Sitting on the hard pew, I was so drowsy I couldn't keep my eyes open or sit up straight. I was four going on five, and my mom and I were attending one of our church's Wednesday evening Lenten services. When the sermon began, I snuggled my head against Mom's upper arm and slumbered into the soft comfort of the black seal fur coat she was wearing. Where my mom got a fur coat, I don't know. Since we had a large family and were blue-collar class, we didn't have money for anything so expensive. It's likely the coat was a hand-me-down from someone cleaning out a closet.
Being in church was one time my mother could rest from her busy and stressful life running a large household with limited means. And for me, the fourth child and fourth daughter of six children, it was one of the few times I can remember cuddling with my mother. This is not because Mom was cold and undemonstrative, but rather that she didn't have time to give a lot of individual attention to each of us.
Like most people, my mother carried the values and challenges of her era and her station in life. Yet, despite or maybe because of, the deficiencies and hardships in her life, Mom developed skills that would translate well in contemporary life. Were her life somehow transported into today's world, she would have been a working wife and mother--probably a manager of some sort--juggling home and work. She likely would have been blogging on Gather or another social networking site, for even though her education was limited and her parents and husband were poorly educated immigrants, she wrote and spoke well and was a loyal correspondent.
Mom was a faithful and diligent letter writer. She is the one who sent me letters patiently answering all the questions I asked her regarding our family genealogy after my two children were born. Her work in compiling this information and the letters she sent me with biographical information, which I still possess, have greatly helped me as I attempt to write a memoir.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1905, my mother's birth certificate contains at least two errors. Augusta Hamann, the midwife who delivered her, wrote down the wrong first name, listing Gertrude instead of Gretchen, the name Mom's parents gave her. She also gave the incorrect birth date, making the date of birth one day later than the actual date. Why weren't the mistakes corrected? I don't know for sure, but the birth certificate I have is a certified copy, probably obtained when my mother got a passport. Since she was born at home, it's likely her parents never received a birth certificate. Even if they did get one, Mom's immigrant parents may not have been able to read English well enough at the time to notice the mistakes.
Mom was the second child, second daughter, in the family. Four brothers were born after her, but when she was six, her brother William died at age three when struck by a horse-drawn milk wagon.
My mother Gretchen with her brother Edward in 1910. She was five, and he was three and a half. I don't know where the photo was taken, but they were living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at this time.
When Mom was still young, her mother, my grandmother, began making annual summer trips with her children to Southwestern Michigan to pick fruit to earn money. In 1917, the family moved to Michigan, where my mother entered the local Lutheran School, the same one I attended years later.
Confirmation photo of Mom and her brother Edward in 1920, the year they graduated from eighth grade. Although Mom was almost two years older than Uncle Ed, they were in the same grade and same class because Mom started school late.
Since Mom did not go to high school after graduating from eighth grade, her social life as a young adult revolved around the church's Luther League for young people. According to an article in the local newspaper at the time, League members were "popular as amateur players," and had "furnished many theatrical successes in the past." The newspaper further notes that "Eight well known members of the League . . . will present the three-act comedy, 'Money! Money!'" the following evening. In listing the cast in non-alphabetical order, my mother's name was the first female listed, suggesting she had a major role in the play.
My mother's family gathered for a picture circa 1925. L-R: Ed, Harry, Elmer (brothers, seated), Emily (sister), Grandma, Grandpa (seated), Gretchen (my mother).
After graduation from eighth grade, Mom began working at Rimes and Hildebrand, an upscale local department store, selling hosiery and gloves in the dry goods department. Intuitive and helpful, she was always a good listener and customers liked her. She also was organized and thoughtful, and despite her youth, her supervisor, Mr. Rimes, sent her on buying trips to Chicago, about 100 miles away.
Courtship and marriage
As customary for a young single woman at that time, Mom lived at home with her parents. Her sister Emily and Emily's husband Emil and their daughters, my cousins Anita and Gather member Alice Burroughs, lived in the house next door to my grandparents. Being related and living so nearby, there was considerable interaction between the two households. It seems inevitable that Aunt Emily and Uncle Emil would introduce my mother to Uncle Emil's brother Otto and that Mom would marry Otto. The two couples--two sisters married to two brothers--remained close throughout their lives.
In a note written at Christmas 2007, my cousin Anita, the elder daughter of Aunt Emily and Uncle Emil, gave me two lovely glimpses of my mother as an unmarried young aunt.
"Your mother was so special to me. On special Friday nights, after my bath, I could go next door and sleep with her--what joy!"
Anita also was there when Dad was courting Mom.
"She and your father took me on their Sunday afternoon walks most weeks. What a nuisance I must have been!"
My dad arranged a tryst with my mom while she was on a business trip to Chicago and proposed to her as they boated on the Lincoln Park lagoons.
As the wedding approached, friends of Mom feted her at two bridal showers. In that era, small-town newspapers reported on showers and weddings in detail on their society pages, even if those involved weren't upper class society. The newspaper report of one of Mom's showers noted, "A clothespin contest was a delightful entertainment feature" and further, that the church choir, of which Dad was a member, presented Mom with a "handsome floor lamp."
At the other shower, which was a kitchen shower, the newspaper noted, "Before opening each package, the bride-elect was required to tell the use she would make of each gift." Entertainment at this shower consisted of playing "seven tables of bunco."
The newspaper gave my parents' wedding 11 inches of column space and noted the attendance of several hundred persons was "one of the largest ever present at a wedding" in the church, which was spacious. Most of the attendees were probably walk-in members of the church. It was not uncommon when I was growing up to attend the church part of the wedding even if you were not invited to the reception. People didn't have as many leisure options as we do today.
Mom and Dad with attendants on their wedding day, June 17, 1928. Rear row standing L-R: Edward (Gretchen’s brother), best man; Otto, groom; Harry (Gretchen’s brother). Front row seated L-R: Meta, maid of honor; Gretchen, bride; Margaret, bridesmaid.
According to the newspaper account of the wedding, "The bride was lovely in a gown of silk lace. The gown was fashioned with a close fitting bodice and bouffant skirt. Her full length wedding veil was held in place with a wreath of orange blossoms and her flowers were a bouquet of bride's roses and white sweet peas."
One of the gifts my parents received for their wedding was a washboard for scrubbing clothes on washdays. Although this seems like an odd gift now, it was probably equivalent to receiving a small appliance as a wedding gift in a later era.
Pink bowl my parents received as a wedding gift. This bowl came with two matching candle holders, but only one survives
Mom's outside employment ended with the birth of a daughter, my sister Dotty, the following year. Over the next fifteen years, she gave birth to three more girls and two boys.
Mom holding her first child, my sister Dotty. 1929.
In 1934, after several moves to different apartments and the birth of three children, my parents bought a large house near downtown and near the church we went to. Our family lived on the first floor which, before the house was remodeled in the mid 1940s, had three bedrooms and one bath. On the second floor were two three-room apartments that my parents rented out to pay the mortgage. For extra income, they also rented out two spaces in the four-car garage that came with the property. The house also had a full basement with two fruit cellars, one for our family, and one for the tenants who lived upstairs. My dad was very handy and over the years did a lot to fix up the house and improve it. My mother did the housekeeping, not an easy job with such a large family. Caring for six children and managing a large household on a tight budget in an era with few laborsaving devices gave Mom a full-time job.
The house my parents bought in 1934 and where I was born and grew up now has four apartments. A large bedroom, bath and sitting room were added to the back of the house in the mid 1940s. On the outside, the house looks very much the same as it did when I was growing up, except it was painted white while I lived there.
When I took this photo in 2008, the metal clothes poles my dad installed in the late 1940s, were still standing in the side yard. Although now rusted, they still stood straight, a testament of my dad's fine work.
With six active children and a husband whose job meant that he sometimes came home from work with his clothes grimy or greasy, it would seem that our house would be a mess or be dirty. But no, without fussing at either my dad or my siblings and me, Mom oversaw a clean and tidy household. No family member had a lot of personal items to make clutter, and the basement provided laundry, workshop and some storage space in the fruit cellar. The girls helped out by taking responsibility for cleaning our rooms, changing our bed sheets, and taking care of our clothes, including ironing them on Monday evenings. We also helped wash and dry the dishes after supper, which is the name we called the third meal of the day, dinner being the midday meal. Our help in this area dwindled as we got jobs that often took us away from home at mealtime.
Doing laundry took all day and required a lot of physical effort. On Mondays and Thursdays Mom washed clothes using an electric wringer washing machine and two square metal rinse tubs, which had four legs and were the same height as the wash machine. When not in use, the wash machine and rinse tubs, all of which were on wheels, stood against the basement wall.
On washdays, Mom wheeled the heavy washing machine to stand near the floor drain and situated the two tubs next to the washer. Using a hose extension attached to a basement sink faucet, Mom filled the washer and the tubs with water. After putting soap and the dirty clothes into the barrel of the washer, she had to watch the time since there were no timers or buzzers on the wash machine to indicate the washing was done. When the soapy clothes were ready to be rinsed, she ran them one at a time through the wringer into the first rinse water. Then she swung the wringer near the second rinse tub and ran the clothes into it. From there, the clothes were squeezed through the wringer one final time into an empty clothesbasket, which sat on the floor next to the rinse tub. While the clothes washed, Mom ran upstairs to check on lunch or do some other housework.
If the weather were good, Mom would carry the basket of heavy wet laundry and hang it on the outside clotheslines to dry. In winter or if the weather wasn't good, she would hang it on clotheslines in the basement. When dry, the clothes had to be lugged back inside and folded or dampened and made ready for ironing. In the evening, Mom and the girls of the family ironed the clothes that needed pressing.
The soapy wash water and the rinse waters would be reused to wash other loads of laundry before being drained to the floor sewer. This saved water and other resources, but also meant that the laundry had to be sorted and washed in a specific order. Whites and delicates were first, colors second and the very dirty work and play clothes last.
Mom scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom floors on her hands and knees. Often on Sundays, I awoke to the sound of her vacuuming the living room carpet in anticipation of company coming for Sunday dinner at midday.
Mom was a good, if not fancy, cook, and food preparation for a large, active family was a daily chore that never abated. Except for annual church or school picnics and mother-and-daughter banquets, we never ate out because we couldn't afford it. Our family was too large to be invited for meals to other people's houses. Moreover, since my dad was very gregarious and hospitable, we frequently had relatives and friends visiting or staying at our house and eating with us. One time an aunt and her two daughters stayed for six months.
I never saw a cookbook in our home--Mom seemingly cooked from memory. But she did study magazines like Woman's Day and Family Circle for nutrition and cooking tips. She was very organized and efficient about cooking--meals were always ready on time. Often on Mondays, we had homemade beef vegetable soup for our midday meal. Mom would dice vegetables and beef stew meat and simmer it in the deep cooker on the stove--that era's Crock Pot--before going to the basement to do laundry. Periodically, she would come upstairs to add something to the soup and stir it. I liked or loved most of Mom's cooking, but I disliked her beef stew because she thriftily added the liquid from canned green beans along with the green beans to it. The liquid may have had added nourishment that she didn't want to waste, but it gave the stew a taste that I found unpleasant.
Mom was also very flexible about meals and never complained about the additional work our varied schedules made for her. When I was in grammar school, my dad worked the night shift for a time, and we would have our main meal at noon. All of us children usually came home for lunch during our grammar school years since we lived only two blocks from school. I also came home for lunch while I was in high school because I didn't like the school's hot lunch program nor did I like taking sandwiches for lunch. After we children got part-time or summer jobs, we often worked odd hours, which meant we either had to eat early or late. Mom juggled it all and kept our meals warm for us even if we arrived home long after a mealtime.
After I married and while I was a stay-at-home wife and mother, I incorporated a number of Mom's recipes into my cooking repertoire including the recipes that follow. I no longer make any of Mom's recipes since most were meat-based or desserts, and I am now a vegetarian and I don't need the sugar and calories in desserts.
Gretchen's Meatballs and Gravy (Serves 3-4)
1 pound ground beef
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon horseradish
Soak crumbs in milk.
Add all other ingredients and mix well.
Shape into balls.
Brown in hot grease and remove from pan.
Pour off drippings after browning meatballs.
Add water to pan and scrape off brown bits from bottom of the pan.
Strain and use the liquid for gravy.
To make 2 cups of strained liquid, shake or stir 2 tablespoons flour into 1/2 cup of the liquid and whisk until smooth.
Add 1 1/2 cups more strained liquid.
Stir vigorously to remove lumps.
Stir in more strained liquid if too thick. The gravy should be thin.
Add about 1 teaspoon catsup for every 1/2 cup of gravy.
Return meatballs to gravy.
Simmer covered for 30 minutes.
Serve with peeled boiled potatoes or mashed potatoes. Sliced onions can be added to the gravy.
On Saturdays, Mom usually made something sweet. I especially liked her fried doughnuts and would sneak into the kitchen repeatedly on Saturday afternoons to gobble up a doughnut or a doughnut hole.
Gretchen's Doughnuts (Makes 2 dozen)
3 3/4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Sift flour, baking power, salt and nutmeg together and set aside
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat eggs well in a large bowl.
Add sugar, and continue beating.
Add melted butter or margarine, milk, and vanilla and mix well.
Slowly add sifted dry ingredients to egg mixture, hand beating after each addition until well mixed.
Lightly cover bowl.
Put dough into refrigerator overnight.
Roll out dough on floured surface.
Cut doughnuts with a floured cutter.
Fry doughnuts and doughnut holes in 375-degree deep fat until light brown.
Sugaring the Doughnuts
Put sugar into a clean paper bag.
Place doughnuts and doughnut holes into the bag while still warm.
Shake the bag to lightly coat the doughnuts with sugar.
Mom strained the fat and reused it or, during World War II, took it to a local meat market to be recycled into munitions.
Late every summer, Dad drove to various farms in our area and bought bushels and pecks of produce from local farmers. Mom spent days canning sour cherries, peaches, pears, jams, jellies, tomato juice, and dill and bread-and-butter pickles.
I hated canning time because the kitchen was steamy and hot, and I often was called on to strain the steaming, cooked tomatoes into juice. I would scoop the unpeeled, cooked tomatoes into a cone-shaped metal strainer braced inside a large pot. Holding the handle of the strainer with my left hand and a wooden mallet in my right hand, I would circle the mallet around the sides of the strainer. As the softened tomatoes were mashed against the strainer holes, tomato juice was expelled into the pot. After each pressing, I emptied the pulp residue into the garbage. Mom would take over the job from there.
When the canning for the day was done, the hot jars were lined up on a counter in the back hallway to cool and were later transferred to the fruit basement. Mom used the cherries for pie and kringle filling, and the tomato juice, which had some green pepper and onion flavoring in it, to make a spaghetti sauce, which now would be called marinara sauce.
Mom's canned goods were high quality and helped feed our family through the winter, but I never especially liked canned fruit or preserves. What I really liked that Mom made were her crock dill pickles. I don't know the exact ingredients for the brine, but I remember the feel of retrieving pickles from the crock, which sat in the basement. I would remove the block of wood and peel back the grape leaves that covered the cucumbers pickling in the brine. Then I would plunge my arm through the froth that formed at the top into the cool brine. Locating a pickle, I would pull it out and eat it. I did this often beginning the day after the crock showed up in the basement. The pickles were gone long before they became fully pickled, but I carry their deliciousness in my memory.
Love, marriage and family
Mom and Dad had a close and loving relationship. Dad called Mom Schatzie, which means darling in German. When at leisure, they flirted with each other. With his eyes half-closed and speaking more softly than usual, Dad would make some sort of silly or outrageous personal remark to Mom as she sat reading. She would look up, laugh softly and question it, and they would playfully banter like this for a while. Mom never shrugged Dad off when he put his arm around her to squeeze her or patted her derriere while she worked. She just smiled dreamily and enjoyed it.
I remember a Saturday afternoon ritual Mom and Dad had when I was young. Dad would come home from working a half-day of overtime at the factory and take a bath. Mom would go into the bathroom to scrub his back. As he enjoyed these house spa services, I could hear them having a pleasant conversation through the door. Of course, when the bath was over, Mom also had to clean the tub.
Mom was a true helpmate in their marriage. Because English was Dad's second language, he always felt uncomfortable writing it even though he read and understood it well and was not afraid of speaking up in English. Mom, therefore, did all the writing for them. At tax time, they would sit at the kitchen table. Dad would examine the records, determine what needed to be done and make the calculations. Mom prepared, completed, and mailed the necessary forms.
In the fall of 1943, I found Mom sitting at the sewing machine stitching something out of white flannel. When I asked her what she was doing, she told me she was making baby clothes for the upcoming church bazaar. This was about the time I told her I didn't like the two-piece dress she was wearing. Navy blue with white polka dots, the top hung loosely instead of being fitted. One morning the following January, I awoke to a surprise. I had a new baby brother. I was six and a half, but as was customary in those days, no one told me Mom was going to have a baby.
Years later when I was a young mother, I thought back on these incidents and realized Mom had been sewing kimonos for the expected baby and the navy two-piece polka-dotted outfit was a maternity dress. The fashion in that day and also when I was pregnant years later was to disguise the pregnancy as much as possible by wearing a loose dress instead of the belly-hugging clothes pregnant women wear today. For newborns, there were no footed jammies with snaps. Babies wore kimonos, which gave easy access for diaper changing, and booties to keep their feet warm.
Although I doubt Mom ever liked sewing and mending, having a large family with limited resources meant she did it without questioning if she liked doing it or not--it was her responsibility. Mom sewed quite a few of my clothes--dresses and skirts--until I was 12 when I began to buy my own clothes with money I earned. I never liked or appreciated the sewing Mom did for me and thought store-bought clothes were much better than the ones she made me. In retrospect, it was probably the styling and fashion of the store-bought clothes that I liked because they were what my classmates wore.
I remember one dress Mom made for me in December 1947 that I especially didn't like. The dress, made of wool in a tiny brown and tan checked pattern, had long sleeves with cuffs and a ruffled bib front. Mom's intentions were good--she wanted to give me a new dress to wear for the Christmas program at church. As a fifth grader, I was to stand at a microphone and recite from memory a portion of the Christmas story in front of the congregation. The style of the dress was okay and the dress was warm, but I hated the color, and wool was itchy on me. Also, I was beginning to want input on my clothes, and I was not consulted on the material. I suspect the material was a leftover that someone gave Mom.
My parents with five of their children in 1948 at the side yard of our house. First Row L-R: Verie, Don, Jerry. Second Row L-R: Flo, Dad, Mom, Dotty. Missing is Ruth. Mom sewed the skirt I was wearing.
Quiet and introspective, Mom nevertheless was friendly, kind and open to other people, and they liked and trusted her. She may not have agreed with other people's opinions, but she listened to them. Her ability to listen helped her to understand people and their motivations better and to weigh their influence. I especially remember the way she once pointed out the pomposity of someone. She shrugged her shoulders, gave a little laugh and bluntly said something that cut through the rhetoric to reveal the self-importance for what it was.
She was a worrier. As a teen know-it-all, I blithely told her to quit worrying when she expressed a concern to me. Now I know Mom had a lot to worry about since, despite her best efforts, being low on the economic and educational ladder, much of what happened in her life was out of her control or influence.
Mom was probably too self-effacing for her own good, but in that era, in her circle, men admired a self-effacing woman. Perhaps it was her unconscious strategy to deal with gender inequalities and to be liked by men.
Mom and my brother Don on vacation at John Lake, Wisconsin, in August 1956. For several summers around this time, my parents vacationed with a number of other couples from our church at this fishing camp.
While I was growing up and as was the style at the time, Mom wore housedresses when she worked around the house and didn't have slacks of any kind. Always practical, she took to wearing slacks in her fifties as she and my dad began to take yearly vacations.
When my summer job fell through, I accompanied my parents on this trip and after a year of college life, I was thoroughly bored. I snapped this photo with my Brownie camera.
While Mom was engaged in rearing her children and managing a household, she was so bright, so capable, so engrossed, and so motivated that I think she hardly missed having more education and developing a career. As her children bypassed her in education and left home, she likely felt vulnerable about her lack of schooling. I remember a conversation I had with her after I had children and was a stay-at-home mother. As she and I chatted during one of our family's periodic visits to my parents, I noted my concerns about not working and losing out on advancing in the workplace. "At least you have an education and can get a good job if something happens to Alan (my husband at the time)," she sharply retorted in a tone that carried submerged anger. Little did I know then that I would face that situation when several years later, my husband left our family.
At a family reunion in 2004, my brother Don, the youngest of Mom's children, told us how Mom reacted when he left home.
"After I had graduated from the University of Michigan, I took a job for the summer as an engineer for Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati. The morning that I left home to go to Cincinnati, Mom just utterly broke down and cried and hugged me. She couldn’t say anything."
While my mother excelled in her life's work as wife, mother and homemaker, she knew it wasn't enough for the world that was emerging. I know she would have done well if she had been able to further her education.
In June 1968, my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.
Family members gather with my parents to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in June 1968. Unfortunately, my brother Don who lives in California was unable to make it.
Rear row standing L-R: Jerry (son); Alan (my former husband); Verie (daughter); granddaughter Gretchen being held by Claire (Jerry's wife); Otto (husband); Flo (daughter); Gretchen (mother); Ruth (daughter); Bill, Sr. (Dotty's husband); Dotty (daughter)
Front row L-R: David (grandson); Pam (granddaughter); Heidi (granddaughter) Bill Jr. (grandson); Shelley (granddaughter); Wendy (granddaughter)
Three grandsons, Peter, Daniel, and Kyle, were born after this photo was taken. In retrospect, I'm glad so many of my parents' descendants could make it since Mom died nine months before Mom and Dad would have celebrated their golden anniversary.
I wrote the following poem for the occasion.
A 40TH ANNIVERSARY RHYME
Congratulations to Mom and Dad!
We are happy and very glad
To celebrate your anniversary with you.
It’s forty years since you said, “I do.”
The 17th of June in 1928
That was the big, important date
When Gretchen was the beautiful bride
And Otto the groom was at her side.
They were forty years of joy and happiness,
No sorrows too big, but some hard times, yes.
They were years of raising a family
And earning a living at Auto Specialties.
First came Dotty, how proud you were
Your baby was bright, how you loved her.
Then daughter Flo was born to you,
A sensitive girl and winsome, too.
Ruth was daughter number three
Shy, pretty and neat was she.
Five years more and on a May morn,
A fourth girl, capable Verie, was born.
Clever Jerry arrived, what boundless joy,
O happy day, you finally had a boy!
And then in another five years hence
Came son Don who had many talents.
And so Otto and his spouse
Raised their family in a big white house.
The family has grown, and they each have gone their way,
But they’ve returned to honor you this day.
It’s true this rhyme is very amateur,
But the wish it brings is very sincere.
For the years ahead, health and happiness, too,
Mom and Dad, may God bless you!
The same year that my Mom and Dad celebrated their 40th anniversary, Dad retired. Dad loved to travel and later that year, they made a trip to Germany to visit two of Dad's brothers who had settled in Germany after World War I when my dad's large family was driven off its land in what was then Russia. Germany was still divided when they visited, and one brother lived in West Germany and the other brother and his family lived in East Germany. My dad had not seen the brother in East Germany since the family split up after World War I. For several years around this time, my parents also spent a month in Florida during the winter.
But the pleasant events of retirement were cut short when Mom began to show signs of dementia. In 1974, Dad sold the big house and moved into a smaller one where he and my sister Ruth tenderly cared for Mom as her health rapidly declined. Although I made several trips to visit my parents while my mother was ill, unfortunately, I was unable to offer much additional support. I was struggling with the break-up of my marriage and the full-time responsibility for my children, and there wasn't much of me left over to do more.
The last time I saw my mother alive was during a visit in late July 1977. The weather was lovely, and my mom and I sat on lawn chairs in the back yard of their small house. We sat quietly staring at the yard as Mom sat mute, seemingly beyond my reach. After a while, I began to sing Mom's favorite hymn:
"Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide;
Mom joined in, her voice firm, the words somehow remembered,
"The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!"
I understand now why this was her favorite hymn. Over and over in her life, she faced difficulties that she felt were greater than her capacity to deal with them. Yet, over and over, she met the challenge with intelligence and care, all the while maintaining her trademark kindness.
Mom died about two months after my visit. I don't claim to have extra-sensory perception, but on the morning of her death, I believe I had an ESP-type experience. At the time, long-distance calls were expensive and not something we did more than weekly. I wasn't in touch with her day-to-day condition the way under similar circumstances I would be today. About 9 AM, I felt she was near death even though I had not been informed that she had previously been admitted to the hospital for an evaluation prior to being moved to a nursing home. All morning, my thoughts were of Mom, on Mom. Anxiously I breathed, I prayed, I hoped for her comfort. The call came. Mom had contracted pneumonia in the hospital and died from it. She was 72, the age I will be on my next birthday.
Mom and Dad at Christmas 1976. Although the term Alzheimer's was not used at the time, Mom likely had advanced Alzheimer's disease when this photo was taken. She died the following September.
Of Mom's descendents, all six of her children attended college, and four of them obtained advanced degrees. Carrying the sense of responsibility and work ethic their mother gave them, all held responsible positions in their careers, and none ever lost a job. Her ten grandchildren all graduated from college. One became an attorney, two received PhDs, one obtained a master's degree, and another is working on a master's. Mom's descendents currently live across the United States in the Midwest, the East, the West, the North, and the South.
In memory of Gretchen, my mother, with love, admiration and thanks.
1. Genealogical survey completed by my mother on April 23, 1966.
2. Certified copy of birth certificate.
3. Handwritten letters from my mother sent to me between 1962 and 1964.
4. Newspaper clippings from the local newspaper in my hometown.
5. Conversations and correspondence with my siblings and others regarding their memories of my mother.
6. My memory of events and what my mother told me.
My dad proposes to my mother. Published September 4, 2007
My Father: A life well lived. Published March 11, 2008
Grandma: A life well lived. Published February 1, 2008
All posts related to my memoirs are being tagged Tellings, the title I've assigned to the complete collection.