing favoritism to the Italian composers and Lucien grew up with the music and language of his mother’s homeland well set upon his ears. She would include a few of the Germanic works, mainly by Mozart, to appeal to Heinrich; but he was so engrossed in the building of a new airship he could not find the time to listen to more than a sampling.
Since the Goodyear-Zeppelin plant was not a military base, Lucien was able to accompany his dad on occasion to see the airships constructed and get an idea of the physics and engineering feats it required for each monstrous balloon to take flight. Over time, everyone welcomed and recognized his dad, Heinrich Forster, as his amiable nature and legendary skill overcame any lingering prejudice that some Americans still had toward Germans following the Great War. Loredana found herself lonesome at first as they settled into the Akron area. She had a fast and warm Italian-speaking community in Lakehurst. It took her awhile to fit in this more rural and reserved township, but her amiable nature soon made her fast friends with the other wives and mothers that had also relocated to the area. She had continued to write her parents while in New Jersey, but to not a single letter came back in return. Not long after their arrival, Loredana received a post from Milan, Italy, and she immediately recognized her father’s handwriting.
26 October 1929 Dear Loredana, I write this letter in hope that it reaches you in America. It is filled with sadness, as I inform you that your mother has passed into the promised land after fighting a quick and treacherous illness. Many times I have been tempted to write you, but your mother would not have it, as she believed that God would strike us down for ignoring the shame that you brought on the Macchiano family with your elopement. I do not believe in shame any more; I only know that a great distance divides our lives. Your mother, in her final hours, finally forgave you and of all the names she called for as she was passing into God’s arms, was yours. She wanted you to know how much she loved you and how she regretted not being able to see her last grandson, Lucien. She always kept your photograph at her bedside. And for me, I have my music, but I am now old. Too old to play at the Teatro della Scala. So I play in this empty house. The music helps fill the void I feel in my heart and in my Italia. Can I be so bold to ask that you pay your tired old father one more visit so I can see the laughter in your eyes and the smile on your lips? Tell your husband that he, too will be welcome should he choose to accompany you. Your devoted father, Eduardo Macchiano Heinrich was deep in the planning of a new airship, the USS Akron, Goodyear’s latest enterprise, and could not depart, but he urged Loredana to make the return trip to Italy and to take Lucien along. Many rumors and news accounts had been reported on Mussolini and his control of the country, but Loredana was not interested in politics nor did they dictate her actions. Her heart told her that she must go and see her father one last time. She was determined not to frivolously squander the chance to reunite with her father as she had woefully regretted doing so with her mother. She eagerly sent a telegraph that she would be returning for a visit and that her Lucien was eager to meet his Grandfather and his other aunts, uncles, and cousins. Lucien and Loredana traveled back to Italy via steamer and train, this time with United States passports in hand. They arrived in Milan and as they stepped off the train, Loredana saw a grayer and frailer likeness of her Papa. She ran to him, with Lucien frantically holding onto her hand, and father and daughter embraced amidst tears and laughter. Lucien found himself surrounded by a people and a country that only spoke in his mother’s native tongue. Although he could understand what was being said around him, he refused to speak. It was Eduardo, with his violin and its music that was able to capture his fascination and eventually coax out his young grandson’s voice.
Loredana immediately noticed the many black-shirted military policemen that wandered the streets of Milan and she felt a cold shiver of fear as they exercised looks of intimidation to passers by. Later, her father told her that the actual acts of intimidation were brutal and more deadly than the casual glance and warned her to stay clear of any interaction. He whispered to her of the fear many had of their acts of terror, and he confessed that people had turned against each other in order to gain favor with these government bullies. Even in the La Scala orchestra there were rumors that the blackshirts had spies among them and they were expressly ordered to listen for hints of treason or disloyalty. As Eduardo became more agitated, Loredana feared that he may say the wrong thing to the wrong person and the consequences could be deadly.
“Papa, calm down. You have your music, why fret about what you cannot change?”
“If I accept what is going on around me, I accept living in a prison. Even one’s music cannot send away the tyranny that has entered our country’s house.”
“Please don’t talk that way, someone may hear you.”
“So, shall I grow old in silence? Shall I remove the strings from my violin, and attempt to make the same music?” There were tears in his eyes as he stroked Lucien’s black hair away from his forehead. “You are an American. The sins of your government have not yet come to haunt you. You are young and you deserve to grow up in a country of youth and exuberance.” Lucien looked into his eyes confused, but at that moment he knew he loved his Grandfather in a way that tugged at his young soul.
“Il Nonno, fa la sua musica in America.” Lucien had spoken his first words of Italian. Loredana looked at her young son and to her aging father and she felt the generations that separated them melt away like the thawing of the Alps in springtime.
Loredana took her father’s hand and smiled. “Yes, Papa – make your music in America.” Eduardo caressed his violin as he returned it to its case and said simply, Sì.
 English translation: Grandpa, make your music in America.