From Switzerland West

Posted on September 16, 2007


By Jamie B. Wolcott

Way back when, in the year of 1852, the young childless couple sat on their porch in Switzerland squinting into the West, trying to see America.

“It’s right there,” Clara pointed, “see?”

“That’s Neuchatel,” Nicholas replied.

She continued to look that way, even though she knew he was right. She could picture America in her head. The trees would be shiny like glass, and the rivers thick with water from the hills and mountains. The wind would smell like lavender and geraniums. She would like it a lot.

Nicholas held her hand and forearm next to his chest. They only had one week to wait. The steamer tickets were bought for next Tuesday, their things were packed, and Nicholas was working the last of his 4 days at the blacksmiths to earn some extra cash for the trip. He would miss his mule and his friends.

They walked out to the barn, Clara looked up at the first stars above them to the East. “Wishes for my day, wishes for my night, may all the bad things stay out of sight,” she said in her head. Crickets chirped at their feet.

The barn was where they did all their planning, where they told stories, where they watched the bats racing around the rafters. The cats went crazy watching them. Lulu, the orange cat with one black ear once jumped from the back of the mule to swipe at a bat, missed, and landed in the mules’ drinking water. Nicholas and Clara laughed and laughed at the sight of soggy Lulu shaking her feet around.

The Zubriggen barn had musty smell mixed with hay and heavy air. The odor was specific to the residents inside. Nicholas’s mule, Rita, was 7 years old and had kept the same stall for the whole of those 7 years. Slightly brown, slightly grey, with big ears that Nicholas loved to hold on to. She had a bridle that was made by his grandfather with leaves carved in the leather, and a small green mountaineer hat that was kept on with a colorful braided rope. Rita seemed very proud of her hat, she never tried to shake it off her head. The 6 cats were from 2 litters, all a variety of orange, white and black. Lulu was the most daring, the rest of them, Agnes, Christoph, Gisele, Gaston, and Pierre usually watched her perform the most daring feats of cat jumping. Some of them would try it after her, but mostly they would gaze in amazement.

Every night at dusk, the couple went to the barn to talk about their day. But for the past month, they planned and planned their trip. The walls along the north side had shelves covered in jars of preserves and garden vegetables, food for the winter. Solothurn was known for it’s good dirt. They grew a hundred pounds of green beans every year, or so it seemed when Clara was made to pick them. They threw down a blanket covering a pile of Rita’s hay and sat back with a sigh.

“Can we have a barn like this one in America?”

“Absolutely,” Nicholas reassured her.

“With a stinky mule and everything?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” he said, putting his arm around her. They both smiled and looked at Rita, who smiled back with her left eye.

They could hear the bats whizzing around the rafters, but they only had one lantern with them, so they watched Lulu eyeing the bats in the darkness. They felt a little strange when Lulu would follow one bat down, and her glance would be almost to their heads. But that was one of the thrills of their lovely barn. White moths hovered around the lantern, black bats echoed the same flight pattern 15 feet above them.

“Edward says he wants to come with us,” Nicholas said.

“He’s only 4.”

“I know, but he thinks he wants to make a new start.”

“A new start? He’s 4 years old, how bad could his life be so far?” she said, incredibly amused.

“He never gets to eat any candy. He’s convinced that in America, he’ll get candy after every meal.”

“That’s a good way to think, I suppose” Clara said. “I hope I get candy after every meal.”

Everyone they knew either had an opinion on why they should stay, or asked about how they were going. The ‘you should stay’ crowd were usually older folks that saw no point in abandoning the town you grew up in and your family. They saw no point in a new start, the old start was good enough for them, and so it should be for Clara and Nicholas. The other people who were interested in their going, were the younger generation, as young as Edward some of them, and the trip sounded exciting and full of promises. They asked, “what’s the first thing you’ll do when you reach America?” and “make sure to send a card or letter so you can tell us all about it”. Clara liked those types of people best.

They sat in the barn for about an hour, then decided they were a little parched. Nicholas stood first and helped Clara up so she wouldn’t fall over from stepping on her long skirt. She did that quite often. He led the way past Rita, giving her a pat on the left ear, and they exited out the large door toward the house.

With the circular glow from the lantern around them, they could see the bugs and crickets for only a split second as they dashed from shadow, into light, and back into shadow. Clara pictured their lives like those bugs. They only shine for a second before going off into the unknown again. She once shared this kind of thought with her father, who then gave her such a verbal whipping, to “ever suggest that after we leave God’s earth, there is ‘unknown’. Heaven is there, not darkness, my dear. Never say such things in this house ever again!” So she didn’t. She kept her ‘odd’ thoughts to herself, even though she considered them normal. Now she would take her odd thoughts far away where they might be accepted as exciting and different. Nicholas loved that she thought differently than other women.

The dampness of the ground covered their shoes. There were exactly one million stars in the sky now. Clara counted them. Rita grunted in the barn, and then they heard a scuffle and then the “Mrrreooooow!” of one of the cats, Gaston, Nicholas guessed, taking a leap at a bat and having a faulty landing. Clara and Nicholas laughed under the light of the stars, and walked into the house full of excitement for the coming Tuesday.


The musty old wood house on Flushing Road had walls full of Gibson Girls, cigar boxes, soap boxes, Saturday Evening Posts, souvenier shot glasses, and a variety of other things. Hand-me-downs were the best gift. As little Jamie B. Wolcott sat, surrounded by these things, the antique art and pictures sank into her brain like a well formed bundt cake. As she went on in life, these images never left her brain’s right hemisphere, and now, she is ever haunted by images of happy people drinking beverages from 1912. She now resides in NYC, creating her own posters and Victrola 78 covers for musicians from close and far away.

Posted in: Fiction