Louisa and the Magical Dome Lid Trunk
A Family Begins
Louisa would never have thought of herself as a heroine, but every true Saga must have a hero or heroine that sets all future events in motion. Chosen by Serendipity, this tiny waif of a girl, was to become the backbone of future generations. Born in Austria in 1874, she with her parents and siblings sailed across the Atlantic Ocean landing at the Port of Houston Texas. Their destination was Tours, a tiny dot on the Texas map that had been settled by Catholic immigrants from Germany, Austria and Bavaria. They set out on a journey of more than 200 miles over the virgin prairies, enduring the unrelenting Texas heat, the possibilities of roving marauders, rattlesnakes, and wolves. They endured all of this to work from sunrise to sunset to plow the fertile black land and plant their wheat, corn, and cotton crops. Louisa, being no different than any young farm girl in the 1880’s, worked alongside her family to help create the life that had been their dream since they had heard of the many riches and opportunities that this new land had to offer to those who were not afraid to believe.
As Louisa grew older, she yearned for magic in her life. She began to long for a life of her own making, filled with her own dreams. Living on a Texas farm she knew her only escape lay in marriage. Her hope was to be loved by a man that was not afraid of working with his hands but was gentle in his heart. She wanted a home that she could help create. But most of all she wanted to be enveloped by her dream lover creating babies of her own to hold and love and nurture. Even before reaching marriageable age, practical Louisa decided to start preparing for this new life by creating the beautiful hand sewn pieces that all brides were expected to bring with them to start housekeeping. She and her friends would use the hand pieced fabric scraps to make one of a kind heirloom quilts. Louisa would, also, need an array of decorative linens and pillowcases. To these she would add her personal items of embroidered petticoats, aprons, and sun bonnets. As each piece was completed it would be carefully placed in her hope chest until that longed for special day of her wedding. While Louisa had a practical nature, she carried within her a love of beautiful things. The one overpowering desire she had was for her own magical dome lid trunk. The description in the ad had read: a stunning camelback Saratoga trunk made of pressed black alligator patterned steel and varnished red oak slats with interior compartments decorated with vibrant color lithographs of ladies dressed in the most elegant current fashion. At 36” long and 28” high this magnificent trunk would provide ample room for her to store all her treasures, hopes and dreams.
Unfortunately, coming from a large farm family, Louisa knew if she wanted to own her heart’s desire, she would need to pay for it herself. The only source of income offered to her at her age was to work in the cotton fields. Her job would begin with hoeing and clearing weeds during the weeks before harvest. When the brown bolls had popped open to reveal their white fluffy secret treasure, she would join the others in the fields to do the back breaking work of picking the cotton. Slinging her heavy canvas bag over her shoulder, she would toil day after day from sunrise to sunset. Stopping only for food and water, nearly blinded by sweat, with her hands bleeding, she would never lose sight of the realization of the first step toward her hoped for enchanted new life. Through determination and grit, she would eventually achieve her heart’s desire — the magical dome lid trunk. Over the years piece after piece of her handiwork would be gently placed in its compartments, but year after year Louisa would fail to be chosen by any of the young men of the community to be their wife.
Serendipity chose to send Louisa a handsome fifty-year-old, widower of means whose wife had died earlier in the year of 1899. Joseph was a farmer with no children of his own. He needed a woman young and strong to help with the farm and provide the sons to work the land and carry on his name. At the age of twenty-five Louisa was considered a spinster, unwanted and unloved. As many marriages of the time were contracted, Joseph approached Louisa’s parents proposing a practical solution for both parties. He would conduct a short courtship of their daughter with the end promise of an advantageous marriage for Louisa. This was not the once fantasized magical dream lover that Louisa had envisioned. She did know that this man was kind of heart for he and his first wife had, over the years, created a home for numerous local orphans. As the leader of the Concordia Brass Band, he was an excellent musician adept with several instruments. Like her, he was not afraid of work. She would have her own home. But most importantly, they both wanted children. She would provide the mothering that would be needed to create a family filled with love and respect for each other. He would teach them about the land and provide a legacy for future generations. They were both practical people of the land with an understanding of what was a mutually beneficial arrangement. They were married in September of 1899. But the secret that Louisa would bring into their shared world was her hopes and dreams stored in the magical dome lid trunk. When she opened the lid, all the beautiful items she and her friends had created would be placed through the house allowing the magic to spread, to bring joy to their harsh life and remind her that dreams do come true—just not in the form imagined.
Over the years, in the empty spaces of her trunk she would place her midnight blue silk wedding dress, her veil with its crown of white wax stephanotis and fern along with Joseph’s matching boutonniere. To her magic trunk she added crocheted baby booties, baby blankets and handmade children’s clothes. Louisa would give Joseph five sons and one daughter: Joseph John Jr. (Joe), William (Willie), John, Gertrude (Sister Mary Francis) Clemens (Clem) and Andrew (Andy). Each time another child was born, Louisa would pray that Joseph would live another ten years to help her raise his sons. (Joseph lived 32 years after the birth of their youngest son, Andy.)
In December 1911 Louisa would open her trunk and gently place her flow blue bowl (a wedding gift from her grandparents). To this she would add Joseph’s favorite hobnail crystal beer stein brought from Bavaria, a green cut glass fluted pitcher with matching glasses each swirled with tiny white and gold daisies, an exquisite blue glass syrup decanter and other treasured wedding gifts. All carefully stored for the family’s 150-mile train journey to their new farm in the German Catholic community of Muenster Texas. She would leave behind a part of her heart–her son, Willie, taken by death, before his first birthday. His tiny body returned to the black land of the Tours cemetery.
Joseph had chosen for Louisa a new home that would be on the highest vista of the Muenster countryside. His precious wife would be able to sit in her front yard and see the whole town at her feet. She was a woman who endured the harshness of life with a smile and fortitude. She would spend the next 32 years being a loving wife, raising her family, becoming a grandmother. Loved by everyone who knew her, she was not famous or rich in worldly goods, but wise and caring. After her death in 1943 at the age of 69, the precious trunk was left unclaimed. Her children thought it to be cumbersome and antiquated, with no one wanting to store it at their home. None of the siblings had bothered to unlock the trunk and view the contents. Knowing of his mother’s special love of her hope chest, Joe Jr. bought it from the estate for $10.
Nine years before Louisa’s death, her oldest son, Joe had married the beautiful brown haired, blued-eyed Idabelle. This daughter-in-law had come to love the kind and gracious woman she called Mother. Louisa would visit the young couple in their Dallas apartment for weeks at a time. She would teach Idabelle to crochet and make Joe’s favorite German dishes. She brought a love to Idabelle that she had never known from her own mother. Louisa would tell of her early life on the farm with her rambunctious family of five young children, her marriage to Joseph and share the story of the magic dome lid trunk. When it arrived at their apartment neither knew what treasure would be found in Louisa’s most prized possession. Unlocking this precious chest, they found the wonderful memories gathered through Joe’s mother’s lifetime. There were the precious family albums, including the picture of Louisa and Joseph on their wedding day. Tucked in with the hand embroidered bonnets and aprons, Louisa had placed her wedding veil with its crown of white wax stephanotis and fern along with Joseph’s matching floral boutonniere resting in their original box. They found Joseph’s crystal beer stein and the green cut glass fluted pitcher. The matching glasses tiny white and gold daisies were now time worn by the daily use of her family. The blue glass syrup decanter had lost its lid, but the nearly 100-year-old flow blue bowl remained as beautiful as the day it was created. She had kept a blown glass dipper that had been used by the farm hands to get water from the bucket by the water well at the Muenster farm. These were the treasured pieces that were displayed in all of Joe and Idabelle’s homes. They are now a part of their legacy for their grandchildren and great grandchildren. Over time Joe would add the letters he had received from his father Joseph that spanned the last six years before Joseph’s death. Idabelle would preserve the love letters written to her by Joe before their forty-year marriage in one of the colorfully decorated interior compartments. All preserved for future generations.
Thirty-five years after Louisa’s death, her youngest granddaughter, Sylvia, would wear the carefully preserved wax stephanotis intermingled with Joseph’s boutonniere which she fashioned into a crown to hold her cathedral length, aisle wide, eggshell tulle veil edged with ivory Alencon lace and dusted with aurora sequins. After the wedding, the veil was carefully boxed and placed again in the magical receptacle. Twenty-five years later, the trunk would be opened by Joe’s granddaughter, Lisa, who would gently lift out the hundred-two-year-old crown of ivory wax buds and fern holding the exquisite tulle veil to be worn on her wedding day. Now the precious wedding veil is once again carefully boxed and resting in Louisa’s magical dome lid trunk awaiting another generation of love. This trunk has become the tangible sign of love and hope for generations of Louisa’s family. The magic of the trunk is not its contents but the love that is brought into a home by love shared, of dreams dreamed. While Louisa thought she would not find love in her marriage, it was she who brought the love and magic into the world of her husband, sons, daughter and grandchildren and they in turn would fill her life and the lives of their own families with their reflected love. It is time to say it: Serendipity causes the magic of a mother’s love to be spread across generations in wonderous ways never dreamed.