EVEN THE MELODIOUS VON TRAPPS CAN'T ESCAPE THE URGE TO LITIGATE

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Up In burlington, Vermont, the Trapp Family is suing itself.

According to a dispatch to The New York Times, "The von Trapps, a family known around the world, asked the Vermont Supreme Court this week to resolve a bitter financial dispute between two factions of the family. In a hearing . . . lawyers asked the justices whether minority stockholders in the family corporation were paid enough money when they were bought out by another family group in 1995. The minority group argued that they were underpaid by nearly $3 million and a trial court upheld that view in a decision last May."

I don't know about you, but this stuns me. The Trapp Family in court and bickering over a few pfennigs? It's as if we woke up one morning to be told the president was bopping interns in the Oval Office and lying about it.

The Baron and Maria are both dead, unfortunately, or you can be sure none of this ever would have gotten to the lawyers or into the newspapers. "It's sad," said Johannes, the youngest son of Baron Georg and Maria von Trapp, "Obviously it wouldn't have happened while my mother was still alive."

You said a mouthful, Johannes. Why, Julie Andrews would have had these feuding and litigating Trapps singing "Doe, a deer," instead of retaining Johnnie Cochran and the Dream Team. And Christopher Plummer, as Captain von Trapp, would have been blowing his bosun's whistle and marching the kids quick-step around the old schloss there in Salzburg.

I can't tell you how depressed this all makes me feel. It's almost as if in the final reel of "Sound of Music," as the Family melted offstage, one by one, and made their mad dash across the Alps to freedom back in 1938, that the Gestapo had sniffed out their escape plans and hustled the whole bunch off to the camps.

When the Trapps finally got to the States, they settled in Stowe, Vt., a town about 350 miles north of New York and 35 miles east of Burlington in the shadow of Mount Mansfield. And if you drive out of Stowe up the mountain road, about halfway you'll see a sign on the left directing you to the Trapp Family farm and cross-country skiing center. I drove up there once with the kids, hoping for a glimpse of Maria singing "The hills are alive with the sound of music," but ended up with little more than hot chocolate and some picture postcards of Herself, in dirndl and apron, that they sold in the gift shoppe.

Years earlier when I was first skiing at Stowe and staying at the Round Hearth (six bucks a night, bring your own sleeping bag, dinner and breakfast included, and lots of what we then in our ignorance called "coeds"), we all went to midnight Mass on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. And encountered the Trapp Family in full formation. It was, I assure you, something to behold.

You must understand that by then all the Trapp kids, Georg's by his first wife, and then Georg and Maria ensemble, were themselves grown and married and producing even more progeny. There were scores of Trapps. The Baron was long dead but Herself, Maria, was certainly there and orchestrating the whole damned thing. You felt sorry for the poor priest; he didn't have a chance to run his own mass. Not with Maria von Trapp on the scene.

The priest announced that during the mass there would also be a baptism. Not even in the Irish Catholic parishes of Brooklyn had anyone ever heard of baptizing people Easter Sunday at midnight Mass. For one thing, the ceremonies take time and, at Stowe, you want to get to sleep so you can make the milk run next morning on the chairlift. But when the Trapp Family has a friend from college who has decided to become a Catholic (what chance had the kid not to, surrounded by Trapps?), they baptize the lad.

Off to the right behind a sort of screen in the little church, a cloistered effect, stood the Family, singing away. I must admit, they sang well, though the screening and the reverence everyone seemed to be paying them, kind of suggested a reunion of the Corleones.

Anyway, out came the convert along with a couple of Trapps as sponsors, and we went through the whole deal of renouncing Satan and all his works and pomps. I was dating a honey from Peabody, Mass., called Peggy Davis, who was a ski bum that year and a great, great skier, and she kept elbowing me to stay awake, and renounce my own works and pomps, dammit!

The vow taking went on and on with many a hymn interspersed. They sang everything but "The Horst Wessel Song." I think it was about two in the morning that we finally got out of there. Back at the Round Hearth even the rugby players from Dartmouth had gone to bed; even Pansy Prince, who lived in a hearse in the parking lot with a police dog, was asleep.

They used to have real style up there at Stowe and now all those melodious and pious Trapps are suing each other and acting like a normal American family and it's disgusting.

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