Singing in the Dark
By Alfred Opp, Vancouver, British Columbia
Edited by Connie Dahlke, Walla Walla, Washington
My Zacher grandparents were very special to me. During the years that I
knew them, they showed both leadership and charm. I was fortunate to
spend a great deal of time with them during my growing-up years. What
made them what they were was the love they had for each other. Their
love story was not an ordinary one.
Grandma often told me that she was full grown by the time she was
confirmed. From her pictures, it is clear that Regina Mueller was a
pretty young lady. She caught the eye of a strapping young man in town,
Simon Zacher. They started to see each other, off and one, when she was
16. Then in 1905 Simon was called up for duty in the Russian military.
During his time in combat he sent letters to Regina on a regular basis.
Given the war-time conditions in the Russian military, this was in
itself an achievement and left an impression on Regina. Not only did he
write with style, but he was also able to express what was in his heart.
Even the stationery was extra-ordinary.
In 1906, Simon came back from the war and later that year my
grandparents were married - Simon was 27 years of age and Regina was 18.
Through the years, grandma saved every one of those letters, storing
them carefully away. When her girls got older, she told them not to look
at them, but to place them in her coffin the day she is buried. The
letters survived all the hard times during the war, and when grandma
died in 1971 my aunt did exactly what she was asked to do. Before my
aunt placed the letters in grandma's casket, she went through them
looking for pictures. She didn't find any pictures, but what she noticed
was how some of the letters had been written, keeping her word not to
read the contents. Some of the pages had writing on them written left to
right as normal, and then the sheet of paper had been turned sideways
and other lines written across the first lines. While I never saw the
original letters, I have tried this myself on a sheet of paper and it
works! I can only guess that grandpa was allowed only one sheet of paper
per envelope, and to be able to write a longer letter, he used that
system. One sheet of paper could hold twice the writing!
When grandpa again was conscripted into the Russian army and went to war
in 1914, he sent letters home, but these grandma did not save. What she
did save, and what I have today in my possession, are picture postcards
that Grandpa sent to his girls with nice messages on them - to be good
to their mother and not forget to pray for dad - such beautiful
sentiments. Every time my mother spoke about receiving those postcards,
she had a sparkle in her eyes. There was so much love in that family.
At the end of their property in Teplitz, my grandparents built a bench
overlook an area with lots of reeds bordering the creek. Beyond the
creek was a garden area they called Neuer Garten - New Garden. As did
many of their neighbors, this is where they planted fruit trees.
My grandparents spent many evenings sitting on that bench, listening to
the frogs. It was especially nice on warm summer nights when the sky was
clear and the town was so quite. There was no noise to be heard
anywhere. For my grandparents, this was their favorite place to be
together and talk things over with each other. The times I spent with
them included many evenings down by the bench, and it is there that many
precious memories center. On a clear evening, Grandma would draw my
attention to the sky, pointing out a big star and another group of
stars, saying that if I lined them up, I would see a picture. That I
never got. My focus was on the reeds, to see if I could spot a fox, of
which we had many. The area was so interesting for a boy, because there
was so much life in those reeds, especially at night. I was too fearful
to go there at night alone, but with my grandparents present I felt
perfectly safe. Even grandma got excited the night we heard a
Grandpa told me the story about how he caught a weasel, and Grandma told
how she learned to swim on that creek. Many times my grandparents said
their night prayers to close out the evening down by the reeds. An
especially outstanding memory for me are those nights when Grandpa and
Grandma sang. My grandma liked to sing, and what a nice voice she had.
Grandma would start a song, and Grandpa would tune in and both would
sing together. I remember Grandma calling Grandpa, Papale, like Papa but
in a more charming way. It felt so good to walk back to the house
between my grandparents, each one holding one of my hands. On the way
back to the house, Grandpa would check on his horses; and then Grandma
would go into the kitchen to fix a bedtime snack before we called it a
Now that I'm old and not well, just thinking back to those times gives
me happiness and a feeling of love. Times were different then from what
they are now. When I look back and think about those moments, it is like
being a participant in the closing act of a wonderful opera. The music
comes to a close, and with the end of the opera the audience offers up a
well-deserved applause. If I could close my eyes now and be gone, that
would be my closing act in this life and the beginning of a new life in