What's Up Sonoma County


His Perennially Sunny Attitude Amidst Success…And Adversity By Melinda Monaghan c/o “Sam” Jernigan, Renaissance Consultations

A Celebrated Ancestor’s Life Uncovered:

My grandfather, Heinrich Hammer, died in 1954, when I was not quite two years old. Some


years later, my mother gave me his original autobiography and asked me to

re-type it

and save it on a disk. “Fahta,” as all his chil- dren called him, retold his long life on paper he

when was 90.

She wanted to make sure this treasure of his would still be available to all of us kids and

grandkids so we would always “know where we came from,” as she put it. I had only read it once, in my mid-twenties, but at that time I was mostly in- terested in the parts about my mother’s childhood, so I had actually skipped over the early years of his life. The manuscript came to me in a worn-out, cracked, red plastic three-ring binder. You may be too young to know, but “in the old days” (early 1950s), manuscripts, letters, documents, etc. were typed on manual typewriters, often on pages of thin, almost-trans- parent onionskin paper, with words xxx’d out if you made a mistake, and sometimes edited with faint pencil, or a smeary ballpoint pen. It was a real treat to try to decipher sentences when the ink on the typewriter ribbon started


fade, or when a new ribbon was put in and too much pres- sure on the keys caused a word here or there to be blurred be- yond recognition. I made a diligent start,

and then what with working, raising kids, and all those other good things, this project

twenty years. However, after we

moved to Texas in 2014 fol- lowing the closure of the company my husband worked for, I came across the old red binder as we were unpacking -- so once I got my office in working order, I decided to pick up where I’d left off and finally finish the job. All my life I’ve heard fam- ily stories about Fahta: born in 1862 and raised in Germany, he was a celebrated European composer, conductor, and vi- olinist, who could play every musical instrument in an or- chestra. As children and teens, we spent a lot of time with my grandmother, Fahta’s second wife, and a lot of holidays and vacations with my mom’s five brothers and sisters, so there were lots of tall tales. But un- til I began to re-type his very dated manuscript in earnest, I had no idea what an extra- ordinary life he had made for himself!

His father, a German

captain of artillery, was killed in a riding accident months before Fahta was born, and his mother had a nervous break-

ended up on a shelf in my of- fice – where it sat for the next

down, entering a sanatorium right after his birth. He wasn’t reunited

her until

with he

was nine. But he was one of those very


people who discovered his life’s passion at an early age. He wanted to be a musi- cian, and


period, spent

the rest of his life in bring- ing that goal to fruition. As a young man, he assembled and conducted


orchestra for a celebrated

European circus (!), and later founded two more orchestras, one in Gothenburg, Sweden (today it’s Sweden’s premier orchestra), and the other be- came the Washington D.C. Symphony orchestra which he led to critical acclaim for a ...continued on page 19

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