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His Father's Son â" Book II â"
He Wore a Khaki Collar
By Bernard Baumbach
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Bernard Baumbach, PH.D.
All rights reserved.
There was no spirit of 'Westward Ho!' as the Rev. Julius L. F. Becker, Jr. family boarded the train to begin its journey to California. It would take three different trains to transport Julius and Lena and their three daughters, Julia, Ester, and Gladys, from a situation that only the parents could experience as one of depressing despair; one that only the parents would perceive as inflicting a devastating uncertainty. Hence, there was nothing in their move across the country that even suggested escape; there was only the prospect of refuge in the house that Lena had called home before her marriage. Their journey would end on the Ehlen ranch just outside the township of Laws in Inyo County, California.
The day-in and day-out confinement aboard the Union Pacific Railroad coach was beginning to take its toll upon each of the family members. The restlessness of the two older daughters doubled the stress experienced by Lena who, in trying to maintain a balance in her disposition toward her husband, her daughters, and her self, had her patience severely tested in part because she was still nursing Gladys who was but fourteen months old. Julius's patience was not as severely tested simply because he would occasionally lapse into a dream-like state and literally — that is, mentally — exit the reality of the moment.
It was during their second day of travel that Lena devised an agenda that, from Julius's point-of-view, made their final days aboard the train as pleasant as the circumstances could possibly allow. She grouped the girls about her and asked each — first Julia who, in another month and one-half, would be six and then Ester who, in another month, would be four — what it was about living in St. Clair that each would like to remember always. In nearly every instance their answers would be either 'Grandma' or 'Grandpa.' Lena would then respond with a reply like 'Soon you will meet a new Grandma' or 'You'll meet a new Grandpa and a new Grandma where we're going.' Then she'd relate stories that had similar experiences in her life; first in Freetz, Germany, then in Orange, California, and finally on the Ehlen ranch in Inyo County, California. "That's where we're going" she always added enthusiastically. Each day the same stories were repeated, but to the girls they seemed to be brand new.
Lena told her stories with such enthusiasm that the girls were always delighted. Julius was also intrigued to learn some additional bits and pieces of Lena's earlier years. He was particularly pleased by the masterful manner in which his wife, his 'little Lena,' was able to restore peace and contentment within the family circle within the confines of their railway coach. Lena, of course, had yet another purpose in exposing her daughters to her childhood and later experiences. She wanted the girls to have a pleasant experience of bonding with their other set of grandparents. They know and love their Grandpa and Grandma Becker who live in Detroit. But now they will need to know and to love their Grandpa and Grandma Ehlen whom they have yet to meet.
In Reno, the Becker family transferred from the Union Pacific Railroad in order to be in Carson City where, on the following morning, they would begin the final leg of their journey. The Carson & Colorado Railway had a track that ran all the way into California, down the eastern edge of the Owens River Valley, and terminating at Keeler on the south eastern shore of the Owens Lake. Several years prior to the Becker's journey, it was purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad which kept its narrow-gauge track that provided the rails upon which ran the 'Slim Princess.' It was that train that would carry them into Laws, California, and the town nearest the Ehlen ranch that Lena once called home. It was the Slim Princess that Rev. Becker used primarily to travel between California and Nevada in pursuit of his pastoral assignments before he and Lena were married.
Lena's mind, however, was swirling with images as she anticipated her reunion with her parents after more than six years of separation. Somewhere in that mix were the oft-recycling thoughts that reminded her of how grateful she was for the confident manner in which her husband had managed their wrenching departure from St. Clair. Their three daughters were far too young to understand the depth of the anxiety their parents were experiencing as the family traveled westward. For Julius, the experience was primarily simply one of getting away from a failed endeavor made all the more troubling because there was no goal for him to pursue at the other end. For his wife, the trip signaled her returning home, and that thought alone brought her great comfort. She had the advantage over her husband in that regard. Her memories were enhanced by recalling that it was in her parents' home where she met Pastor Becker on what was his first day in Inyo County in September of 1892.
The fall weather in Carson City, Nevada was typical for the afternoon of Thursday, October 31, 1901. The Rev. Julius L. F. Becker, Jr. was unconcerned about the fact that it was Halloween or Reformation Day. After all, even though he was a Lutheran pastor, he now was one without a Call. He continued to experience a rising level of anxiety, however, due to the murky picture of his future. His mind was troubled ever since he and Lena agreed that for reasons of his health he should resign his pastorate at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in St. Clair, Michigan.
The travel-weary family arrived at the hotel booked on their itinerary that was only a block away from the Carson & Colorado Railway depot. As soon as they had gathered about the reception desk, Julius stepped forward and resoundingly struck the announcing bell on the Registration Desk. From somewhere on the other side a clerk suddenly appeared and assumed a formal position. "May I help you?" he inquired officiously.
"I believe you have my reservation. It's for Julius Becker, Jr. I have your confirmation letter here, somewhere here." Julius began the hunt for the letter from among the papers he had stuffed into the inner pocket of his coat. He had not yet recovered it when the clerk, now presenting a most welcoming smile, nodded reassuringly.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Becker. We've reserved you a room for one night, Thursday, October 31, 1901: one double bed, one single bed, and one infant's crib."
Julius almost choked when the desk clerk called him 'Mr. Becker.' Ever since his ordination in San Francisco in September of 1892, he had always been addressed as 'Rev. Becker' or as 'Pastor Becker.' Even following his demission from the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod), he chose to identify himself as 'Rev. Becker' in all introductions and on all the documents he had to fill out in the process of pulling up stakes in St. Clair.
"May I see your reservation entry?"
"Surely, Mr. Becker! Let me turn the ledger around so you can read it." With the ledger adjusted, the desk clerk placed his finger just above the hotel's entry in their Reservation Book, directing Julius's attention to the entry for him.
And there it was — simply 'Julius Becker & Family.' Apparently the person who had received his request for a reservation didn't think it important to write in anything else within the small space allotted for the name of the guest.
"Thank you. I wasn't questioning you about the reservation. But I had included the names of my wife and my three daughters when I wrote, but I guess that that information was not required for your records." As he filled out the guest register, his mind was also dealing with that issue: he was no longer, officially, a 'Man of the Cloth.' Even though he was officially rostered with the Joint Synod of Ohio Lutheran Church, he was without a Call. He and Lena had spent a great deal of time over the past month praying about how he, though no longer wearing a clerical collar, might continue his life as a servant of God.
"May I inquire as to the time your dining hall opens for the evening meal? We've been aboard a train for several days now and we'd like to get a decent meal and turn in early. We've reservations on the Slim Princess for the trip to Laws, so we'll want to clean up after supper and get to bed early. You'll put the dining charges on my account, won't you?"
"Of course, Mr. Becker. The dining hall will begin serving at 5:00 o'clock. If you ask your waiter, he'll provide highchairs for the girls. But I'm certain that you'll want breakfast as well. The dining hall opens at 6:00 a.m. for that service. The morning clerk will have your total bill ready for you when you leave."
"Good morning, Lena!" There were only a few guests in for breakfast at that time and so the voice that came from behind them shocked Julius, but it devastated Lena. "There's only one voice like that in the whole world," was Lena's excited response. She jumped from her chair, handed Gladys over to Julius, and rushed to embrace her mother. The void that the two had shared during their six years of separation was attested to by the mutual flow of tears that fell upon the other's shoulder.
It's not difficult to visualize that tender moment. As Lena deftly dabbed her tears she managed to add, "I've never had such a wonderful surprise, Mother. However did you get Papa to bring you here? Whatever it was, it worked like magic."
"It wasn't difficult at all. In fact, he's the one who suggested we surprise you here. His excuse was that he couldn't wait any longer to see his granddaughters. Truth be told — we both have really missed you."
Lena swallowed hard, released her embrace and turned in order to hug her father. Ludwig Ehlen, she quickly noted, had aged somewhat since she, Julius, and Julia moved from Gardnerville, Nevada to St. Clair, Michigan, five years earlier. It was Ester and Gladys who were strangers to Ludwig and Maria.
"Julia was but a babe when you and Lena left for Michigan. She was a big girl then, but, Oh, My! She is so much bigger now. It looks as if the second girl — Ester? — hasn't inherited your stature, Lena. I doubt if either of them will be as petite as you are. But the wee one; she's Gladys, right? She's a bit different, isn't she? The older girls have dark hair, but Gladys is fair-headed. That's nice."
"Oh, Papa. You should have heard some of the conversations that went on in our bedroom years ago when I was growing up. One reason I tried so hard at every thing I attempted was because my older sisters often referred to me as 'the runt in the litter.'
Julius could contain himself no longer. He interrupted the father-daughter conversation by brashly declaring, "Ludwig, you sly, old codger! It's apparent that you know your way around in Carson City." Julius, now standing away from their breakfast table, grasped his father-in-law's hand, rocking the older gentleman back and forth. In his excitement in greeting his father-in-law, he seemed oblivious of the fact that he was still holding Gladys who, by the way, seemed to be enjoying the comforting motion that her father was providing her in an unconscious manner.
"It's been too many years since you and I tried to do the Lord's work in Inyo County. Maria and I decided that we couldn't wait until you and Lena and our granddaughters got to Laws. Besides, after all of those hours that the five of you spent on trains getting here; well, we thought you might enjoy some help in traveling the final leg."
"Won't you join us for breakfast?"
"Thanks, Julius, but Maria and I arrived at the hotel after you folks had bedded down, so our plan was to get our breakfast as soon as the dining hall opened so we could really surprise you. Apparently our plan worked out; we were finished and back in our room to pack up before you came down for breakfast."
"Lena, dearest! That your mother and father did this for us — isn't that the most spectacular surprise you have ever had?"
Lena had scarcely regained her composure and had relieved Julius of their youngest daughter when his question apparently provoked another, albeit much briefer, gush of tears. She was smiling, however, and nodded an affirmative answer to her husband's question before stating, "Mother just told me that she wanted to help with the girls. Isn't she a dear? And to think that all of us spent the night right here in the same hotel! I'm glad it worked it out this way. I was far too tired last night to have been able to appreciate their meeting us here in Carson City."
For many travelers for whom this journey was their first venture into the western area of Native American territory and its non-Western cultures, those who left their eastern homes still evidencing the historical residues of the Civil War, if not the Revolutionary War, boarding the 'Slim Princess' in Carson City and riding through the White Mountains southward into California, presented an awe-inspiring experience. Cradled between two magnificent mountain ranges, the railway snaked through the splendor of the scenery that eyes freshly awakened afforded even the most calloused of people innumerable opportunities to gaze upon the landscape with wonder and delight. But such were not the experiences of the Becker and the Ehlen adults in their coach. First of all, the windows were dirty beyond belief. Furthermore, they would not be mesmerized by the vistas that flashed by the windows of their coach for they would regard them primarily as a continuing stream of reassurances that soon they would be home.
The clerk at the C & C depot assured both families that because it was Friday, because it was the 1 of November, and because farther south at the higher elevations there had been an earlier snowfall that had not been predicted, both families would have their choice of seats. "There's no need to assign them," was the station agent's decision. "You'll be free to move about the coach to suit your liking, but that may not be true down the line. There'll be stops — flag-stops — but I haven't gotten any word on the telegraph key as to how many that might be."
At first Lena and her mother took charge of the three girls on one side of the aisle on two coach seats that faced each other. Ludwig and Julius assumed a similar arrangement on the other side of the aisle. But after a bit, Ludwig, anticipating his daughter's welling curiosity about life in Inyo County over the course of their six-year separation, suggested that he and Lena might disturb the others less were they to take seats facing each other a row or two ahead. Understanding Lena's anxiety regarding her return to the Owens River Valley, Julius joined his mother-in-law in order to tend to the three young girls.
The arrangement didn't last very long because Gladys was getting fussy for reasons that neither Maria nor Julius could handle. Julius called out to Lena who returned to her seat next to her mother, took Gladys into her arms in order to nurse her. Julius, somewhat gladdened by this sudden turn of events, thanked his mother-in-law for their brief, but pleasant, visit and relinquished his care of Julia and Ester to Mother Maria. He then returned to where Ludwig was seated and their conversation instantly resumed its former intensity.
Excerpted from His Father's Son â" Book II â" by Bernard Baumbach. Copyright © 2015 Bernard Baumbach, PH.D.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1- Lena's Homecoming, 1,
Chapter 2- Loose Ends and Compassionate Companions, 19,
Chapter 3- A Warm Welcome & The Search Begins, 24,
Chapter 4- A Period of Adjustment, 36,
Chapter 5- It Takes Both Families To Build A Ranch, 53,
Chapter 6- Legal, Financial, and Other Matters, 59,
Chapter 7- The Parental Promise Becomes A Reality, 75,
Chapter 8- When Do I Begin?, 88,
Chapter 9- It's Starting To Come Together, 100,
Chapter 10- This Is How We'll Do It!, 113,
Chapter 11- Things Start Growing: Crops and Family, 120,
Chapter 12- Farming Success & Anniversary Surprise, 125,
Chapter 13- Dedication, Development, Disappointment, 133,
Chapter 14- Religious Alignment Affirmed, 139,
Chapter 15- Ranching Becomes a Family Endeavor, 141,
Chapter 16- New Civic & Renewed Parental Responsibilities, 149,
Chapter 17- Achieving A Blue Ribbon, 156,
Chapter 18- Four Plus One Equals Five, 159,
Chapter 19- A Plan Gone Awry, 165,
Chapter 20- An Educational Calamity Clerically Resolved, 176,
Chapter 21- Educational Calamity Clerically Prevented, 185,
Chapter 22- And Now There'll Be Instruction & Discipline, 190,
Chapter 23- From Ministerial Service to Civil Service, 194,
Chapter 24- And Then This Happened, 200,
Chapter 25- Time For A Federal Accounting, 208,
Chapter 26- The Becker Curse Surfaces Once Again, 218,
Chapter 27- That Slippery Slope, 223,
Chapter 28- A Stroll Down Memory Lane, 235,
Chapter 29- Could This Be It?, 241,
Chapter 30- A Meeting of the Sacred With the Secular, 250,
Chapter 31- The Virtue of Some Piute Influence, 256,
Chapter 32- Too Late To Be Counted, 262,
Chapter 33- An Intrusion by the Narrator, 270,
Chapter 34- Advice Offered: Advice Received, 273,
Chapter 35- Once Again, Aller Anfang Ist Schwer, 279,
Chapter 36- When News Is More Than News, 290,
Chapter 37- Details, Details, and More Details, 304,
Chapter 38- The Departure, 323,
Chapter 39- The First Step, 338,
Chapter 40- The Arrival, The Departure, A New Beginning, 356,