May 14, 2014

Following on the heels of Colin's post yesterday about his Catholic Review of Books, I was thinking today about the books in my life I have loved, particularly those that made me feel good about being Catholic - and a woman, frankly. The Story of the Trapp Family Singers was one of the first that came to mind. Today seemed to be a good day to write about books here, but looking through our archives I realized that I posted a review of the book some time ago. 
Hoping that our newer readers may not have read it, and that our 'older' readers will forgive a rerun, I'm going to ReGift that post here.  I hope it inspires you to read the book for yourself - it truly is a gem.  May God bless Maria and all her family for the joy and laughter they shared with us.

This book is on my reread list. Once every few years I take it down from its place on my bookshelf, and treat myself to a dose of Maria Von Trapp. If you are depressed about the state of the world, this book is the tonic for what ails you. There is so much to love about The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (which, by the way, is so much better than the movie – but more about that anon) that I’m having a hard time deciding what to tell you about it. I’ll try to share with you what I particularly enjoy, and hope that it will be enough to entice you to track down a copy of your very own.

First of all, there’s Maria herself, with her indomitable spirit, her good humour, and her unwavering faith. She has a knack for being honest and insightful, yet not taking herself too seriously. As engaging as the story is, Maria also serves as an example of a joy-filled spirit; if only I could respond to the difficulties of life as she has, things would be ever so much more pleasant – for me, and the people around me!

The Family Von Trapp
Though the story is about the whole family, it is told from Maria’s perspective which flavours every account. She writes with a European voice, bringing a touch of poetry to her English, and a dash of the Old World in her descriptions of people, places, and events. She tells of a golden age, one which we today think of as being kinder and gentler. It brings to mind men in hats and women with matching shoes and pocketbooks; shiny, obedient children; friendly, helpful policemen; and breakfast for 35 cents.

The cruel question had to be raised now: How much money do we have? After all the pockets had been emptied and every nickel and dime from all twelve of us had been collected, it showed the fabulous sum of four dollars. That had to do for supper and breakfast […] the boys were sent downstairs with two dollars to buy bread, butter and fruit. [...] and so we feasted on quantities of apples, plums, pears and grapes.

Next morning I wanted my husband’s hat ironed before he appeared at the manager’s office in it. To my great astonishment I learned in the lobby that for this I had to go to a shoemaker’s. Georg and the boys brought back the startling news that their shoes had been shined at the barber shop! What a strange country!” (pg. 133)

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that a young candidate for the novitiate was sent from the convent to be governess to the Trapp family children. You know there is a charming older man with kind eyes... and that there are many children. This book gives greater depth to who they are, and offers a real taste of their life together. We are treated to a glimpse of how they celebrate the liturgical seasons; attend daily Mass; exchange hand-made gifts for Christmas, birthdays, and feast days (name days); and most wonderfully, how the singing all began.

We meet the family in the time leading up to World War II. They are well-to-do, charming, wholesome, and fun. They like to hike and camp, and teach themselves a variety of handicrafts from painting to woodwork. However, the economy is going downhill, and Nazis are marching through Austria. (Georg and Maria actually once ate lunch at a table next to Adolph Hitler) Georg loses his money, and the Trapp family find themselves in more straightened circumstances. In time they realize they must leave their homeland because they are receiving too much attention from the Nazis – and I’m sorry to tell you that the escape does not happen while singing Edelweiss on stage.

They receive permission from their Bishop for Father Wasner (their musical director) to go to America with them – just one example of how they seek to know the Will of God in all they do. They have no guarantee of financial security, and in fact will many times be down to the penny before the last before they know where the next paycheque will be coming from, but they take the next step trusting that God will provide.

The family chapel
in Stowe.
The only thing to do was pray; only thus would we find the Will of God. We turned an empty room into a chapel. We put up a crucifix on the wall, and two candles were lit, and one member of the family was there for an hour at a time. We all took turns for three days and three nights. Then we had one more meeting, all of us together, the family and Father Wasner, and in perfect peace and unison we all said the same: we hadn’t found the place, but the place had found us” (pg. 213)

And that is how they decided to buy the farm in Stowe, Vermont, which is still in existence today, though not as it is described in this book.

Between the four dollars gathered from twelve pockets and the purchase of land which reminds them of home there are many singing tours of America, many new friends met, many lessons learned. Though there were hardships, hard work, and painful losses, this is a simple, straightforward story of faith and hope.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers wants to be a canticle of love and gratitude to the Heavenly Father in His Divine Providence.” (pg. 8)

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria Augusta Trapp. Doubleday, 1990, 1949.


The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont


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