As a collector of stories, it is my experience that some folks who have lived the longest have the most interesting tales to tell – simply because time brings change. Our stories flow from our life’s collections of choices and chances, celebrations, and sorrows. They are the voice that will tell the generations to come who we were and how we lived our lives.
I am always on the lookout for those who chose the better part. For folks who, even after living eight or so decades continue to pursue their passion and fight the good fight on a daily basis. They are the dreamers and inventors – re-inventers of destiny. At first glance, they may seem ordinary to casual observers, but their stories shed light on how extraordinary they truly are.I recently had the privilege of visiting with one such couple. Their goal is to continue to walk with God and finish well.
I’d like you to meet Jerry and Ilse Cauble. I hope you enjoy their story as much as I did.
The first time Jerry spotted Ilse across the room at the Enlisted Men’s Club, she was eating a fried chicken dinner. His southern heart was smitten. At the time, he didn’t know it was Ilse’s first experience with this uniquely American dish. Unbeknownst to Jerry, the Lord was ‘directing his steps’ on a path leading to a marriage that has celebrated sixty-four years and counting. The place was in Worms, Germany at a US Army base where Jerry was stationed.
Getting married in Germany
They were married on April 7, 1956 in Worms on the Rhine. It is a long, challenging process to jump through all the hoops in order to get married to a German national when stationed overseas. But Jerry was highly motivated. He accomplished in four weeks what can usually take at least four months.
After receiving the blessing of the US Army, there was yet one more hoop they had to jump through. Germany required at the time, that a placard was posted outside the courthouse for about a month asking, “Does anybody know why Ilse should not get married?” Since no one responded, they were granted permission. After the required legal marriage by a judge, they were allowed to have a church wedding.
Jerry’s ability to expedite the process did not go unnoticed by his superiors. His Company Commander immediately put him in charge of processing all the marriage requests for soldiers.
Setting up house and raising a family in America was quite a contrast for Ilse, who was born in the town of Giessen in war-torn Germany. It was a difficult time. She has early memories of her mother and her fleeing the bombing raids in their town with just the clothes on their backs. The weather was cold, food was scarce and communication was spotty. They didn’t even know if her grandparents, who lived in the same town were still alive for quite a while. Finding both food and shelter were challenging – especially during the winter of 1944.
After wandering from place to place, they finally caught up with her grandparents and learned that her grandfather had placed her blind grandmother on a bicycle and wheeled her to safety when the bombing began. It was wonderful that the family was back together again. Eventually her mother was able to get a job with the Post Office in the town of Giessen. Someone’s kindness even provided them a small apartment. In the early 1950’s they moved to the town of Worms to join family members living there.
Back in the USA
Coming from western Germany to the American south, was a big change for Ilse. The food and culture was so different – it was a bit of an adjustment. One wonderful feature of her new life was the loving kindness of the people she met – especially her new, very large, American family. All the relatives were quick to draw her into the fold, and his parents along with the multitude of aunts and uncles showed warmth and hospitality by inviting Jerry and Ilse over to dinner on a regular basis. Not wanting to offend Jerry’s new bride, everyone kept to the one menu item they knew she enjoyed – fried chicken. It didn’t take long for Ilse to become very well acquainted with southern food.
As an only child, Ilse loved being part of a large family. Eventually, her mother also came to America, although she chose to settle in Florida instead of North Carolina.
Learning a new language is not an easy process, but eventually Ilse became proficient in English while retaining a sweet German accent. One change Ilse particularly enjoyed was the new way of doing laundry. Instead of washing by hand and hanging items out to dry, there were machines that could now accomplish that work.
Christmas memories and differences
As a child, Ilse remembered that their family always had an Advent Calendar – which was first used by Germans – to count the days in anticipation of Christmas beginning in early December. She also recalled that the children were not allowed to see the tree until Christmas Eve. The room the tree sat in was closed off while her Mother decorated it festively with balls, handmade ornaments, and candles. Everyone waited excitedly for the moment when the candles were lit and the tree was revealed.
The children were also excited about the pending arrival of a beautiful angelic figure with blond hair and wings referred to as ‘Christkind’, (whom they never actually saw) on Christmas Eve. Christkind left them presents such as a small sack of fruit and candy. On December 6th, Saint Nicklaus brings them food – candy and cookies if you were good. If you were bad he would bring you a switch.
One difference that Ilse noticed right away, was that in the U.S. it was traditional to put trees up much earlier than Christmas Eve. Their family continued to enjoy both the Advent Calendar and Wreath. Christmas celebration in the US, she also realized has a more materialistic emphasis.
Following Christ, walking through life
Although both Jerry and Ilse were raised in church, they both were saved and came to know the Lord in a profound way and in 1968. The challenges of blending two cultures and raising a family were easily overcome through the loving kindness and acceptance of family and friends.
After leaving the service, Jerry found work for Douglas Aircraft on the Nike guided missiles which he was familiar with while stationed in the Army. Later, he went to work for Delta Airlines. The biggest benefit of working for Delta was the free air travel. This enabled them to take many trips back to Germany helping Ilse to stay in close contact with relatives there.
They settled in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ilse worked for Hudson Hosiery and later for Napa Auto Parts while they raised two lovely daughters. As time went by, they welcomed five grandsons. They were recently blessed by a great grandson – who, as it turned out was born on her grandmother’s birthday.
When Jerry retired back in 1992, he retained the benefit of free flying. Retirement however did not mean idleness. As an Elder since 1976, and now an Elder Emeritus, Jerry and Ilse are quite active in their church. Jerry serves on various committees as well as shepherding over a dozen or so families. Ilse is his sidekick – helping in a number of ways.
Their days are also filled with the joy of grandchildren as well as playing games.
Ilse’s mother developed Alzheimer’s disease in the 1990s. Her desire to avoid a nursing home helped them make the decision that she should come to live with them. Ilse retired from her career at Napa a bit early in order to give her mother the care she needed. They cared for her until she breathed her last in 1999.
They are on a good path to finishing well as they walk out, and work out their lives in the fear of the Lord. Looking back, it is easy to see that the Lord indeed has “taught them in the way of wisdom and led them in the right paths.” Proverbs 4:11
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My book, “FinishingWell: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find joy on your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook