Paul’s Perambulations

December 31, 2012

My Memorial for my Mother (died at age 102), given 12/29/12

Filed under: Family,Love — admin @ 2:54 pm

I’d like to say some things about my Mom’s full life; others will likely say things more recent about her (recent, for my Mom’s life, is all relative. That might be things from grandchildren or great-grandchildren that cover only the past few decades or so).

Some of Mom’s particular interests were good music, edifying travel, education, and of course her family.

Her interest in music started early in life. As a child, she was the youngest member of a string quartet composed of the four Otto sisters who performed for various church and civic groups. Her devotion to music continued throughout her life, and I suspect that she was one of the longest regular ticket holders of her beloved Boston Symphony – a loyal attender for many decades. “Going to symphony” was how she put it, and she would describe wintry blizzard concerts where the total number of players and listeners was hardly more than are in this right church now. Our Christmas present for her six years ago was to take her to the Boston Pops for a Christmas concert – her last time at Symphony Hall.

Mom was always “on the go” and began driving at age 12 by chauffeuring her mother about town (with permission of her neighbor, the police chief). She continued driving well into her 90s. (by the way, that’s “well into her 90s” not necessarily driving well in her 90s – I always drive carefully on Sunday mornings, thinking that that person in front of me could be somebody’s great-grandmother on her way to church).

My Mom was the first female math major at Marietta College. When I commended her for her trail-blazing interest in math, she replied, “Well, I really didn’t have that much interest in math, but it was easy for me and your father was a math major, so it seemed like a good idea.” Hmmm.

During college in the 20s, to protest Japanese incursions into Korea and China, Mom and her sorority sisters burned their silk stockings (made in Japan) on the library steps. They first poured red Mercurochrome on them, symbolic of their cost in blood. (I sometimes wonder if this sort of thing could be genetic. I didn’t even hear about this until I described some of the things I was doing, and she nonchalantly replied “Oh, yes.”)

Throughout her life, she was always taking courses in one thing or another. As a senior, she kept busy with lifetime learning programs

Education, travel, and music were all combined in the most formative experience of her early married life, living in Nazi Germany before the Second World War while my father did graduate work in religion at the University of Berlin.  She spoke appreciatively of how she and Dad would attend the opera in Berlin, standing in the student section.  They were aghast at the Nazi regime and allied themselves with those who were opposed to the government. Mom told of when they attended a special church service to demonstrate opposition to the Nazis. When the minister (apparently Pastor Niemoeller) began to speak critically of the government, a band of SS soldiers marched noisily down the center aisle of the church and arrested him in his pulpit. As a child, I was always impressed that our home movies had clips of both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin in public appearances.

As well as living in Germany and visiting Palestine and the Middle East, they were interested in seeing the Soviet Union. At that time the Communist Party was the only party in America that supported equality for women (“women’s rights” as it became popularly known decades later) and also equality of all races. But what they saw with their own eyes showed them that the Soviet Union was not what it was purported to be.

Anyhow, that picture of Joseph Stalin. They happened to be in Moscow on May Day for the annual Soviet May Day parade in Red Square. There was an American contingent in the parade, so they joined in and got their movie of Joe and the entire Politburo in the reviewing stand.

That reminds me of a story from some decades ago. I somewhat hesitatingly told Mom that I was hanging out with the Socialist Labor Party. Mom: “Oh no! Not the Communists.” Paul: “No, no, no; the Socialist Labor Party, a legal political party more than a century old.” Mom: “Thank goodness, not the Communists.” I thought to myself “Wonderful, somebody who knows there’s a difference.”

Mom travelled all over the world, with many adventures. She made a point of traveling light, taking only a travel bag that she could carry on her shoulder. One time in Africa, Mom wanted to go from Zimbabwe to Zambia over the Victoria Falls Bridge. She was warned not to cross the bridge because terrorists had been shooting at tourists recently. My mother, not considering herself to be a tourist, walked across the bridge to have her passport stamped at the border crossing on the far side.

Then there was the time in India when a chartered bus arrived at the hotel to give her group a tour of the city. She was the only one to show up, healthy, ready and eager to learn more, and had a private tour of the city with her own bus and driver. At the conclusion, her tour guide commented “Madame is not a tourist, Madame is a traveler.” Indeed she was.

Every year, for years, she would call to tell us that she was about to be away for a couple of weeks, always with some sort of destination or purpose – maybe there was an anniversary celebration for Bach and she wanted to attend a special Bach concert at his church in Leipzig, or maybe she wanted to see a particular museum in Barcelona, or to see Mount Everest.   Another time she called to let me know that she was leaving the next day for Santiago. I had to ask “What Santiago – Spain, Chile, or where?” (It was Chile.) She always combined travel with her interest in education and music.

Mom came from a line of travelers and explorers. Her grandparents were missionaries from Alsace-Lorraine to northern Canada. Uncle Hermann Andree nearly died in an attempt to be the first person to reach the North Pole.  Uncle Herman was on the lookout for any trace of Salomon August Andree, a relative who had been lost in the late l9th century while trying to reach the North Pole by balloon flight.  Uncle Herman didn’t make it to the North Pole on the Baldwin-Ziegler expedition, but at least he did make it back, leaving behind only his amputated toes frozen in the frozen north.  My mother would tell me how, as a child, Uncle Herman showed her the toes, or rather, showed her where the toes were not, as part of telling the story. Apparently this made an impression on her as a child.

Mom enjoyed phenomenal good health, living in her own home until she was 93. She was always driving or taking the bus somewhere. She was an avid driver, but when driving became more difficult, she became an avid bus rider. She would take the bus to Symphony in Boston or Providence, or the bus to concerts in Newport.

She was hospitalized at age 87 for the first time since I was born fifty-five years earlier, and successfully recovered from a condition that was generally fatal. My Mom felt fortunate about her good health and used to say that she had never had any arthritis. I think that until her final year or two, we sometimes wondered if she might not outlive us all.

She lived a full life, both with my father until his death in l971 and then by herself in her own home.  My parents enjoyed a beautiful and loving marriage, and I am truly fortunate to have had them as my parents and am grateful for this.  Mom came from a large extended family, and now the very last of that generation is gone.  Her life was always “on the go” –filled with traveling, meeting people, music, and education.  I well remember our family trips every summer, when we would pile into the car and drive to a different part of the United States each year.  My mother would be the first in the car, at 6 a.m., always telling the rest of us “Let’s Go!”  “Let’s Go!”  That was her signature phrase, and now my mother has got up and went.

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