Who painted the rainbow house for me.
Our brother, who was also a son, a husband and a father, an uncle and a nephew, a cousin and a friend to many. He had been a Soldier, a multi-lingual member of the international tourism industry, a desk jockey in the insurance racket, a long-haul trucker and at one time he nearly became a baker and a chocolatier in the French tradition, the perfervid desire of his youth.
Whom we lost on April 18, 2016, at age 51 and 5 months and one day.
How impossible it is to gather the bits and pieces of a man’s life and lock them into a treasure box. How impossible it is to reduce a multifaceted life to a summary. Least of all, a life that is so very close to my heart, a life that is as selbstverständlich, as familiar as my own. Yet I have been so preoccupied with remembering him that I couldn’t help but collect those bits and pieces of his life, racing from scene to scene in my mind and by doing so, I am getting lost in the details of cherished memories, which are now all that is left of his precious life.
Calista and Katya,
this picture montage and the words that tie them together are for you. To help preserve the memory of Charles as he was before you knew him. It is meant to supplement your own memories of your father with a few scenes from his life you might not have known before and convey to you how much he will always mean to me. I wanted to put some pictures and their stories in a virtual box for you, so you can look through them every now and then. And I also wanted to recollect him, the Charles we all loved, for family members and his friends.
You can imagine how difficult it was to look at these pictures and to write about them. Every now and again I lost my composure so completely, your uncle Barry had to feed me antihistamines to help me breathe again. Charles has been gone for a few weeks now, but it feels as surreal now as on the day he and I sat in the waiting room together for his first oncology appointment and my mind kept screaming ‘this can’t be happening’ in an endless loop while my lips attempted to smile reassuringly. Do you recall, Calista, when we went to check out the antique dealers after lunch? I tried to find a suitcase-friendly, typical Texas memento for a French friend and we bummed around with your dad in downtown Garland. We laughed about the crazy stuff we discovered, but even then he already needed to secretly rest between laughs.
CHARLES – A remembrance of my brother
Before Charles, we were a family with three daughters, ein drei-Mädel-Haus in German. We were widely spaced in ages, divergent in interests and not necessarily harmonious in our interactions. When Charles came along, the eldest of us sisters, Diana, was three days short of her 19th birthday. I was 14 and our Nesthäkchen, youngest child, Bianka was 8 years old. Since we were an all-girl family, we didn’t search too seriously for a male name. Charles, being our late maternal grandfather’s name was a given. With our mother, we girls agreed quite enthusiastically on Jean Olivia as the name for our new sister-to-be. I don’t remember our father’s opinion on that choice. He might have wisely stayed out of the debate.
Then, on November 17, 1964, Jean Olivia turned out to be a boy when our Charles was born. Where the Richard came from I’ve long forgotten. I don’t believe, we ever had one of those in the family, nor did we especially like the name. It may have been a last-minute concession to convention and propriety on our parent’s part. Charles being a decidedly non-German name, they may have wanted to add something more germanic for school purposes and such. Therefore, you have to imagine Richard in its German pronunciation, if you would: ˈʁiçaʁt
Our Charlemann was a happy baby. I remember him smiling and gurgling a lot, but Bianka, transformed from Nesthäckchen to big sister, is the one who was truly part of his early childhood as both Diana and I were either in boarding school or in training away from family.
When Charles was almost 3 years old, the Kolshorn family moved to Konstanz, a city in southern Germany right at the border with Switzerland. I finished high school there while Charles entered kindergarten. Konstanz fell under French jurisdiction after Germany was divided among the Allied Forces following its unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945. Some 20 plus years later the French were still in Germany, maintaining garrisons and civilian facilities for their troops and their families. One of the concessions the French government eventually made to the German towns “hosting” French troops, was to become important for Charles. The French allowed German children to enroll in their schools. If they wanted, which nobody did, until his parents arrived in Konstanz and applied to l’école maternelle, kindergarten for their son. That was the beginning of Charles’ first foreign identity, Richard. This time pronounced the French way with a very long ‘a’ and a rolling ‘r’ in the end. Even after the family moved away from Konstanz and Charles transferred into the German school system, they arranged for him to spend many a summer with a French family, to ensure he wouldn’t forget. And he never did.
In Konstanz Charles not only learned to speak French with an Orleans accent, since his teacher hailed from that city, but he also became a sought-after runway model. A friend of our parent’s was opening a children’s clothing shop – well, it was really a darling Children’s Boutique with a rather upscale inventory. The preamble to her grand opening weekend was a Friday evening cocktail party with a life fashion show. The models being the children of her guests prancing along the catwalk in her cutest outfits. Apparently, Charles was a natural.
In the early seventies, after the Kolshorns moved from Konstanz to Kiel, from the Lake of Constance to the Baltic Sea, I was at university and saw my siblings only occasionally. Except for those pretty amazing six weeks or so that Charles and I spent with your grandma Judy exploring Brittany from La Baule to Quimper and all the menhirs in between. Sadly, as far as I know, no photos from that time still exist.
In the fall of 1977, when Barry and I paid a visit to the family in Kiel, the picture below
led to these,
and the beginning of Charles’ next and last foreign identity, the American Charles, which would prove to be his most enduring incarnation, leading ultimately to his adoption of the US citizenship.
[Just a quick aside, if I may. After having lived in the USA for roughly 25 and 35 years respectively, Charles and I both applied for American citizenship in early 2012. One week apart – without either knowing of the other’s application!!!]
While living with us in 1978, the year he turned fourteen, Charles attended a private school with a rather ambitious academic curriculum in Fort Worth, Texas. Again Richard had to be pronounced differently. This time, it was the English version. He hated us during that time and was profoundly unhappy in our care because we were a lot stricter with him than his parents had ever been. He got a solid foundation in Math & Latin, though, and acquired his third language. All in all, if only in hindsight, it was a useful experience for him.
Living in the US, we pretty much missed most of the rest of Charles’ teenage years, only receiving photos from Germany occasionally.
In early December of 1980, I packed up our 11 months old son for my first trip back to Germany in three years. Our parents and Charles had meanwhile moved from Kiel back south to a town named Krumbach. It was a great vacation in the Old Country for me. First, I got to visit with relatives and friends across southern Germany, then Barry followed and the whole extended family, grandparents and all siblings and their better halves, got together in Sulzberg im Bregenzerwald for a lazy skiing vacation over Christmas, which was also our father’s 60th birthday, into the New Year.
Oh, what fun we had together in Austria!
Charles’ next big challenge was his Abitur. Abitur, by the way, is the rather difficult German high school exit exam. They torture you for a few weeks in all sorts of subjects, like literature, math, foreign languages, the sciences and more to determine if you’re fit to attend university for a higher degree. Judging by the big grin on our father’s face, Charles passed with flying colors. Truth be told, our father was simply hugely relieved that his son had passed, period!
This is the yearbook entry for Charles [Photocredit DKK]:
For non-German speakers, here’s a translation:
Charles Richard Kolshorn « Charly » or « Charly-Schätzchen 1 »
Charly, our Sunny-Boy from the chilly North 2, joined us 5 years ago directly from Dallas/Texas.
In largely rural Krumbach, he was often overcome by ennui (not surprisingly, after all, everybody knows what goes on in Dallas). Our Charly-Schätzchen was always adapt in jazzing up the already entertaining LK 3 English and French lessons with sheer endless monologs about such interesting subjects as The State of the Nation.
Outside of school, he was also loved and respected by all his mates for his lively sense of humor.
Beware beautiful women! Charly’s motto is, either blond or brunette, all the ladies love me 4 . Yet he could be choosy 5: « Many, however, lack class »
The curriculum wasn’t always easy for him, but his nearly inexhaustible optimism got him through in the end.
[1, sweetheart, sweetie, darling] [2, a reference to the family’s move from Kiel to Krumbach] [3, LK = extra credit classes] [4, it rhymes in German] [5, personal comment by the translator: not to mention arrogant!]
I assume the glam ‘Easy Rider’ image was taken around about Charles’ wild-oats-days in Krumbach. [Photocredit DKK]
This is how I will always remember our Charlemann, funky, crazy, independent and non-conformist and sweet and loving and reckless. He didn’t have an overabundance of common sense but he would have given you the shirt off his back. There has never been a boy child more adored by his big sisters than this one! Despite his irritating middle-of-the-night calls, asking to be rescued from this or that tight spot, with which I invariably complied.
After his high school graduation, Charles traveled across the North American continent and beyond quite extensively and intensively, during which period a number of those ‘tight spots’ occurred. Details shall remain sealed, but I can mention a reversed-charges call from Cheyenne, Wyoming, asking for an instant cash infusion through Western Union. And what was he doing in Cheyenne, Wyoming? He had rerouted his course of travel through Cheyenne simply because he knew I loved that name. Once there was a decidedly desperate nightly call from some Carribean island where they wouldn’t let him depart without certain, let’s say, guarantees on my part. The pictures below are from a sojourn with us in Houston, Texas, in July 1984, including Barry’s 40th birthday bash.
Charles served his compulsatory military service with the Gebirgsjäger [mountain hunters], a light infantry troop of the German army, where they loved his organizational skills and he loved the off-piste powder skiing. Even though he didn’t like soldiering and left the service after his mandatory stint, it has to be noted that the Gebirgsjäger, sometimes referred to as ‘Alpine Corps’ are a special outfit trained for warfare in extreme terrains and weather conditions. Only proven members of the corps get to wear the Edelweiß insignia on their sleeve and cap. Gebirgsjäger like paratroopers are considered elite troops within the German army.
Having paid his dues to the homeland, Charles moved in with sister Diana in Munich and began an apprenticeship in a bakery, which for a time extended to a French bread manufacturer in Equador, but was ultimately abandoned. Back with Diana in Munich, he focused on academics instead, even taking math tutorials to pass the entrance exam for the European Business School. While attending EBS he lived with us in Texas again for a few months, because Barry had arranged an internship for Charles with a firm in Dallas.
While with us, Charles almost lost an eye. Uncle and nephew were playing star wars in the garden with crudely cut PVC tubes for light sabers when Ethan unfortunately landed a blow over Charles’ right eye. Oh, the blood and gore! Fortunately, our neighbor two houses over was a physician. He drove Charles to the hospital in his brand new, leather clad Jaguar without a single complaint about the bloody mess Charles left behind in his precious vehicle. Being brought in by a physician assured immediate emergency attention, which may have helped to save his eye. This kind fellow also insisted on a plastic surgeon colleague to do the stitching around Charles’ eye. Even though the cuts healed well, Charles was left with some vision issues.
For quite a while, Charles commuted back and forth between Germany and the US to pursue his professional and educational goals and private and personal ambitions.
One of the few times for all of us siblings to reconnect was our mother’s birthday, which we celebrated in gorgeous Bavaria. It was a fun and relaxed affair with long nights of catching up and enjoying leisurely family meals together.
Let’s look at a couple of pictures illustrating some family history, shall we? Charles closely resembled his dad, but also both his grandfathers.
And as long as we’re looking back, here’s the fingerpost pointing in the direction of our ancestral village near Hannover in the federal state of Lower Saxony.
If you gently trespass along a dirt path onto a farming estate in the village, you’ll discover this old beam on the overgrown backside of a barn.
The beam originally decorated a barn, which was erected for Christoph Colßhorn and Anna Könecken [I hope I deciphered that correctly] on the occasion of their marriage in 1749. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Speaking of weddings, Charles’ and Felecia’s wedding certainly was an epic affair! I came down South, I believe from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, where we lived at the time, staying in your parent’s absolutely, utterly chaotic house. Being the honored sister of the groom, I was assigned the living room sofa as my personal sleeping space. As short and saggy as it was, it trumped the uneven floorboards several other guests shared. After the beautiful ceremony in the park, we proceeded to celebrate the couple, making sure the entire neighborhood reverberated with joy.
In keeping with Southern tradition, Charles baked two wedding cakes, a Vanille de Bourbon scented white bride’s cake and an oozy rich dark chocolate groom’s cake infused with Bourbon whiskey.
I don’t think anyone got any sleep that night, I know I didn’t. And when I went outside in the early dawn, your uncle Roland was already installed on the front stoop meditating. We sat in companionable silence for some time, before he drove off to get a box of donuts for the survivors. Or was it a bag of bagels? The details are a smidgen fuzzy ….
Your parents were a beautiful couple, radiant with love and happiness, excited yet also a little scared. Felecia’s gorgeous outfit was designed and sewn by your aunt Melora. Another one as well, I believe, Felecia’s going away suit? Fuzzy time again!
Naturally, Calista and Katya, your own stories soon began as your lives became intertwined with those of all the Denneys and Kolshorns populating your family tree. Like our Taos Gang, for example,
and once more with even more Denneys and Kolshorns!
And finally, a slightly more quiet Taos picture, just a mother with her son.
I remember well those wonderful dreams and aspirations Taos held for both Felecia and Charles. They would have loved living there!
The four Kolshorn siblings, half of whom had lived in North America for nearly two decades by then, got together in Germany only twice more. First in Husum at the North Sea in 1994 to say goodbye to our father.
And then again in Munich in 1996, exactly 20 years ago. That was the last time all four of us were in the same room together.
Your aunt Binka provided another goofy four-sibling-photo, taken in February 1967, nearly 30 years earlier than the one in Munich.
In 2000, you celebrated another big family occasion, the wedding of Zizi & Scott in Maine. We had to miss it, but grandma Judy and aunt Binka came over from Europe, the Taos contingent came up, as did everyone from North Carolina and Ohio.
As long as we’re all here together, let’s check out a few picture vignettes of your parents.
Felecia’s 50th was another one of those epic family occasions. My oh my, did we ever party!
Followed by the heart-wrenching time when the three of you struggled so hard to overcome the desperate sadness of your mother’s passing.
Soon after, Charles could no longer bear the office grind and worked himself ragged in a variety of much more physical jobs, constantly learning new skills and reviving old ones. Although he enjoyed cooking for a professional catering outfit, for example, he realized that he could no longer manage 12-hour shifts on his feet like a youngster. So he jumped feet first, as it were, with reckless abandon and an iron determination into a completely new career. Charles became a long-haul trucker. Searching for ways to generate sufficient income to get you girls through school, pay the mortgage, and maybe finally start putting something aside for his looming retirement age, he discovered the promising earning potential for over the road truckers.
When he first told me about this idea, he had already worked out all the details of his new career. What Charles so casually presented as an ‘idea’ on the phone, wasn’t an idea at all. It was in fact, a done deal. He had already paid an owner/operator to teach him big rig driving and then taken his driving test three days later. Yes, three days. With the new professional license in his pocket, he was about to depart for the mid-west to begin his training with a trucking company. I don’t remember when he started, but I think it was early autumn. After passing classes on laws, rules, regulations and other theoretical requirements, a mentor trucker was assigned to him with whom he began to drive the highways and byways of the country. In this team approach, the newbie gradually goes from no driving to doing the whole route alone while the mentor observes. As Charles had planned, he was vetted as a driver before the Christmas break and handed the keys to his truck in Waxahachie, Texas, in the last week of 2013 at age 49.
– NaturalIy, you, Calista and Katya, know all about your dad’s last incarnation as a trucker. I wanted everyone else to hear about his determination to provide for you and to rally after losing Felecia because I have never encountered anyone else with the kind of cheerful perseverance Charles had! You see, I was so happy about his success and so very proud of him. I had such hopes that he could have some small measure of contentment for his remaining years. Sadly, so very sadly that was not meant to come true for him –
On the afternoon of December 31st, we got a call from Charles at Rancho Leon in Mountain Home, Texas. We were hectically busy because we had finally sold the ranch and worked like mad on the logistics of moving to Europe in less than a month. He had just picked up his very first load in Laredo at the Mexican border and was driving north on I-10 toward Junction, the closest town to us. He said that he needed to take a required stop soon and would love to do it in Junction to be able to meet up with us. That’s how we were privileged to watch Charles park his rig calmly alongside the other semis in the tight lot behind the Junction Truckstop.
As first in 1980 at the Hotel Linde in Austria, we spent one more New Year’s Eve together. It was a lot less posh at Isaak’s in Junction, let me tell you! And the food was awful, but we had just as much fun. It would prove to be the last shared meal for these bearded brothers-in-law.
Charles loved the freedom of the open road and the challenge of mastering his semi in all those crazy situations that either the weather or the inaccuracies of his home offices’ instructions put in front of him. We talked quite a bit on the phone while he was crisscrossing the US from LA to NYC, from the Mexican to the Canadian borders, hauling everything from Goodyear tires to Maidenform bras for the next 100 000 + miles. He enjoyed very much seeing the country once again and he sent everybody his goofy selfies against a variety of backgrounds.
The biting irony of his illness, he told me after his esophageal cancer diagnosis, was the fact that he was the only trucker ever with a healthy lifestyle. His bicycle lived in the upper bunk of his cab, ready for a spin through the countryside. He prepared his own meals and never ate in a truckstop diner once!
With his beautiful white beard, he told me he was planning to become a ‘Mall Santa’ next season, to make all those little kids happy. Instead, his end came with brutal speed. I took the portrait below, my last picture of Charles, at Dean and Melora’s on February 19, 2016. Two months later he was gone.
Though, I prefer to conclude with a different picture.
Your parents, Charles & Felecia forever sweethearts