Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bye, Mom

I last posted on Tuesday. One thing that has happened since then I that I caught a cold – an extra deep voice on Thursday, adding a drippy nose on Friday. You know the story. The other thing that happened…

Mom died.

I had spent Wednesday evening at the Ruth Ellis Center and, once home, saw an email from brother Tom. The subject was “Mom” and the contents, “Call me.” It was easy to guess what the phone call would be about.

When I saw Mom a week ago I could see she wouldn’t last long. Tom proceeded to prepare a place for her in his house for her final days. On Wednesday a hospital bed was delivered and set up. As the workmen finished their work Tom got the call saying Mom had passed. He told them to take it away.

Mom had worsening Alzheimer’s since 2003, eventually requiring professional care at a residence near Tom. But it was cancer that took her life. The most obvious sign was the tumor in her mouth, but it also grew in lymph nodes and probably invaded other parts of her body. She wasn’t eating much and likely the food she did eat fed the cancer.

So while I sniffle from the cold I’ve also been working on the consequences of death – beginning to notify investment companies, emailing with relatives to choose a date for the memorial service, writing an obituary (which always seem so sparse), sending forms to the funeral home near Tom, and notifying the church (the one Mom and Dad attended for more than a half century). And my big project is to assemble photos of Mom to display during visitation.

As I’ve been cleaning out Mom and Dad’s house over the last two years I’ve found lots of photos, in particular an estimated 3000 slides. I’ve digitized perhaps half of them and know the treasures. Now I shifted to simply looking through the rest of the slides for images on Mom. Between the slides and digitized photos I have a folder of more than 70 images. I’ll get the slides professionally printed to display during visitation. Alas, my collection doesn’t include images from 1992 to 2015, after Dad got a digital camera. Dad certainly didn’t stop taking pictures. But I don’t have them.

An obituary seems sparse. A full life condensed to one short newspaper column. So this post is an attempt to be a bit less sparse. Even so, one can’t summarize a long life in a blog post.

Mom was born in July of 1929 in St. Louis. She missed her 88th birthday by less than a month. She and her sisters were preacher’s kids. At her birth her father was already working as a preacher at a new church in New Orleans. Her birth was in St. Louis so her mother could be with family.

At five years old and with two younger sisters the family moved back to St. Louis where her father took over a large church in south St. Louis. He served there for 25 years and this is where Mom grew up.

This photo is of the three girls in 1937. Mom is on the right. They are about to be flower girls for their aunt’s wedding.

During the Depression and the War the family did pretty well. Because he was a pastor her father got extra gasoline ration cards to make sure he could visit his congregation in their homes. If he managed to save up a few the family visited relatives in farms outside the city.

Mom went to Heidelberg College in northern Ohio. The reason for a school so far from home is it was associated with her father’s denomination, Evangelica Reformed. This is where she met Dad. He attended (for two years before switching to Ohio State) because it was less than 25 miles from the farm. This is them in 1949.

Dad told the story: On a cold Sunday morning Mom took the bus from college to a tiny village a couple miles from the farm. Something delayed milking that morning so Dad was late picking her up. In addition, he still wore his stinky barn clothes. When they got to the house they could tell a skunk had done its thing under the back porch. All those odors did not kill the budding romance. Dad says Mom passed the smell test.

Mom majored in Christian Education, something suitable for a woman of the era. Mom may have worked at a church for a while after marriage, but that ended when kids started arriving. Though Mom didn’t earn a paycheck she did put her education to work in the church’s Sunday School and Vacation Bible School programs.

Mom graduated on Saturday, June 2, 1951 (I just found her diploma, which is dated Monday, June 4). Dad graduated on Saturday, June 9. They were married Saturday, June 16 in St. Louis. Mom’s father walked her down the aisle, then turned around and officiated for the ceremony. The couple spent their honeymoon in St. Louis. Amazingly, her father allowed them the use of his car for the weekend. From photos I’ve seen it looks like the following weekend, back in Ohio, Mom and Dad had a weekend at Lake Erie – with Dad’s brother and sister tagging along.

The couple moved to Champaign, Illinois where Dad got his Master of Dairy Science at the University of Illinois. This is where my twin brothers were born. On graduating Dad applied to work at bull farms from Oregon to Connecticut. The only one with an opening was in Springfield, Missouri. This is where my third brother was born.

But the boss was one of these characters who knew everything. After 18 months, Dad had enough and quit. Mom was not pleased – she was caring for 3 active boys and I was on the way. The family moved to the farm, where Mom became the primary caretaker of the farmhouse – quite a change for the city girl. This is where I and my first sister were born.

She did this for 2½ years, until Dad got a job at IBM (at the dawn of the computer age and quite a switch from Dairy Science) and could save enough money to buy a house in Cleveland. This is where the second sister was born. We lived there until Dad was transferred to Flint in 1963 to work on the General Motors accounts. We moved in January of 1964. What sold the house was Mom standing in the living room and looking at the snow-covered pine trees in the back yard.

From 1966 to 1972 there were annual road trips. The first one was a four week journey to Los Angeles, where Dad’s sister was living. For the first one we has a station wagon towing a pop-up camper. We also added a cousin, so there were 9 of us in that little car before air conditioning was standard. And around Palm Springs it got up to 118F.

In 1967 we went to New York City (where Dad had to work for two weeks and we camped outside the city) then on to Montreal for the World’s Fair. There was a memorable (for Mom) day near Kingston, NY where Dad again had to work and Mom was stuck in the camper trying to keep six kids entertained while it rained all day.

In 1968 we had a van, which made travel more comfortable, so we could add two cousins for a trip to Yellowstone. The last big trip was to Boston in 1972. The twins did not want to go because they were already in college and had girlfriends. But they did.

And, yes, Mom did most of the same household chores, though at a propane stove in the woods. She got as much help as she did at home – my brothers, who were in Explorer Scouts, could make a bonfire and cook over it. At home we all learned to cook.

Here is a picture of the camper, the front of the van, and the twins during that trip to Boston.

Both Mom and Dad were active in the local church. Mom served on practically every committee. She was active in the women’s group, also serving as president. Four sons played in the bell choir, so after I graduated from high school Mom joined and played for 28 years. There were many Christmas Eves where I played bells at my church, then jumped in the car to hear Mom’s group play at the late service.

Once all of us were out of the house Mom joined the Flint chapter of Church Women United. She served as president of that group too. Mom grew up Evangelical Reformed. She married a Methodist with an Episcopal mother-in-law. One son became Catholic. Naturally, she became a part of a group that reached across denominations and advocated for women.

Outside the church Mom was a Cub Scout Den Mother and helped when my sisters were in the early stages of Girl Scouts. She also was pretty good with a sewing machine, making clothes for herself and us (though mostly daughters). She supported us in all we did, attending concerts and shows that we were a part of.

Of course, there were grandchildren, eventually 14, some living nearby, some requiring travel to visit, which Mom and Dad did frequently. The current count of great-grandchildren is 32. They visited family in St. Louis and Ohio and helped organize family reunions. They came to stay with me for five weeks when I lived in Cologne, Germany. They visited a brother when he lived in London and they all went to Russia for a week on a river boat. There were also trips to China, Israel, Hawaii, and Alaska.

Mom had bouts of skin cancer at age 50 and 55. Spots were removed from her cheek. There was also breast cancer in there somewhere, though I don’t remember when. Even so, Mom and Dad remained vital and active parts of the church and community. For Mom that faded as the Alzheimer’s increased beginning at age 74. For Dad that continued until his final illness at age 86.

Goodbye, Mom. And thank you.

At her 87th birthday

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