And in this corner… | Aug. 10, 2018

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It’s interesting how the mind works. I was in my car driving across town and had a memory triggered out of nowhere. Something in the air brought back a floodgate of memories of this woman I used to know years ago. She was already old when I met her, probably about 67. It’s strange because I hadn’t thought much about her until recently. She was a very sweet, caring and intelligent woman with a dark view of the world, believing all the conspiracies that the government is at work to keep things from the people.

This memory trigger reminded me of a scene out of the 1940 Shirley Temple movie The Blue Bird. In her search for the blue bird, Shirley comes across her grandparents’ headstones, and they both reappear and come back to life, waking up enthusiastically to see Shirley and her little brother. But after a short visit she runs off quickly, and the grandparents go back to sleep and disappear until the next time someone thinks of them. I hope I woke up this woman’s spirit as I replayed all the memories and recollections.

She had befriended me immediately when we first met, and I was fortunate to see her a lot over a twenty five period.

She was born in 1900, in Libau Latvia. She came across to the U.S. through Halifax in 1904. Her father was a metal worker and had worked on Eddie Rickenbacker’s race cars in the 1920s. Her mom was a housewife who took care of all the kids but lost one in an accident.

I learned a lot about her “Merry Hearts Club” with all her friends when she was in school and later living through two world wars, the Great Depression, and seeing the first television, the space race and all the presidents. She was a living encyclopedia, and I was treated to all the firsthand accounts of these fascinating things.

I liked hearing about her two sisters and together they were nicknamed the “Dolly Sisters.” One sister was an excellent knitter, doing so with her tongue sticking out, spending hours working on quilts for family members. The other sister was the sweetest, most charitable and excellent host of feasts. They never liked to say goodbye each time they got together.

I learned that my friend met her husband in the sixth grade and never dated anyone else. They were married by age 20. Her husband became a draftsman for the state of Illinois working on public works projects. He had a patent for a cigar-wrapping machine but lost it in the Depression. He also lost his job in the Depression and became a debit agent for Metropolitan Life Insurance going door to door to collect a nickel at a time from families towards their insurance policies. He would sit in the park and cry about what he was doing for a living. As time passed, the woman became an office worker in Chicago as she raised her two kids.

She worked in a drug store when her daughter was in college at the University of Illinois.

Her son was a doctor who, after serving in the army, went on to become a psychiatrist, later a Freudian analyst. Her daughter became a school teacher with a long career out west.

She and her husband had moved downstate to Springfield in 1938 and stayed there until retirement. Neither one of them ever learned to drive a car. There they lived a very quiet and insular life, mostly working, playing cards and mahjong, and lots of golf.

They enjoyed symphonies and saw every traveling musical that went through Springfield.

She and her husband visited the kids out in California and packed up and moved to Belmont Heights to be close to them after retiring in 1963.

She had a special radar, sonar, barometer and a sixth sense. She would call our house on the hunch that someone happened to be home sick to see what was the matter. And she was always right. One of us kids would be home with a cold or flu.

She also had a special vibration. The family dog would start to act unsettled and move around anxiously, and my dad would go outside as the woman was just turning the corner heading down our block after taking the bus across town. The dog didn’t act that way for anyone else.

Her husband was always a quiet man who loved a good cigar, classical music and his family. He would stand at the kitchen window or front porch jingling the change in his pocket while he waited for visitors to come over. He died suddenly one day after 18 holes of golf at Recreation Park. He just got on the bus to come home and keeled over.

The woman carried on and was surrounded by her family.

Photos courtesy Blair Cohn

I was really privileged to hear her play her favorite song on the piano– “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo.”

I enjoyed taking her to the grocery store from time to time, and we’d talk about life or silly stuff. She’d tell me stories, and I’d share what was going on at school or work. She told me that she enjoyed watching The Lawrence Welk Show on Sunday nights.

As we became closer, we even shared many special holidays and events together.

The day of my college graduation– after all the on-campus hoopla, photo ops and general celebration about my being done with school– my mom and I got in the car, picked up some sandwiches and headed to the woman’s house so we could talk about the day and share the graduation details with her. We sat on the front porch of her Leisure World apartment just being quiet, listening only to the sounds of the wind through the chimes and smelling the salty Seal Beach air. It was the best sandwich I have ever had.

I remember when she got sick with uterine cancer. She was 92 and decided that any type of heavy treatment at her age wouldn’t be worth it. She passed away in August of 1992.

I can find myself tied up in the daily routine of life, and lots of time has passed since I last saw the woman. I should remind myself more or remember her more often because it was a very special relationship.

Now that I am reminiscing and thinking back to all these memories, it all comes back to me. I certainly do miss her and wish I got to know her even better as an adult and parent.

Life lesson is that it’s important to foster these relationships, hold on to them and not take them for granted.

I wish I had known her better. My Gramma Ruth.