The charmed life of our sweet grey rescue, Houdini Maeckle Rivard, came to an end on September 11, 2020–almost exactly 15 years after she entered our lives that same month in 2005.
Rescued from her cage at the Alamo Heights Pet clinic where 18-year-old Alexander Rivard worked as a vet tech, the grey cat with bewitching green eyes joined our family and became a much loved companion.
Houdini quickly made friends with her big brother, Chester the cat, who taught her how to drink from a faucet. She and Cocoa, her canine sister, would carefully exchange sniffs, and after years of cautious courtship, became great companions.
Initially, she was meant to be Alex’s cat, but when school took him out of state, she became a fulltime member of our pet entourage.
And why the name Houdini?
“I named her that because I was super into a movie about Houdini at the time,” Alex recalled years later. He referred to the 1953 classic, “Houdini,” starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.
Shortly after joining the household, Houdini served as cover feline for the family’s 2005 holiday card. Her captivating green eyes peeked from an adorable face of fur and whiskers, the perfect image to accompany our seasons’ greetings sent to friends and family.
Ferociously independent, Houdini embodied a classic feline aloofness toward humans. Petting and engaging were on her terms only; but if she felt like climbing on your belly and kneading the covers while you relaxed on the couch, you were expected to comply.
And we did.
Houdini despised riding in the car and would wail and screech on every trip. So as not to leave her unattended, we would take her to the family ranch on weekends. The two-hour drive was a nightmare for all.
But upon arrival, Houdini would bound from her cage and climb trees, chase birds and mice, and lounge on the porch. Like the rest of us, she never wanted to leave the Llano River property and would often hide under the house or climb a tree to avoid the dreaded car trip home.
When we moved downtown to Arsenal, Houdini enjoyed splitting her time between the two households that comprised our family compound. She would make her way across the yard from our house to that of family matriarch Oma, the 88-year-old Hilde Maeckle.
Oma adored Houdini’s company, and would crack open the canned cat food, invite her in for treats and pets, and the two would keep each other company on Oma’s couch.
Houdini enjoyed a dose (or three) of catnip on occasion. She preferred her catnip fresh, still in the ground if possible. Typically, she would sniff out the herb in the yard, roll around in its leaves and become visibly intoxicated, rolling and lounging in a catnip stupor, enjoying her own feline happy hour on Oma’s porch.
We figured Houdini was part Russian Blue, a breed of cat famous for its thick grey fur and green eyes. Houdini’s hefty coat always appeared well-groomed and tidy and she never scratched herself or had fleas. Only once did she suffer a cat fight–when a feral cat from the alley entered our yard and attacked her from behind. The wound required stitches, but she healed well.
In her later years, Houdini stopped eating and meowed alot. She spent most of her time sleeping. She enjoyed the pollinator garden between her two homes and in true character laid down to die there under an Esperanza bush on September 11, 2020.
She now rests alongside her buddy Cocoa under a large pecan tree that front’s Oma’s porch.
Rest in peace, sweet Houdini. We miss you and love you and will never forget you.
From the cage to the castle, Cocoa Maeckle Rivard lived the life of a lucky dog.
Rescued from the Humane Society in San Antonio, Texas, Cocoa was known as “Lady” when her family first chanced upon her in May 2004. She was the first and only Chowbrador in the Maeckle Rivard clan, a distinction made known from the black spot on her tongue.
Cocoa began her charmed life in a lush backyard in the urban enclave of Alamo Heights. She split her time between the pecan shaded backyard there and a beautiful ranch on the Llano River in the Texas Hill Country where she loved to race up and down the grassy riverbank trail. In later years, she relocated to Austin, the Lavaca neighborhood of San Antonio, and finally, to King William near the San Antonio River.
Cocoa was a trailblazer in more ways than romping. She graduated with honors from PetSmart Basic Training in 2005. At the young age of four, she joined the staff of Business Wire at their office on Broadway for several years, making a daily trek to the San Antonio River and providing canine therapy to stressed out newsroom editors.
In 2012, she became the first canine correspondent and spokesdog for the local, independent news website, the Rivard Report. When San Antonio experienced its first doggy daycare facility in the downtown area, Cocoa was on the case, checking out the kennels, playing with the other rescues and purebreds, even submitting to an under cover bath-and-brush to provide first-paw insights for urban dogs and their owners. She tweeted regularly from her Twitter account, @quepawdre, but like many of us, grew tired of the demands of social media.
In 2016, Cocoa strutted her stuff as cover dog and spokes canine for SAWS, San Antonio’s public water utility, in a series promoting rain gardens and sustainable gardening.
Cocoa never met another pooch she didn’t like and was known for her friendly manner and welcome sniffs. She befriended felines as well as canines, and enjoyed hanging out with cat friends Chester, Cookie, and Houdini.
Cocoa adored heading to the family’s Llano River ranch. As soon as she saw the ice chest move from the garage to the kitchen for packing, she wagged her tail in a hip-swinging dance that exuded joy and anticipation.
In her waning years, Cocoa became hard of hearing and a champion sleeper. Stoic even when pained, she always enjoyed visits from her cousins Brisket and Cacteye, as well as her good friends Cora and Turkey. But age got the best of her, as it always does.
She passed peacefully a recent afternoon, surrounded by her whole family, giving her hugs, pets and kisses, and gratitude for 15+ years of love, friendship and devotion. She rests peacefully under a heritage pecan tree, tucked between the house and Casita that she most recently called home near the historic King William district.
We miss you already, beloved Cocoa. You will be forever loved, always missed, never forgotten.
My father was a bastard child from a farming village in war-torn Germany who came to the United States in 1953 and personified the American Dream. He died at 93 on August 2, 2015, after a long battle with dementia.
With seven years of grade school, a monumental work ethic, and a mischievous stubborn streak that worked for and against him, John Maeckle built a new life for himself and our family after a rough start in the Schwabian hills of pre-World War II Germany.
Born to Anna Duckeck and fathered by Daniel Lang, or “Uncle Dan” as we knew him, Johannes Maeckle was begrudgingly adopted by Michael Maeckle in 1921 when an already pregnant Anna was forced to marry Maeckle to keep the farm in the family. Anna’s older sister had been married to Michael and died in childbirth.
To keep the small estate intact, the Duckeck family insisted that her sister Anna marry Maeckle. She did–even though she loved Daniel Lang, a carpenter, and the father of the child she was carrying. Lang, from the neighboring village of Dietingen, left Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1922.
My father, Johannes, Hanne–“Johnny” in English–was born into these unwelcoming circumstances. They shaped him. Disproving his status as the bastard child of a father who begrudged his existence would drive him to success.
Johannes worked on the family farm in Markbronn, a village outside Ulm-on-the-Danube, shoveling manure, planting crops, milking cows, and working fields in between riding his bicycle to Blaubeuren 11 kilometers away, where he apprenticed as a woodworker. From age 14 – 17, he learned the trade of woodworking by day and came home to a second shift on the farm.
By the time he was 19, Germany was at war (again) and all young men would be drafted or could volunteer. Tired of the grind of farm life and hoping to avoid being sent to the Russian front as a soldier, he signed up for the Reichsarbeitsdienst in 1940. Volunteering for the compulsory state labor service allowed him to choose his service: army, navy or airforce.
He had his eye on the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. He hoped to become a paratrooper, but flunked the eye exam. Instead, he became a pilot by memorizing the letters on the eye test. His basic training began in 1941, but he didn’t fly his first mission–one of only three–until 1944.
Why? Because my father’s drive to prove himself to the village sometimes clouded his judgement and made him a troublemaker. After flight training, he and a flying buddy, Willi Rossner, pulled pranks on Markbronn, buzzing the farming village in their airplanes, performing formation flying stunts, diving to dangerous lows that made chickens fly, cows run and girls wave from farm house windows.
That prank ended in tragedy when Rossner crashed and died in Markbronn.
“…All of a sudden, I was watching him, he buzzed something and then he pulled up, you know, real steep, just waving down to the girls not watching, and the plane tilted and got in a spin, and he couldn’t get it out, and he just spinned and hit the ground,” my father told me in an oral history in 1978.
“Right behind (my sister) Babette’s house out there a little bit further. And of course the damn thing was burning like hell and when I saw that, I took off. Just hooked it. Well sure I felt guilty but there not a damn thing I can do about it.”
Maeckle hightailed it back to base in Nurnberg, and when questioned, feigned ignorance but eventually confessed.
The incident landed him in the military penitentiary for 218 days. When released, he trained further to become a night fighter pilot. and flew two more missions.
His final mission, on July 12, 1944, delivered a primo JU-88 with the latest radar technology to the British. Assigned to patrol the English Channel and intercept allied bombers bound for Germany, pilot John Maeckle lost radio contact with his base and was running low on fuel. He was forced to put the plane down through heavy cloud cover after his flight engineer resisted a directive to bail out because he had not packed his parachute.
When they cleared the clouds, a well-lighted airport runway was visible, which seemed miraculous until Maeckle set his craft down and noticed P-51 Mustangs and Spitfires lining the airstrip. He had landed the plane in Woodbridge, England.
All three crew members were taken prisoners of war. My father was jailed and placed in solitary confinement. Later, he was assigned forest protection and game warden duties on a royal estate in Scotland. He was not released from the POW camp until 1947.
The incident became a storied World War II tale, detailed in several history books and Air Classics Magazine. One historian said the capture of my dad’s plane saved thousands of lives because the radar discovery was so valuable to the British, it helped end the war earlier.
Maeckle returned to Markbronn in late 1947. “Hell, there was no work, I didn’t have any transportation, I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have any clothes. Came home with nothin’ to nothin’,” he said. “Twenty-eight years old, wanted to have fun with the girls, go out dancing and smoke and buy clothes. Couldn’t find a job, my brother just died, then you feel like you better stay around and comfort your mother, work on the farm, but that just won’t cut it.”
He met my mother shortly thereafter. Hildegard Pfeffer was only 17 when she met the returning Luftwaffe pilot. Johannes had dated her sister and my namesake, Ingeborg, before leaving for flight training, but Inge died of what was thought to be cancer at the young age of 19.
Johann and Hilde soon became an item–enjoying skiing, motorcycle rides, and my mother’s first bicycle, which my father bought her. The bike was reconstructed from salvaged parts and was especially prized, my mother recalls. “It was new to me,” she said.
In 1951, they married. Two years later, they decided to immigrate to the United States and join other Germans in East Texas where they found work and an opportunity “to make a million bucks,” my father would always say.
They boarded a freighter named the Jesse Lykes in Bremerhafen in mid-November 1953 and disembarked December 2 in Tampa, Florida. My older brother, John Michael Maeckle, was conceived onboard.
From there, Albert Lang and Jack Sanders, both kin to “Uncle Dan,” picked them up for the long drive to Jacksonville, Texas, where Albert, my father’s cousin and childhood friend, had settled in as a carpenter. His glowing letters of the good life in the U.S. were responsible for my parents leaving Germany for Texas. My brother was born in Jacksonville in 1954 and I came in 1956.
Our family soon joined Albert Lang in the Dallas suburbs to share a house in the growing suburb of Richardson, Texas, and enjoy the lucrative opportunities for German craftsmen in a post-WWII building boom. Together they launched L&M Construction Company in the late 1950s. My mother served as bookkeeper and chief taskmaster.
Maeckle and Lang started out as freelance carpenters, but soon realized their excellent building skills could be leveraged as a small business. They began building custom spec homes. While my dad had only seven years of formal schooling, he had an equal amount of trade education–via pilot training and his woodworking apprenticeship in Germany. By the time he immigrated to the States, John Maeckle was a “Master cabinet-maker” a skill his son John Michael Maeckle and grandson Nicolas Maeckle Rivard carry on today. And because of his time as a POW in England, he spoke the language.
In the 1970s, my dad spun off on his own custom home business, John Maeckle Construction Company, with my able mother minding the books. He built hundreds of custom homes in the Dallas area, making it possible for my brother and me to grow up in the lap of middle class security in a custom home he built on Dumont Drive.
We lived across the street from Cottonwood Park, spent summers exploring the creek and swimming at the community pool, took annual road trips to California, the Gulf Coast, and ski trips to Colorado, as well occasional journeys to Germany. Blessed, frugal and thoughtful about spending money, our family was not extravagant, but we lived well, never wanting for any physical need. My attendance at the University of Texas at Austin resulted in the first college degree earned by any Maeckle.
My father loved animals and was an avid outdoorsman and hunter. He was especially proud of his “trophy room,” our converted garage that housed not only the drafting table where he drew up plans for future projects, but also his “whopper bucks” and the American Black bear and Kodiak Island bear he shot in Alaska on my birthday in 1966. His love of the outdoors transferred to many of us, and he taught my brother, husband and children how to hunt. Remarkably, he and his hunting buddies participated in a deer lease on the Llano River for more than 30 years just 12 miles downstream from the Maeckle-Rivard family’s Lucky Boy Ranch.
In their retirement, my parents traversed the country in an Airstream trailer in a quest to see all 50 states (they made it to 42) with their beloved yellow-naped Amazon parrot, Bismarck. They settled into a hilltop home on Inks Lake near Marble Falls in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. For about 10 years, “Opa” as he was known by then, applied his woodworking skills to become an award-winning duck carver. He crafted more than 80 ducks, several geese and a swan, a cigar humidor for my husband, and many beautiful jewelry boxes and keepsakes for family and friends. He won dozens of blue ribbons and carving awards.
All of us learned so much from my father. He taught me to water ski, to fish, change a flat tire, and hunt for arrowheads. My love of the outdoors comes from weekends at “the farm,” our 60-acre plot in Van Alstyne, Texas, where my dad lead us in building fences, gigging frogs, feeding cows and tending tomatoes and a radish patch cultivated from German radish seeds.
He was tough on my brother and fair-but-firm with me. Thanks to Opa, I learned to work hard and take pride in it. I also learned that “Life is full of compromises.”
And a most important lesson: celebrate life and don’t look back.
Our garage-turned-trophy room was the essence of that. The large room hosted many great parties in our family–gatherings that included live accordion oom-pah musik, dancing, platters of German cold cuts and “Stinkkaese,” my father’s preferred stinky Limburger cheese, and doses of
beer, Chivas Regal, and Schladerer Kirschwasser, a special German cherry Schnapps that my dad liked to drink to “cut the grease.” He would often prepare for such evenings by slathering a piece of rye bread with at least a quarter-inch of unsalted butter, consuming it before guests arrived in anticipation of likely overindulgence.
Opa’s creed: Eat, drink, be merry, and occasionally, dress up in costume. I owe him my love of Halloween.
By the time he reached his late 70s, dementia began to steal my father. The disease gnawed on him slowly but surely, taking his mind first, and eventually, his body. We lost him one small piece at a time, but we cherished every day with him and what he gave us.
We miss you, beloved Opa. You will be forever loved, always missed, never forgotten.
John Maeckle is survived by his wife, Hilde Maeckle, daughter Monika Maeckle, son-in-law Robert Rivard and grandsons Nicolas and Alexander Rivard of San Antonio; John Michael Maeckle and Vicki Yantis Maeckle of Whitefish, Montana; granddaughter Melinda Maeckle Martin, son-in-law Robert Martin, great grandchildren Amara and Aleric Martin of San Antonio; grandson Christopher Maeckle and family of Dallas; and grandson Daniel Maeckle and family of Spokane, Washington.
Family and friends will celebrate John Maeckle’s life with Kirschwasser, beer, and the release of 93 butterflies at 5 PM on Friday, August 7, at 310 East Arsenal St., San Antonio, Texas, 78204. In lieu of flowers, donations to the San Antonio Food Bank or Humane Society of San Antonio would be welcomed.