Brigitte, Twentieth-Century Pioneer (Part 2)


(Based on the life of Brigitte Strecker Burns)
Papa wanted desperately to take his family to America to be sealed in the temple. But the war came, and he had to serve in the German army. Mama wrote to him every day, but there was no answer. The war ended, Opa (Grandfather) died, Brigitte faithfully tended the garden that she and her mother and sister had planted, just as Opa would have, and—finally—a letter came from Papa. He was a prisoner of war in France.

Brigitte and Wanda snuggled down in their beds, giggling. They should have been asleep long ago. But after three long years as a prisoner of war in France, Papa was coming home the very next day!

“What should I call him?” asked Brigitte. It had been so long since she had seen him, she felt a little shy.

“Why, call him Papa, of course,” Wanda replied. “That’s what he is!”

Brigitte hid her face so Wanda wouldn’t see how embarrassed she was. “Well, I know that. I guess I’m just used to having only Uncle John and our other uncles. You know—calling all of them uncle. … And so much has happened since Papa had to leave us. I know Mama hoped that Papa could baptize me, but I didn’t want to wait any longer.”

The Pegnitz River had been icy cold that April day, yet it felt curiously warm to her when she stepped into it, wearing her long white nightgown. Brother Ludwig Weiss had baptized her, and Uncle John had confirmed her. It was a happy time except for Papa’s absence. Now a whole year had passed.

“Girls, you need to try to get to sleep. I want you to get up early to help me bake good things for Papa to eat when he gets here.”

Brigitte and Wanda looked at each other with guilty faces. Mama had heard them talking—they would have to be quieter. …

The next thing they knew, the sun was pouring in their bedroom window and Mama was shaking them awake. All day long the house was filled with the wonderful smells of cookies and cakes baking. The girls felt as if they would burst with waiting. When they had nearly given up hope—it was ten o’clock at night—Papa came home!

He looked different, he was so very thin—but he was still Papa. Brigitte didn’t have any trouble calling him that. She felt safe and warm and peaceful because once again Papa was in the house. Like the fresh spring breeze, Papa brought them his own special kind of laughter.

One rainy morning before she skipped off to school, Brigitte ran over to give him a kiss. “Let it rain,” she cried. “Now that you’re home, we always have sunshine in our house.”

But one day she noticed that he had an unhappy frown. Although he didn’t say anything was wrong, she worried and wondered. That night when she got up to go to the bathroom, she heard her parents speaking in whispers. I shouldn’t listen, she thought, but she couldn’t help hearing some of what they were saying.

“All these years we saved every little bit of money we possibly could to get enough to go to America—and today the government is making us change to a new kind of money,” Mama grieved. “Now we’ll have to start over.”

“I know how hard you worked as a seamstress while I was away, and I was amazed at what you were able to save, Elizabeth. We just have to have faith that we can do it again.”

So that’s what made Papa so sad. Mama too. No wonder! She thought of the straggly little plants Mama had told her to throw away. They had grown to stand tall and straight in the sun. When the vegetables were ready to harvest, Mama said hers were the best in the shared lot. My prayers helped the plants grow! I know they did! And I know my prayers can help us to get to America too. She was happy here with her friends and the members of the branch, but Papa wanted his dream to go to America and be sealed together in the temple so badly that it had become her dream too.

As the days, weeks, and months marched by, no one talked much about the dream, because Oma was not well. They could not leave her. When she died, Brigitte’s heart was heavy with sadness, but she felt a peace in her heart, too, because she knew that when their dream came true, she could be with Oma again someday. She wrote in her little brown journal:

I will always remember her faith. I will always try to have faith like hers. I want to be like Oma.

One night after dinner, Papa was talking about immigration regulations. “They insist that we have a blood relative as our sponsor, but they won’t accept any of my sisters because their families are so large, and they can’t afford it. Peter Loscher is trying to help us. He found another sponsor for us, but he isn’t a relative.”

Brigitte looked up at her father’s sad face. “Papa, remember how everyone wanted to sit by Oma in the bomb shelters because she had so much faith? Last night when you were reading from the Book of Mormon about when Nephi broke his bow in the wilderness and they were hungry, I thought that it wasn’t easy for those people to get to America, either. Heavenly Father helped them do it, just as he helped us to be safe during the war.”

Papa looked at Brigitte and his sadness disappeared. “You’re right, Gitte. I won’t lose faith.”

A short time later, Papa received a letter from Peter Loscher: I have arranged for Quentin Cannon, a former missionary in Germany, to be your sponsor. They will accept him because he has borrowed the money from his credit union (a kind of bank) to pay for your passage. You can pay him back after you get here.

Brigitte had never seen Papa cry, but his eyes were wet and his voice shook with joy as he read the letter.

“We can bring only our suitcases, ten dollars per person, and two large wooden crates, so you may as well have a party with your friends and give away what we can’t bring with us,” Papa told them.

The day to leave for America—and the temple—finally came. The family rode the street car to the train station. They took the train along the Rhine River to Rotterdam. In Rotterdam they took the stagecoach to the harbor where the ship New Amsterdam was docked. Wanda and Brigitte were seasick the entire trip, but even so, they were excited to see the Statue of Liberty welcoming them.

Papa loved bananas, but in Germany they were very costly. Now, as they waited at the New York harbor for their crates, Papa left and came back with a giant bag of bananas and an even bigger smile. “Your first taste of America!”

“George, you shouldn’t have!” Mama gasped. “We have only forty dollars.”

Wanda and Brigitte turned shocked faces to their father. His smile became even broader. “Welcome to America. These bananas were only forty cents!”

The tension was broken by relieved laughter. Mama laughed loudest of all.

Soon they got on the bus for the last part of their long journey. Only three days and they would be in Salt Lake City!

“Look!” Mama cried, almost reverently as the bus took them into the Utah town.

Brigitte looked around at the snow. She guessed it must be unusual for it to be snowing on April 29. Then she saw them—the spires of the Salt Lake Temple, reaching toward heaven.

Brigitte was eleven and a half years old. She had spent nearly half her life running from bombs and the terrible destruction of war. Soon she would dress in white, kneel at the altar of the temple, place her small hand in the hands of her parents, and be sealed to them by the power of the priesthood for time and for all eternity. What she would always remember most was the expression of joy on her father’s face.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett