By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer
Atlantic News, Friday, June 3, 2005
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]
(Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part article.)
HAMPTON -- It's a Tuesday evening, and there's a festive pizza party going on at the Hampton home of John and Connie Holman.
Although the meal is distinctively Italian, nary an Italian word is spoken. In fact, what is heard in between the laughter and the lively snippets of conversation in English is the language of Deutschland — Germany.
It is at this happy gathering that a long-awaited reunion has taken place, bridging an ocean-wide gap between Europe and America and providing an opportunity for old memories to be shared and new memories to be made.
"A dream come true" is how John describes finally reconnecting with Josefine "Finni" (Holtzhuer) Steiner after more than five decades, when he first met her as a 12-year-old school girl in her family's hometown of Gersthoven, Germany in December 1951.
John was a US Army serviceman (and newlywed) when he and his GI buddy Stu Halverson met Finni and her sister Antonie at a Christmas party hosted by their military service company. A fast friendship was struck up, and both John and Stu enjoyed German hospitality courtesy of the girls' family.
The years came and went, and the Holmans and Holtzhuers lost touch with one another around the time Finni was approximately 18-20 years of age.
"You get busy with your life and you lose track," explains Connie, who in September of 1952 had traveled from Boston to Germany to join John in Augsburg.
Communication, however, was eventually — and enthusiastically — re-established in the mid-1990s, when John wrote a letter to the registrar in the city of Gersthoven seeking to connect with the Holtzhuer family. Word reached Finni through the city officer, and needless to say, it was "a great surprise" to hear from an old friend.
[Atlantic News Photo Courtesy of John Holman]
All grown up with a family of her own, Finni recently traveled to America with her husband, Artur Steiner, her daughter Sigrid "Sissi" Steiner (born in 1968), and Sissi's good friend Andy Kubis. (Sissy's older sibling, Jutta, was born in 1964.) The group brought with them a lengthy 16-day itinerary that began with flying into Boston and (with Andy behind the wheel of the rental car) driving up to Hampton to finally be reunited with the Holmans and enjoy a three-day stay.
It was an excellent opportunity for John and Connie to extend the same kind of warm hospitality that was provided by Finni's family so long ago. And, by all accounts, their visit was easy-going and cheerful, and overflowed with the same kind of comfortable familiarity enjoyed by friends who have never spent a day apart.
Though Finni has been taking lessons in English for the last couple of years (she spoke strictly German until 1995), Sissi served as an efficient translator for their trip to America. A lawyer by profession, Sissi is friendly and open, and has a sense of humor that transcends any language barrier. The Holmans, too, made an effort to speak German to keep the lines of communication open in both directions.
"It's nice to greet them in German the first thing in the morning, even if you don't speak German the rest of the day," says Connie.
"[Finni] knows more [English] than she lets on," jokes John, who at one point claims, "I heard my name mentioned three times!" while Finni was conversing in her native tongue. Indeed, it's not difficult to pick up a number of German words and their meanings while Sissi provides her translations.
The bi-lingual conversation really begins to flow when John brings out a short stack of black and white photographs taken during his stay in Germany. Gathered around the coffee table in the Holman's living room, everyone takes turns looking through the snapshots and commenting on them.
There's one of Finni in pigtails, looking away from the camera with a grin on her face. In another photo, she is walking down her hometown street, accompanied by a group of friends. Her grandmother ("Oma") is pictured bending over a washtub in another shot, while a distant building in another picture generates yet more memories, and smiles and laughter abound.
A few of the pictures show John and Stu with members of the Holtzhuer family. When asked what special memories she holds from when John was part of her childhood, Finni "remembers the fun times," says Sissi. "He always brings joy." Oftentimes, that joy took the form of Butterfinger candy bars; other times, it was lively games of "hide & seek."
"John was very tall, and she remembers the house was small," says Sissi. He also "made many jokes," laughs Sissi, a talent for which John is still well-known.
The Steiner's extraordinary visit with the Holmans was not limited to the Tuesday night pizza party. Beach tours, shopping, dinner at favorite restaurants and more shopping were all part of the itinerary.
So was the exchanging of gifts; Artur and Andy received USS Hampton ball caps; Finni and Sissi, LL Bean tote bags; a binder with enlarged versions of many of the aforementioned photographs; and boxes of saltwater taffy. The Holmans received an authentic German beer stein, five pounds of German coffee, Lindt's chocolates, and a photo album of Finni's family.
Yet even more photos were taken at home and on the road, capturing a series of memorable events shared by friends from across the miles during a visit none of them will ever forget.
and, Looking back to 1951 from 2005
and, From 'Guten Tag' to 'Auf Wiedersehen' -- Part Two
and, Danke Schön -- Thank you!
and, Finni's Pictorial Album.]