A few years ago I was with my kids in a music store which sold new and used equipment and sheet music, and smelled of musty basements, when I came across a paper-bound 1950 copy of The Trapp Family Book of Christmas Songs. I looked through it, noticing a signature on the inside front cover.
I asked the price of the book and the proprietor said I could have it for free. Surprised, I gladly took the book with me when we left the store. I was not convinced the signature was Maria von Trapp's but I rarely turn down a free book, especially one with beautiful arrangements of old European Christmas carols. Some years, I rarely sit down at the piano except at Christmas time when I pull out all the books of carols I have been collecting for the past twenty years.
A few months after I found the book, my mom, a historian and archivist, came down for a visit. She found it by the piano and began looking through it. She thought the signature might be geniune, but I still did not have a way of finding out - the internet had turned up nothing - short of researching and contacting hard-to-find experts. As far as I knew, the Antiques Road Show was not going to be visiting my area any time soon. As is common with me, after a short time I completely forgot about the whole thing until I was reminded of it this week. My fellow blogger Lucille posted about finding the English comedic novelist Barbara Pym's signature in a cook book she had acquired, and I thought perhaps I should try looking up the official signature of Maria von Trapp. Obviously, this time I had more luck. The signature was identical to the one in my copy of the book.
I then went on to see how much a signed paperback copy might be worth. I found one example selling for eighty-three dollars. Not bad, especially considering my initial investment of zero dollars.
The monetary value of the book is one thing, but the tangible fact of the flowing signature in plain blue ink of such a personality as Maria von Trapp of The Sound of Music fame is quite another. When I was a young girl my mom read me Maria von Trapp's autobiographies while I brushed her hair. When The Sound of Music was re-shown on the big screen in our town, she took my brother and me to see it. Every year between Christmas and New Year's when the film came on TV, my group of teenage friends and I would gather at one of our homes and have our own 'sing-along Sound of Music'. The character of Maria von Trapp has been part of my stock pile of childhood heroes for almost as long as I can remember. When examining the signature once again, I thought of the hand and the spirit that pressed pen to the paper in my posession. I read The Trapp Family Singers again, recently, and watched a biography of her on television. As an adult able to read between the lines, I realized that Maria von Trapp was not an easy person to live with. She drove her children very hard and had outrageous flares of temper - unlike the film, the captain von Trapp seems to have been the mild one who kept the family at peace. The von Trapps were immigrants to America after escaping the Nazi plans for the good captain to fight for their side - that part of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and film is true. Like many immigrants, they were determined to succeed and make a life in their new country - and Maria was their driving force. I cannot say I blame her. Immigrants must have felt a great deal of pressure in those days, and they must have also felt a good deal of fear at being aliens in a new country. One of her more sensitive children did run away and ended up having shock therapy - a favourite treatment in the 1950's and 60's to treat mental breakdown. The family made a living as a successful touring choir. The book I have would probably have been sold at one of their concerts. They also had a cottage industry in their home and everyone in the family used their considerable artistic talents to make objects for sale when they were not touring. The family carries on with their cottage industry today at their Vermont mountain resort Trapp Family Lodge.
My son Galen, a collector who frequents garage sales in summer came home with a DVD special edition of The Sound of Music and gave it to me last year to replace our old VHS cassette copy. Last summer, my youngest daughter wanted to watch it, so I watched part of it with her. Afterwards, she watched the special interview with all the grown up actors who played the von Trapp children, but when I said I was going to watch the biography of Maria von Trapp, my daughter asked me to please wait until she was either not at home or in bed. She said she was not ready to know the truth about the story and about the Maria von Trapp beyond Julie Andrews just yet. Perhaps she knew instinctively what is said about meeting your heroes -that you shouldn't, at least until you know more about the world and human nature, can look past your hero's faults and celebrate their successes and their contributions to human history.