Henriette Lajoie von Trapp
1944 – 2013
Essay by Eileen McDermott
Many years ago…How many?…could it already be 22 or 24,or…more? A whole generation in fact?
Summer was drawing to its close. I was working as Elephant Rock Beach Club manager. Henri von Trapp was there on the porch, as she always was on fine summer days. Both of us were bemoaning the waning days of August. It meant back to school for me and my family. But for Henri it signified the official season’s close of the Club, and a winter ahead which undoubtedly would find her house bound and alone. She was used to being forced by the wheelchair to endure the solitary silence of her big house, now emptied of her grown family, for the many cold months to come. But that didn’t make it any easier or enjoyable.
I began to think about that. Henri had a lovely, large kitchen, complete with a huge table (vestiges of those 6 grown children). She also had the luxury (to my mind anyway) of having a cleaning lady to help her manage. Henri’s house had always been neat as a pin and user-friendly. Wouldn’t it be nice for her to welcome the neighborhood ladies over once a month for a pot luck supper?
Most people in our Adamsville neighborhood would see one another occasionally, either at Lees, or the post office, or at Simmons Store. But we never had enough time to gossip and pass the news around. And we never really got together as a group. So the combination of the large Von Trapp kitchen table and the prospect of spending a couple hours a month in one another’s company to pass a few long winter evenings sounded like a good experiment. Hence, “pot luck” was born.
I got on the phone and called the village ladies who lived on Main Rd., Harbor Rd. down to River Rd., Stone Church Rd., Old Stone Church Rd. As people were contacted, more names were added. Some women were not interested, or too busy. But most everyone agreed that a neighborhood girls’ night out (before such was fashionable) sounded like fun.
Protocol, if such there was, included Henri supplying the wine and coffee, and each of us making a dish to share. What didn’t get eaten went home with the maker, so there were no leftovers to contend with. Since we all pitched in with the clean-up, the Von Trapp kitchen looked as great when we left as it did when we’d arrived. We would settle in front of the crackling fire, sip our wine, munch on any appetizers that appeared, and chatter away as we waited for the group to wander in. No one was ever assigned a given menu category, for the idea was it was truly pot luck! We never knew who would show up, as there was never a number count. We knew that Henri’s table would accommodate.
Early on we came to call ourselves the Valley Girls in deference to the longstanding town allusion that Adamsville was the valley of sin, compared to the more upstanding, righteous population of Little Compton to the west. We liked the sound of that!
Polly Gardner, Pam Ayer, Carolyn Halleck, Eileen McDermott, Sidney Tynan, Sarah Harkness Nelson, Carol Knox, Kathy Sisson, Madelyn Ferraz Deceased: Elinor Rosinha, Connie Buben, Anne Burke, Jane Demant, Jane Cady, Dot McKinnon, Henriette Von Trapp. We met during the late 80s through the 90s.
Excerpt from Remembering Adamsville
Rupert during the War
[In Austria] he was about to do his internship. He had finished his studies in Innsbruck, the Medical School there, and then they had to leave because they would they would have gone to a concentration camp. They took the last train to Italy. And the name of the ship out of Italy was the American Farmer and they got to New York.
He sang with the family for several years, and [then] he enlisted, both he and his brother [Werner] because they felt foolish giving concerts. That was World War II, and all the rest of the world was fighting a war. So they left their group and joined the American Army and automatically were granted citizenship. Rupert was in the medics.
By the time they enlisted, they were in the mountains being skiers. They went to the Italian campaign with Mussolini. They were all falling apart at that point, Hitler. They went up the peninsula, and they would fight without skis, that’s why they were called the ____. Rupert was the medics right behind the front lines. He would kind of patch them up and send them to the hospital. And they felt so much better doing that, when everybody was fighting, than giving concerts.
Music Camp in Vermont
[The von Trapps ran] their music camp out in Vermont. They’d pass this [flyer] to the people that came to their concerts. So having run a concert for them, my father saw this ad. They gave scholarships for kids, if you worked in the kitchen to help with the meals, or in the dining room to help serve. It was 25 dollars for a week for us. So that’s what my father did. And so we worked, and we thought it was great, because we’d get to meet them much more.
My father sent [my sisters] Margie, Annie and I for 10 days. We came back ecstatic. At night we’d folk dance. They had bought the farm house with a lodge, which is like a 30 minute walk up the hill. We thought it was a mountain but it was nothing but a hill, and there was this farm up there, and, and then they found this camp. And they rented it for ten years. They had these five sessions of ten days, during the summer. So we went up in July. Oh my God, we thought it was so wonderful.
We insisted that my father and mother go back with the younger ones for the last session in August. This must have been ‘45, ’46 because the war ended. They had just come back, Rupert and his brother and they landed with all these 50-year-old schoolteachers [at the camp.] It’s the last place they wanted to be. They decided to help with the hay up to the top, and they didn’t go near the camp, except that Maria insisted they come at night for the dancing, to show them how to waltz. And Rupert was a wonderful waltzer. He had won a prize in Vienna for his waltzing. The two boys didn’t want to come anywhere near to these dancing spinsters, but Maria was very bossy and Maria got what she wanted. She was no Julie Andrews! She was tough. But in a way she had to be. My father hated so much being with these women that he would walk up to the farm and there is where he met Rupert.
A Wife for Rupert
When Rupert came back [from the war,] he tried to hook up with his girlfriend from France, and she had been happily married. Maria decided he had to meet someone else to forget Madeleine. So she wrote to my mother, to ask her if Margie, who was the oldest could come up the following summer so that Rupert could meet her. I can remember when she got the letter, we were all excited. “Mom! A letter from the Baroness Von Trapp!” My parents were very flattered but they say, “No thanks,” because they say we do not believe in arranged marriages for our children. My mother-in-law was not very happy. Because she was used to getting her way. We were not supposed to have known that this had happened.
Rupert ran across the letter and when he landed in Worchester [for medical training], he was intrigued. He wanted to find out what had impressed his stepmother about this Lajoie family. So he called my father who had, in a moment of kindness said, “If you’re ever in the area, call us up,” and my father didn’t want to be rude. Then when he came the following weekend, I picked him up [at the bus.] That first Saturday night, we had this tough pot roast, and then my grandmother started to play the piano. I was the only one there that danced. I was standing there, he’s beside me, and he put his arm around me! It was like “gudfudr” lightning struck. I was so in love. And then we danced all night. I did not sleep. I think he knew. I think he’d fallen in love really. Because he called back, to come the next weekend.
My mother panicked, and she thought, this is going too fast. They were worried he would break my heart. So they decided to put the two of us on trial. No American would ever agree to this. They submitted us to three months of absolutely no connection—no correspondence, no phone calls, no dates. Three months later, if we still felt the same way, ok. So he agreed to it, and so did I.
St. Ann’s Church was Full
The wedding was incredible. St Ann’s Church was full, 3,000 people. Because they knew that [the von Trapps] were going to sing. It was on a Wednesday at 9 o’clock in the morning. And people that worked asked to come in an hour late so they could go to the wedding. My parents invited maybe 75, none of them were invited guests. They just came! Most people got married on Saturday. But it wasn’t classy in Europe to be married on Saturday. He was 35 when he married me, and I was twenty. Twenty! I don’t know what he ever saw in this little chick from Fall Reeve. You never know!
On my second wedding anniversary I walked for the last time down the stairs of the house. Monique was a week old! I had just come home from the hospital, and I remember getting up on a Friday morning at six to give her a bottle and I remember coming back. It was the polio, ’49. It was an epidemic over the whole world. I was in the iron lung for four months, in Lakeville. I was there for a year. [And Monique caught it too. She was ten days old. She came to Lakeville too, but the nurses called her “Baby M” so I wouldn’t know.]
Based on an oral history interview with Henriette Lajoie von Trapp.
First published in “Remembering Adamsville” by the Little Compton Historical Society, 2013.