The Berners, Chapter 3: The Ancestors

Picture of Alexander and Martha Kocher-Bürki, the Female’s grandparents
(photographer unknown)

This tale is of childhood remembrances, family lore, and a good portion of “what is—what was.”

Alexander Kocher’s passion for the railroads started in his early childhood in Büren on the Aare river. Most of his family, as was common in western Switzerland of the late 19th century, made a living turning tiny wheels into what became renowned as the Swiss Watch.

Alexander’s wandering mind did indeed turn to wheels, but the ones that were powered by big steaming engines connecting villages and cities, known as trains and their railroads. One of his first dream jobs led him to the village of Konolfingen in the eastern part of the Canton of Berne.

The local butcher, who had relocated his family from the even smaller neighboring village of Stalden had, by the time handsome Alexander became Konolfingen’s station master, four beautiful, lovely adult daughters. Alexander, not shy to enamor the most breathtaking of the four, soon found himself engaged to Martha.

Not long after, Alexander Kocher, now married to his beloved Martha, was appointed Deputy Station Master at the big Lucerne railway station. Their daughter Heidi was born in Lucerne. Catering to their only child’s every whim, they granted all the little girl’s desires.

Martha, a tapestry artist and a gifted seamstress, provided ample items, which not only kept her daughter warm and cosy, but also assured that she always was noticed as a stunning black-haired beauty.

Heidi became accustomed to the modest, bourgeoise live style, enabled by her parent’s hard work and devotion. Her Baldwin piano probably was way beyond their means. Loved by her teachers as well, the perfect student with her demure attitude decided at first to become a teacher, but after a year she realized that her love for music outweighed her calling to teach. She found her calling as a pianist, changed her major to classical music and became a star pupil of famous piano professor and composer Walter Rehberg in Zürich. While working on her degree in piano, she met her Knight in Shining Armor.  Probably on her daily commute by train between Lucerne and Zürich, a common trip to this day, she met and fell in love with the dashing blond who studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Heidi soon was expecting what turned out to be my Female. She wasn’t exactly thrilled to become a mother. Yet the prospect that her Godi would become eternally hers was probably worth the trouble, as Heidy-Mignon, the little Heidi, heard and realized soon enough.

The first year of her life, little Heidy remained primarily in the care of her Bernese grandparents.
Maybe at that time, her father had realized that a real Berner has the sweetness of honey and the stubbornness of an ox (which goes for humans as well as dogs)!

Big Heidi delved into further studies, took on a half-hearted assignment or two, never to really engage her talent. Eventually she resigned herself to becoming a piano teacher, mainly sponsored by old friends who sent their children to the still beautiful teacher.

Godi put on his macho suit, and from then on took responsibility to raise his offspring, teaching her “mores,” despite the misfortune that his child belonged to the less desirable of the sexes.

Once in a while, the Kocher-Bürki’s were allowed to take little Heidy along for day trips on the venerable steamers of Lake Lucerne. She used to grip her grandfathers hand when visiting the engine room. With great fascination she observed the shiny brass fixtures, mighty pistons thumping, and humongous wheels turning. The delicious oily smell of steam filled air was a feast for her nose. And all those sounds! They were music to her ears.

Alexander survived Martha by eight years. A turbulent affair with a Hungarian hat-maker during his last years as a widower, didn’t exactly go well with the Female’s parents.

He died during the Lucerne Carnival;  buried on Mardi Gras 1965. Way to go, Alex!


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