Sophie Nieman, heroine of Hand-Me-Down Bride by Juliet Waldron

Bertram: What is your name? Who are you?

Sophie: My name is Sophie Neiman, and I’m the second daughter of Albert and Anna Neiman of Osnabruck, in Northern Germany. I have four sisters, one older and two younger.

Bertram: Where do you live?

Sophie: I am an immigrant, and today I live in German’s Mill, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

Bertram: Are you the hero of your own story?

Sophie: I’m the heroine.

Bertram: What is your problem in the story?

Sophie: I have many problems, but the biggest is how to help my mother and my sisters back in Germany. They are now very poor, because my Papa died. Although he was an official in the City of Osnabruck, his pension was not enough for us all to live on. My mother works as a governess. My oldest sister, Ursula lives with Uncle Rudolph and cares for him and his household, but he is stingy and unkind. I agreed to travel to America to marry a wealthy older gentleman who wanted a “pure German” bride for a second wife, but the morning after we were married, I awoke to find him dead. Herr Theodore did not include me in his Will, so now I have nowhere to live and no idea of how to support myself.

Bertram: Do you have a problem not mentioned in the story?

Sophie: No. I have many problems to solve, but they are all part of my story.

Bertram: Do you embrace conflict? Do you run from conflict?

Sophie: I would rather avoid conflict, because I was raised to obey those in authority. However, I have my pride and a strong sense of right and wrong. If you treat me unfairly or condescend to me, I will challenge you.

Bertram: How do you see yourself?

Sophie: My family has fallen on hard times, but I am still a lady and a dutiful daughter. I understand that life is not a bed of roses, and that personal sacrifice is often required. I try not to brood or be sorry for myself, although sometimes it is not easy. I try to live by the Golden Rule. Secretly, I am hot-blooded. Falling in love came close to destroying me, so, here in America, I keep a tight rein on my feelings. I don’t trust men.

Bertram: How do your friends see you?

Sophie: As a reserved person who does not easily show her feelings, but who has a kind heart. A church-going Lutheran lady, who, nevertheless, is not afraid to get her hands dirty and work.

Bertram: How do your enemies see you?

Sophie: As a cold opportunist, who agreed to immigrate and marry Herr Theodore strictly for his money.

Bertram: does the author see you?

Sophie: As a proud, brave, and well brought up young woman who is willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill what she sees as her duty to her beloved family back in the old country. Sophie tries to follow through on the obligations she has, but life has a way of throwing her curves she doesn’t expect. She is more adaptable than she gives herself credit for.

Bertram: Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

Sophie: Yes.

Bertram: What are your achievements?

Sophie: I can play the piano and sing. (People always seem to enjoy it.) I can sew my own clothes. I have good taste in literature and music. My biggest achievement is that I dared to come to America to marry a man I’d never seen because my family was depending upon me. It might seem desperate, but it was also the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

Bertram: Has anyone ever failed you, betrayed you?

Sophie: Yes, my best friend Lisel and Herr Captain Frederick, back in Osnabruck. They ran off together, although they both knew I was in love with him. My poor friend Lisel paid for her mistake, because Frederick proved to be nothing more than a wicked seducer, who dishonored her and abandoned her. I wish I could help her, but I do not know where she is anymore.

Bertram: Do you keep your promises?

Sophie: Yes.

Bertram: What in your past would you like to forget? Or perhaps something you wish had never happened?

Sophie: Even more than wickedness of Captain Frederick, I would like to wish away the death of my sister, Anna. She had consumption and we managed to find the money to send her to the sanatorium, but she did not recover. She was so young! God has certainly taken her sweet soul to his bosom.

Bertram: Do you like to remember your childhood?

Sophie: Yes! The early part was so happy for our family. We were not rich, but we had a nice apartment and we were respected because Papa was a high clerk in the Osnabruck court. My Papa indulged us all. We went to school and studied music, too. After my studies were done, I could read, all I ever wished to.  We walked in the parks on nice days, and had dinner with friends. Sometimes, we hired a carriage and visited the countryside for picnics. After our Papa died, we lost so much! Our lovely apartment and my piano and the books were the first to go. Some of Papa’s “friends” and their families were no longer in evidence, and we were lonely. Mama found work, and she was so tired and sad all the time, it was almost as if we had lost her, too. Next, my big sister Ursula left us to go work for Uncle Rudy on the other side of the city. That was when I began housekeeping and sewing and looking after my little sisters, Rosemarie and Lizbet. I worked very hard so that my mother would not have to come home and feel that things were not well-taken care of.

Bertram: What is your most closely guarded secret?

Sophie: How close I came to running away with Captain Frederick myself. My days and nights were full of dreams of him, of yielding to his passion, but somehow, even though he asked me to come away with him, thinking of my mother and my sisters—of my father and what he would have thought—kept me from doing so. If I were more impulsive, I might have ended up like Lisel, disgraced and lost. Deep in my heart I know I am not more moral than my friend, only more cautious.

Bertram: What is your favorite scent?

Sophie: I think it is the honeysuckle. I blush to admit it, because honeysuckle grows all over the front porch at the millhouse, where my husband used to sit with me while we were courting.

Bertram: What is your favorite color?

Sophie: Green, because that is a color we didn’t see much of in the poor neighborhood we lived in after Papa died. Here, in German’s Mill, there is so much green! So many beautiful trees, like the big Linden trees next to our house, or the poplars which line the roads, or the sycamores down by the river! All the fields are a bright sunny green in the springtime. Also, I love the fine Philadelphia green linen dress my Aunt Ilga bought me to wear.

Bertram: What is your favorite music?

Sophie: I love Bach most of all. His music speaks to my soul and quiets all my sad and stormy thoughts. I wish I played better, so that I could play more of his music. Herr Schwann, at our church, has been giving me lessons, but we are all so very busy all day here, and so very tired at night, it is hard to always practice.

Bertram: What is your favorite hobby?

Sophie: I am learning to ride a horse, one which my dearest Karl Joseph has purchased for me. I never could have imagined having such a privilege, and it is the greatest fun to ride her out into the countryside. Her name is Polly, and she is gentle and sweet-natured. I love to go to the stable and brush her. I feel like pinching myself every time I see her there, munching her hay. I can hardly believe that such a fine creature is mine!

Bertram: What is your favorite food?

Sophie: I love chicken with dumplings, and have learned to make them from the best cook in all America, the woman who cooks for us at the millhouse, Mrs. Divine Daniels. She also makes the very best cherry dampfnudeln (sweet dumplings with cherry sauce) I have ever tasted, either here or in Osnabruck.   

Bertram: If you had the power to change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be?

Sophie: I wish everyone would be kind to each other, that they would not judge each other before they really know them. So much unhappiness and sorrow could be avoided if we would all give each other the benefit of the doubt, if we would not condemn others just for preconceptions we have about them. I have learned this only through experience.

Bertram: How do you envision your future?

Sophie: I hope that my birth family will be with me again, right here in America. As much, or possibly more, I also hope that I and my dearest husband will live happily ever after, right here in German’s Mill, Pennsylvania. If you’re interested in finding out more about me, Juliet Waldron told my story in Hand-me-Down Bride.