NITTANY BY AUTUMN MYSTS
I had never had a dog, and “Nittany” was just simply amazing from the day I brought her home until I lost her. I suppose that in order for you to understand the insanity that Nit- tany’s life was and what necessitated her being tossed into it, I need to start with a little background on myself. I was Nittany’s two-footed mama and it was my life that dictated hers. My name is Autumn, and I come from a very unique family. During WWII, my family fled Germany after my great-grand- father wouldn’t fire the Jewish personnel who worked for him. Evidently, the first time, the Nazi’s asked. The second time, they ordered, and the third time people were shot or beaten and hauled off to camps. My great-grandfather disappeared into Dachau, nev- er to be seen again—not even to be properly buried. So, the rest of the family left Germany for the US where they would be safer. When they arrived in the States, my grandfather, grandmother, and her brother all volunteered with the US military. My grand- father and great uncle served as translators, and my grandmother was a nurse. My great-uncle died serving with the Army, but after the war, my grandparents settled in Amish country up north. My grandmother continued to work as a nurse at the VA until she was in her late seventies, never leaving her soldiers who needed her. My grandfather started the largest dairy farm in the area, providing milk for a three state area. My mother and her siblings were raised there with a heavy ideal of patriotism, and the knowledge that freedom isn’t free, and that we all owe a debt. My mother, after nursing school, joined the Navy before she could be drafted, and she served in an evac hospi- tal in Vietnam. My father, as well, was raised the same way, and he joined the Sea Bees straight out of Williamson before he could be drafted. He went on to serve three tours in Vietnam, and was even there during the Tet Offensive. My mother went home after her tour in ‘Nam, and while serv- ing in the Naval Yard, lived at home with my grandparents. As the first grandchild, I was doted on and spoiled, but I was per- ceptive enough to understand that there was stress with my father still away—although until I was ten I didn’t truly understand it. I thought everyone lived like my family; three generations under
one roof, with parents who were in the Navy and frequently gone. It wasn’t until I was fourteen that I knew differently. Education was demanded in our family, and anything less than perfection wasn’t accepted. My grandfather had been an opera sing- er in Germany, with a modicum of fame before he fled. So, he was multilingual, and through music, introduced me to the true beauty of language. By the time I was six, I spoke English, German, and Italian fluently, because they were spoken in our home. I was taught to read before I started kindergarten with the Nuns at age four. I was like a sponge, I couldn’t learn enough fast enough—there was just so much out there! By eighth grade, the Catholic school let my grandparents know that by ninth grade I was going to need special schooling because they couldn’t keep up with me. They had three Nuns who refused to teach me anymore because I had upset them with my questioning of what and how they were teaching. The Monsignor helped my grandfather find and get me into the only school in the area that offered the program I needed. It meant high school in the morning and university in the afternoons. Uni- versity also offered the vocal instruction I would need since I had inherited my grandfather’s gift and was already singing opera in a clear colatoro soprano voice. The only problem I had with public school was being a year younger than my peers. I couldn’t do all the things they were doing and sometimes I felt left out. I had to take a language in school in order to graduate, but since I spoke German fluently, I was forbid- den to take it. So, I had to choose between French or Spanish. I chose French because there were novels in my grandparents’ library that were in French and I longed to read them. Like all the other languages I already spoke, I picked it up so quickly that by the end of my sophomore year I spoke and read it fluently as well. During my junior year, shortly after I turned sixteen, a tragedy hit not just my family, but our country as well. My uncle was killed while he slept when the Embassy in Beirut was bombed with no warning. I remember feeling like all the air had been sucked out of my body, and the ground beneath my feet shook. I knew what the cost could be for serving my country to pay the debt of my freedom. But my uncle was the first close loss I had experienced.
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