Louise Marie looked out the window as she heard the taxi move into the driveway. The rest of her siblings and their partners were out in the vineyards attending to vines while her parents were down in cellars attending to requirements there. There was always a stream of private vehicles coming and going through the day, but a taxi always meant Johann had returned from one of his trips. She looked at herself in her pocket mirror and satisfied all was in place went to the entrance to see this woman and her child who’d so captivated her brother. He was an innocent in these things and fine prey for a scheming woman, but she didn’t want to be judgmental and determined to settle her at her house where she could observe her while Johann cared for the office today. There was so much to orient him on that needed urgent attention. Some of the new contacts from the Sydney trip had been phoning to talk with him and not knowing what he may have contracted with them she’d put them off telling them he was still on a business trip and would contact them as soon as he returned. But when he got out alone she was puzzled. One look at his face though told her there’d been a disappointment and her heart went out to him. She embraced him but said nothing as she picked up some of his luggage and followed him to his room.
He turned to his favourite sister and hugged her. “Manja received word her father’s health was not good and her brother made that long trip to take her home. Let’s see what needs to be attended to at the office.”
The rest of the afternoon he followed up on contacts in rapid succession and then began to wade through correspondence Louise Marie had set aside as needing his personal attention. They worked well together, and he was so grateful she was astute and knowledgeable. While he worked he thought of their childhood together. Most of his sibling’s ambitions centred around the vineyard, but Louise Marie wanted something more. She’d asked her family to send her to Adelaide to do the teaching course at university but Friederich had firmly refused. How could he leave his daughter unprotected in a big city? It was his fatherly duty to protect her. She was placed in their home office to attend to business affairs and secretly seethed to see her brother go through his undergraduate and graduate years in Adelaide with her not accorded the same opportunity. On his return Johann had been surprised at the cold reception from his sister who he’d been so close to in childhood. Then one day in argument her reasons for anger spilled over and Johann was appalled. He felt she’d been unjustly treated and there’d been a major argument when he took up her case with his father. Eventually his father had given in on the understanding she could begin her undergraduate work through a distance learning program and when there was a need for her to have in campus attendance Johann was to accompany her to be her protector. Johann helped her with her studies, and she drank in knowledge excelling in her grades like Johann had. Her father who’d been so difficult was proud to attend her graduation ceremony and agreed to let her live in a dormitory while she finished her Masters. It was there she’d met her future husband. The whole family were in awe of both Johann and Louise Marie. After Johann’s intervention on her behalf Louise Marie was his shadow until her friend from college years stole her heart and she married and had children. She wanted the same kind of happiness she had in marriage for her brother now and had been concerned about this sudden interest in a woman who already had a child. That was not natural to her and she realized that was not reasonable. She just wanted to know her brother wouldn’t be hurt.
That evening When the family got together for the evening meal as was their habit after a hard day at work Friederich and Anna made it plain they were happy Johann had not bought this stranger into their close family circle to embarrass them. Friederich made his feelings known on this forcefully and Johann exploded at his father and left the family gathering without eating leaving his siblings watching these unusual events with open mouths. Louise Marie was seething inside at her father’s outburst but said nothing. She quietly got up from the table and gathered some food on a plate and followed Johann to his room. Friederich called out loudly for her to come back as they needed to return thanks to God for the food in front of them. Then shrugged as she ignored him. He turned to her husband. “You need to teach your wife some manners.”
Johann was repacking his suitcase when Louise Marie found him in his room. “No!” She shouted in alarm. “No, you will not do this Johann. Even though Dad is difficult to get along with this family needs you. You must not do this as we’ll all regret it. We’ll sort out Dad and Mom but do not turn your back on the family who need you at the helm. The family won’t survive.”
Johann cried. “I’m glad she didn’t see this happen. I need her Louise Marie. For the first time in my life I’ve found a soul mate that can make me happy in marriage and my family will not accept her. Then I’ll find her and take her somewhere else where we can be happy far away from this place.” Louise Marie cradled her brother’s head on her shoulder and let him get his emotion out. Then she sat him down at his table. “Now eat this! Tomorrow I have a lot of things that need your attention so please don’t desert me.” She turned and headed back to her parents dining room, beckoned to her husband to follow and took her children by the hand and left. Friederich was dumfounded! He’d been defied by two of his grown-up children. Was there no shame in the current generation? Was there no respect? The meal continued in silence and one by one their other children took their families silently and went to their respective homes after eating. Friederich and Anna sat silently that evening then went to bed with barely recognition of each other’s existence. They had much to think about.
The next day Friederich went to the office after breakfast and confronted Johann and Louise Marie. “Explain yourselves! Never have I seen such insolence to a parent. Your grandparents would have been shocked at the way you acted last night in front of your parents.”
Louise Marie spoke calmly. “Dad Johann was packing his bags to leave last night, and he’s only here today because I asked him to stay. Without him this family would not survive, and you know it! You owe him an apology for what you said in front of the family last night and knowing you that’s probably not going to happen. But his loyalty to the family need will keep him here I know. We’ll not be attending the evening meeting of the family over supper until you apologise and that will probably be never. Johann will be welcomed to our home instead. My husband and I have separate means and a home in Adelaide to go to which he inherited. That can help us survive elsewhere and If you want me to leave I’m happy to do that whenever you wish. We have an investment home in Adelaide and can ask the tenants to leave that will suit us just fine and as my husband is from there originally he’d be happy to move.”
Friederich stood there with his mouth open. “You would treat your parents like that?” He turned and left. A half hour later a combative Anna entered the office. “What have you said to upset your father again. I’ve never seen this man cry before. What is this shame?”
This time Johann spoke. “Mother I love you, but you know Father has been hard on us all our life. I know it’s what he learned in his upbringing and he thinks his actions are for the best but that’s not always so. We are adults now and you’ll have to learn we have hopes and aspirations that need to be fulfilled in our own lives while paying respect as best we can to our parents. We are no longer children and you need to have some respect for that just as we have respect for you and will work to see you never have to suffer want for anything.”
Anna paused to think about what was said. “You need to make it right with your father now!”
“No Mother, Father needs to make it right after what was said so hurtfully last night.”
Johann found his solace at the home of Louise Marie each evening playing with his nephews and nieces. They learned one by one the siblings were absenting themselves from the family table at their parent’s home until the old couple found themselves eating alone in the evenings. The siblings saw the power lay with Johann and Louise Marie their real benefactors. Under Johann’s prompting each family would invite their parents to eat with them in their own homes but their invitations were refused for some time until one day they began to accept those invitations one after another. Finally. Louise Marie invited them and after a couple of refusals they did accept. They were both more subdued and accommodating having missed nightly interactions with extended family and specially their grandchildren. At one of the evening meals Louise Marie suggested they invite everyone to the family home for Christmas celebration which was eagerly accepted. All the women of the family planned and decorated the parent’s family home just prior to Christmas bringing in a tree and planning presents for everyone. It was a wonderful success everyone enjoying their present opening ceremonies and singing traditional German carols Christmas Eve and Christmas. Great honour was given to their parents and they revelled in the attention. Johann made a video of the celebration and shared it with Manja who in turn shared her celebration on video. They’d been corresponding for months now and their messages had become more intimate during that time. Johann expressed his desire to marry her, but she held her peace to see how long he’d wait. Her father had long since stopped paying to have Johann observed and declared him to be a safe bet for marriage to his daughter.
Soon after Christmas Johann received a strange message from a Dirk Smit inviting him to a meeting in Utrecht on New Year’s Day. Johann knew this was Manja’s father and wondered what this could mean. As most business was taking a pause at that time of year in Australia he went to his father who’d never apologized but whose relationship with Johann had been re-established. While he didn’t have to he asked for permission to take a trip overseas out of courtesy and Friederich smiled and gave him permission saying maybe this should be a business expense as there could be a possibility for business in Europe. Then he added, “My regards to my future daughter in law Manja and her family!”
Johann nodded happily. That was as good as an apology and it was an emotional moment for him to receive his father’s indirect blessing on his plans.
So, on a cold day before New Year he arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and processed through Immigration consulting brochures to look at directions to take the train service to Utrecht. Passing through to the outside of the airport he felt something grip his arm. He turned in surprise. “Manja?” He was hugged by a big burly man he didn’t know. I’m Manja’s father Dirk he said in German. He was hugged again and this time recognized Berend. “Welcome brother!” he said in German. Then he was hugged by an older woman who introduced herself as Maria Smit and yet another who introduced herself as Berend’s wife. Johann was stunned at this unexpected welcome. His luggage was grabbed by a man in uniform who led them to a waiting minivan, and they loaded with Manja sitting close beside her man. “Where’s Stephanie?” He whispered. “She’s with a babysitter as the family wanted to welcome you.
When they arrived in Utrecht Johann was taken back at the size of the mansion they entered. He felt very much outclassed and thought of his own comparatively humble complex of family houses on the vineyard grounds even though they were spacious and modern. After settling into his guest room Dirk and Berend entered to inquire if he needed anything. Berend whispered in his sister’s ear and they left.
Dirk waited until they both left then turned to Johann. “Young man I requested you to grace our home as I think you have something to ask me?” Johann looked at him puzzled. He was still trying to come to terms with the opulence of this place and didn’t quite understand the question. Dirk looked at him and laughed. “Come on young man Manja is waiting for a response.” At last Johann caught on to what Dirk was asking.
“Sir, now that I’ve seen how you folk live I’m not sure I can offer Manja this kind of lifestyle.”
“Well young man that‘s up to Manja but she seems to want to hear what you have to say. Am I that confronting your tongue doesn’t seem to work?” He laughed pleasantly and Johann’s courage raised at the obvious kindness this man showed.
“Sir I’d like to ask your permission to marry your daughter!”
“Well now let’s see what she has to say about this. I’d like to hear what she has to say about this proposal.” He shouted loudly into the hallway. “Manja, can you come here for a minute?”
Manja appeared from around the corner smiling. “Daddy I can vouch for this man he’d be good to me I know, and I don’t expect him to provide for me in the same manner we live. Would you give your blessing?”
“Of course, Princess, should we take it then this is a formal agreement and engagement?”
“Yes Sir and thank you for accepting me but I didn’t know this was the plan when you requested me to come and haven’t bought a ring with me.”
“Thank you Daddy.” Manja gave her father a hug then went to Johann’s side. “Don’t you want to kiss your bride to be? Tomorrow we’ll go looking for my engagement and my wedding ring.”
“Yes, I do want to kiss my bride to be Manja.”
He looked at Dirk standing there with arms folded. “Well get on with it!” Said Dirk agreeably.
“Daddy, you can go now!”
Dirk left laughing loudly. It had been good entertainment for him. The family would plan for a big wedding before Johann left for Australia. They could have their own celebration with Johann’s family when Manja’s permission to enter Australia as a bride could be arranged. She’d have things to do to keep her focused while she waited for that to happen. It would take months to work out with the Embassy. Plans to sell their empire had already been settled and Dirk and Maria were content to remain in Utrecht as Berend had been invited to join the University Faculty on a permanent basis. Manja and Dirk would work with the new owners in the transitional period as Dirk looked forward to his retirement. He smiled as he thought of the shock Johann would have when he learned his wife would come with such a huge dowry. Obviously, he was not aware of the extent of their wealth yet so his love was genuine as he remembered the constant flow of messages between them these past months of separation. Manja had already decided to set up a fund in Europe which Berend would manage on her behalf with the other family investments. This would be for the future education of her children and she was developing plans for a foundation to fund temporary shelters for women who were fleeing abusive relationships and looking for a safe place to pick up the broken pieces of their lives before moving on. She was so grateful she had a family with the power to protect her from her failed abusive former marriage and felt for those less fortunate. She could supervise this venture herself in her soon to be adopted country, Australia.
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