Growing up my mom (Baylen’s) would frequently tell stories of her semester in Austria. Salzburg was her favorite adventure as a young person. She loved the castles and cathedrals, the grazing cows and inexpensive chocolate bars, and most of all the Kapeller Family that hosted her during her semester of study. The Kapellers were the quintessential Austrian family, against which my sister and I were constantly compared. Our childhood antics and American insolence “would NEVER be tolerated” at the heavenly cottage on the hill in Kasern, Austria. Needless to say, my sister and I shared many skeptical glances throughout the 90’s.
My mother’s description of Austria was the stuff of fairytales. It was our childhood bedtime story that helped us make sense of the dubious claim that my mother was once a young person in school. “You mean you studied other subjects besides being a mom and torturing children with piles of nasty tasting vitamins? I don’t believe it!”
Then, in the summer of 2016, I took a trip through Europe with my best friend and our string instruments. We saw Scotland, England, and Italy, before we landed in Austria. We arrived in Salzburg and immediately climbed a mountain to recreate our own Sound of Music photo shoot. You can read about that in our previous blog post.
The following day, I asked Ben to help me seek out some family history. He was doubtful we would find anything, and truthfully so was I, but he agreed nonetheless and I was grateful. He is a skilled navigator, and I am not. I pick up curious details of my surroundings and often deduce useful knowledge, but I usually can’t tell which direction we are traveling. It’s a weakness I’ve come to terms with.
Ben and I looked up the Lindner Haus, a hostel in Kasern, just north of Salzburg proper. We estimated the distance as a manageable hike so we set out. The Linder’s were a family that hosted my aunt, Corinne, just after my mother stayed with the Kapellers. If anyone would know the whereabouts of the Kapeller family, it would be a Lindner.
We hiked for roughly an hour along bike paths and small roads until we reached a steep hill dotted with houses. On our right a sign read, Lindner Haus. To our left a little further on was a train station (which we absolutely could have used to travel there faster, but we frequently forgo that kind of…intelligence.)
As we climbed the hill an enchanting view of Salzburg was laid out to our left. I found myself wondering if my mother gazed on the same vista, and how different it might have looked decades ago. What does it mean to feel nostalgia for a place you’ve never actually seen before? Was it some trick of my inner child’s imagination. Was it something inherited that my mother passed to me in spirit or body? All I know is that a wave of surrealism hit me then and only continued to grow as the next few hours played out.
We climbed to the top of the hill and found the Lindner House. We knocked and rang the doorbell, but much as we expected, no one was home. Ben was definitely ready to call it quits, his midwestern agitation at imposing on a strange neighborhood was visible. I could not allow myself such a quick retreat, though. It was far too momentous just to be in Kasern. My inner child would never forgive me if I did not exhaust my options.
I knocked on the next door, and introduced myself when a dark-haired man in glasses answered. He switched to English quickly and nodded vigorously when I mentioned the Lindners and the Kapellers. “Sure, sure,” he said, “The Lindners are not home, but let me go make a call.”
He stepped back into the house and in just a few moments, a bright-faced woman approached us from around the back of the house. She introduced herself as Ms. Christine. Her sister is the Lindner family member that runs the guest house next door. Hers is also a hostel. I quickly explained my reason for intruding and she took us over to see the back of the Lindner home. We snapped a few photos and explained ourselves a bit further.
Our explanation must have put her at ease, because next she invited us into her home and offered us some water. She got out her phone book to make a call and looked at me brightly when she finished. “Ms. Kapeller just got home. She would be happy to see you.” I was floored.
Ben and I offered to show our gratitude in the best way we know – with music. Ms. Christine asked if she could invite down her current guests to listen, and we immediately agreed. Wormwood played a set to our lovely host and her four Australian charges. We made a few friends and then packed up to go down and see Ms. Kapeller.
When I called hello, a kind-eyed woman came around a fence corner to shake my hand. I managed an awkward smile as I tried to prepare my words. It’s a strange thing to say, “Hello, my name is Baylen Wagner. I’m the son of Carlyn Hints, a young lady you hosted 38 years ago. You met her then-boyfriend, Duke Wagner when he came to visit. He’s my dad…errrrr…Nice to meet you?” But that is exactly what I did, and Ms. Kapeller couldn’t have been kinder!
She invited us into her yard and we talked about her family and mine. She remembered my mother and my father, how they got special permission to stay in the same room once, and how they climbed a nearby hill to a church and signed the guest ledger as a couple in love. She told me how her daughters, Ulli and Petra, whom my mother had mentioned many times, live in Salzburg still. One of them even owns the house next door and they both have children, some very close in age to Ben and me.
We played music for Ms. Kapeller and we visited for at least two hours. In just that short amount of time, I could see exactly what my mother described. This woman was sincere and kind and well-mannered and strong. She told a story about a young child she met on holiday who was clearly spoiled. She told us how she set him straight in a very firm way and made friends with both the child and his mother. The fourteen-year-old in me was jumping up and down saying, “Your mom wasn’t lying! Listen to that kind-but-serious tone of voice!” The feeling of surrealism continued to mount.
I used the internet to show Ms. Kapeller pictures of my family and helped her download one picture to show her daughters later on. It struck me how unlikely it was my mother would have ever gotten word to this woman if I had not physically made a trip to Austria. She did not have a Facebook account, possibly not even an e-mail. Hers is not a global generation. The world is small, yes, but there are people that still remain out of reach.
After much talk and several hugs and photos, we parted ways and started our trek back to Salzburg proper. I smiled unabashedly the whole rest of that day. It was like a piece of my childhood had been recovered. This wonderful place that my mother praised so highly was real. The family that practically informed my mother’s parenting style was alive and well. I had travelled through time and space to bring a relic into focus. I’m grateful beyond words to unnamed neighbors, Ms. Christine, and most of all Ms. Kapeller for showing me and Ben such kindness. There are wonderful people the world over, and I’ve got stories to prove it.