This summer, I had lunch (which is to say I sat at a table for two and a half hours) with my grandmother and two of her lady friends from church. The two ladies in question are Italian sisters, raised in small-town eastern Pennsylvania, which combination ensures both a certain volume level and a positive talent for knowing everything about everyone.
They portray the oral tradition at its finest. They know who's been sleeping with whom, marital statuses of all the involved parties; his grandson is in and out of jail for car robberies; her nephew got written up for possession of. . . marijuana the other week. My cousin's boy just married his second wife - she's a schoolteacher, a real sweet girl - but the first one, well, she ran off after just a few months and took his money but all he was really upset about, he tells me, was that she took the dog. Yeah, he loved that dog.
Then, there's the woman who got Christmas cards from Hitler.
Yes. That Hitler. Mein Kampf, "Humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice," Nazi-leading, Aryan-nation Hitler. The chain of thoughts that brings us from the restaurant proprietor's extra-marital ahem to this shocking piece of information is all but inexplicable. Somebody's (probably middle-aged) boy is working down at the nursing home and his mother used to talk about that place down on Main Street in Myerstown, and wasn't that right next to that hat shop? Oh yes... YES... that shop run by the woman who used to get Christmas cards from Hitler.
And for a moment, I completely stop listening. They're still talking, but my brain has stopped processing any of it in favor of some - in my opinion - far more important questions, like: Did Hitler even send Christmas cards? If so, to whom would the dictator of Nazi Germany have wish all the blessings of the season?! Then my liberal arts education and recent history classes take over, and I wonder, almost recreationally, how one might even go about verifying the authenticity of a claim like that. How could you prove that Hitler sent Christmas cards, and to whom, and what the hell might he have written?!
Talking to my mother on the phone later, we decide that you probably can't. The ladies may have elephants' memories, but the woman who got Christmas cards from Hitler has been dead for years (if you ask the ladies, she should have died in prison for getting cards from that man) and the chances that that story has even a particle of truth in it. . . well, it just seems unbelievably unlikely.
But even that raises an almost equally fascinating question: then where the heck did that story come from? The ladies may exaggerate grotesquely, and make completely inappropriate assumptions about people (at the top of their lungs in public places like restaurants), but I can't see them totally fabricating something like this. How would you think to fabricate something like this? Who was that woman who owned the hat shop, and what must she have done to deserve, more than fifty years later, having her name linked to an infamous dictator and mass murderer during the lunch buffet at the Lantern Lodge in Myerstown, PA.
And what would Hitler have possibly written in a Christmas card?