A Texas Ghost Story
~post by Siobhan Adcock
Ever been to Oma’s Haus in New Braunfels? When I was in college, on a road trip from Dallas to San Antonio, my friend and I stopped for dinner there. We ate schnitzel, and while we were eating, the dessert cart rolled ominously toward us on its own. It was a little spooky. We ordered dessert. (Clearly, we were meant to.)
At that time I’d lived in Texas for about five years, but that road trip, with its accidental sidetrack into New Braunfels and Gruene, was my first brush with the long and storied history of German immigrants in Texas. Like a lot of college kids, I loved beer and fried things, so I was naturally intrigued, and the more evidence we found—beer gardens, historic villages, the Sophienburg, Sunday houses, and hell-yeah Schlitterbahn—the more I wanted to know about how all these Germans had ended up in the middle of the Hill Country in Texas. Which, as many of you may already know, is a pretty compelling story.
The road trip ended, the fixation on German Texas did not. That summer, I started writing a nugget of a short story, set on a German Texas farm in the 1880s, about a woman who marries a man but can’t bring herself to love him—although she thinks someday she might. This couple’s farmhouse was surrounded by the violet-yellow-green fields, full of singing insects and bordered by mesquite, that I always think of when I think of Texas. Their last name was Hirschfelder. The woman had been raised by a dour father named Dr. Mueller and his spinster aunt, whom everyone called Frau (but who I now wish I had named Oma). At the end, a traveling magician comes to town and almost destroys this couple’s marriage, but then on a windy night in the Texas fields, the woman strikes a bargain: In exchange for an hour of her little boy’s life, her marriage will come back to life. It wasn’t a good story, but I thought someday I might go back to it.
Now, I know it reflects more on me (or at least, my twenty year old self) than on anything about the Schlitterbahn or the Wurst Fest that I immediately associated the German Texas experience with this kind of melancholy, ghostly, haunted-romantic mood. The Hill Country has been written about by many authors in many ways, but for me, it was a place for ghosts. I don’t believe in ghosts myself, but I’ve always loved ghost stories, and ever since that first visit, I’ve wanted to write a Texas ghost story set right here in the fields and hills around Austin.
I’m not sure who to blame for that, other than the ghost at Oma’s Haus who insisted that we get dessert.
Fast forward (mumble mumble) years and this nugget of a short story kept coming up in my imagination. I think maybe I missed Texas. I had read, in the meantime, Professor Terry Jordan’s great German Seed in Texas Soil, and I had visited Fredericksburg and driven through the gorgeous sun-haunted Hill Country in search of other relics of German Texas. A few months after my daughter was born, I took some of the pieces of that old short story apart and reassembled them as part of a longer ghost story, one that interwove with the story of another young mother, living in the present-day Austin suburbs, making choices she’s not sure she can live with. Those two pieces finally came together as my first novel, The Barter.
It’s not exactly dedicated to the dessert cart at Oma’s Haus, but maybe it should be.
The Barter is a ghost story and a love story, a riveting emotional tale that also explores motherhood and work and feminism. Set in Texas, in present day, and at the turn of the twentieth century, the novel follows two young mothers at the turning point of their lives. Copies are currently available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com