Everyone Loves a Good Story and Good Stories Love History and Culture
Updated: Jan 7
I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving. My family enjoyed time to get together with extended family with the added blessing of a beautiful baby girl, Chloe Anastasia, who my daughter and her husband are fostering and hoping to adopt. She was a wonderful surprise and while there are still many legalities to work out, we are thankful for the opportunity to love on her!
I mentioned last month that I was planning to shift from giving historical background information on the time periods in which my current books are set to looking into some fascinating stories I have come across during my historical research. One of the reasons I love studying history is the stories I uncover. My father always says that physics is the basis for understanding our world and the universe. I while I am sure there is truth in that, I also believe that all good stories are based in human history and culture! In it we find the best love stories, intriguing mysteries, daring adventures, sweeping dramas, and heartbreaking tragedies. We can even find stories of paranormal events, such as tales about the Bermuda Triangle, or the giant Nasca figures that can only be seen from the air. Even the best fantasies and science fiction stories find their basis in history and cultural traditions from around the world.
In Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings we see many cultural and historical influences throughout the books. The hobbits were based on the rural Irish lifestyles. The overarching struggle between good and evil had Biblical foundations, but also addressed the changes brought about by the industrialization of the 19th century. Saruman’s orcs represented the industrial complex which was cutting down all the trees and polluting the earth in their quest to develop the weapons of war. Tolkien’s involvement in World War I also greatly impacted the view of war depicted in these books.
George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is based on our own Medieval World as can be seen in the way the different regions typify the different cultures. The Starks were a lot like the Muscovites, the Martells were like the Ottomans, and the rest of the houses were reminiscent of the European noble houses. Even the Dothraki warlords were modeled after the Mongols.
The Dune series was based on the historical cultures of Arabia and Persia. The different races in the sci fi TV series, Babylon 5, were also based on historical cultures. The Minbaris share some similarities with Japanese Shinto culture. The Centari are a combination of Napoleonic and Roman cultures. The Narn were perhaps inspired by the warrior cultures of the Samurai and Mongols. I could talk about this for hours, but I promised you a fascinating story from history. I thought I would start with a remarkable love story.
The Milkman and the Washer Woman
The year was 1872 and Fredrick Wilheim Citas was sixteen years old and the oldest of his siblings, two brothers and a sister. Though proud to be German, he had been too young to fight in the Franco-Prussian war, which had recently ended the previous year on January 28th. He lived in the small farming town of Peterkau, just inside the eastern border of the newly unified German Empire. The town lay in a lush valley surrounded by forests to the north, northeast and southeast. A few miles to the southwest lay a large lake also named Peterkau. The lake was nearly 2000 feet across in either direction, curving around in the shape of a nearly closed backward C, and was surrounded by family farms.
Each morning, Fredrick rose early to milk the cows before loading up the wagon with jars of milk which he would then deliver to the people living in the town. He knew everyone in the small community where German and Polish families lived together peacefully. But great change was coming. Newly appointed Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck had enacted his policies of Kulturkampf, a cultural anti-Catholic war and was ramping up his Germanisation agenda, aimed at eradicating the Polish language and culture from the eastern provinces.
It was a fine Spring morning, when Fredrick pulled his wagon to a stop in front of the Waldorski home. He collected his bottles of milk, walked to the door, and knocked. His family had known the Waldorski family for many years and knew them to be good people, despite being Polish. The door opened, but instead of confronting the mistress of the house, a beautiful young woman with dark chocolate eyes stared back at him. He stood speechless as she looked him up and down.
“May I help you?” she asked, smiling coyly.
He felt his face flushing and bobbed his head quickly. “Guten tag, ich ben Fredrick. “I have never seen you before,” he said, sounding stupid in his own ears. “Are you new here?” he amended.
“I am visiting my aunt. My name is Matilda. It is nice to meet you.” Her face lit up as she smiled, and he caught his breath. “May I help you?” she asked again.
“I have milk for the mistress.”
“Shall I take it then?” the young woman asked, reaching out to take the bottles, but Fredrick was reluctant to hand them over. Her hands grazed his as she took the milk and then disappeared into the house.
His hands still felt her warmth where she’d touched him. He stood there for another moment before finally returning to the wagon to continue his route.
I will marry her one day, he thought as he drove away.
Fredrick didn’t know then that he would not see her again for two years. Matilda lived in Charlottenwerth, a town 128 kilometers or about 80 miles away to the southwest. Likely as a result of Bismarck’s realpolitik, Matilda’s family emigrated to the United States and settled in Lansing, Michigan, where she took a job as a washerwoman.
The following year, in 1873, Germany was plunged into a severe depression that would continue to worsen until 1879 when Bismarck was finally forced to change his economic policy and allow foreign trade once more. In the meantime, many German families, including Fredrick’s, began emigrating to the United States to take jobs in the burgeoning industrial cities or to settle in the rural areas of the Midwest, which supplied the raw materials for the factories. Fredrick’s family, perhaps a result of contacts made in Peterkau, also settled in Lansing in 1874, where Fredrick saw an advertisement for a social event at the Porter Hotel. The party was designed to introduce local single women in the German community to eligible German men. Fredrick decided to attend and his great surprise, he saw Matilda there. The two began a courtship and love prevailed. The couple married and eventually had five children together, one of these children was my great grandfather, Charles Lewis Cetas.
Do you have any amazing love stories you’d like to share? I would love to hear from you!
I love historical mysteries, so, in January I will share one of my favorites with you. In the meantime, I hope you will be able to spend time with family and friends this holiday season. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Take care and see you next month!