Mary Welch Steinhoff 1921 – 2015

Mother in her wedding / funeral dress – June 15. 2015

I was in Tulsa recovering from my niece’s wedding when my cell photo rang at 7:10 a.m.

The call was brief and to the point: “This is the Lutheran Home. Your mother died this morning at 7 o’clock. She was fine when we checked on her throughout the night, but she was dead when we went to dress her for breakfast.”

Mary Steinhoff meets Finn 06-16-2015
Mary meets Finn 06-16-2015

What made the call a particular surprise was that she had rallied in the last month: her appetite had come back, she was gaining weight, her physical therapy was moving along, she was the patient the staff enjoyed hanging out with because she would joke and tease them.

When my sons and grandsons came through town, she regaled them with stories I had never heard before. (Not every mother has stolen a dump truck. Or, specified that a suitor write her letters only in a specific color of ink that wasn’t available locally.) When I spoke to her at 8 p.m. Sunday night to tell her that I was going to be stuck in Tulsa for another day because of car trouble, her voice was strong.

Maybe she had been holding on until she saw her family one last time. She didn’t make it to Tulsa for the wedding, but she DID get to have a Facetime session with the bride and groom right after the ceremony.

I spent the next hour notifying family, close friends and neighbors. I managed to get through the process with only a few tissues – the room must have been dusty – and a few fishbones stuck in my throat.

It’s going to be the little things

Ken Steinhoff Baby Book Hopalong CassidyIt’s going to be the little things that hit me.

On the way back to Cape, we passed through a bunch of towns – Mountain View, Ellsinore, Poplar Bluff – whose names I could remember because Dad had pulled our house trailer with its folding white picket fence to them so we could live near his jobs. I know there are more of them, but it hit me hard that I have nobody left who can fill in the blanks.

Dad died in 1977

Kentucky Lake Slides 25I had always wanted to sit down with Dad and a map of the region to have him fill in all the roads, bridges, sewer lines, airfields and dams he had built. Who would expect a man 60 to keel over and be dead while building a sandbox for your kid? That’s another hole in my life.

This afternoon, while editing this piece, the nap magnet snatched me up. While I was setting my alarm for a 22-minute nap, I saw two alarms I can delete. One of them was for 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. That was to remind me to turn on the Wheel of Fortune. Once Mother got strong enough mentally and physically that she didn’t need me to be literally holding her hand all the time, she’d say, “Why don’t you take a nap until this is over?” She didn’t have to ask me twice.

I will never watch The Wheel again so long as I live.

The Sunday Night 7:30 call

Telephone similar to ones in kitchen and basementThe other alarm is going to be harder to delete. For most of my adult life, no matter where I was, I called Cape at 7:30 on Sunday evenings to check in. Steinhoffs don’t talk long. Rarely did our conversations stretch more than 10 minutes. Dad was always interested in what stories I was covering and what was going on with my job. It took a long time for me to get past wanting to share those things with him. I still wish I could give him a ring for advice from time to time.

Mother’s conversations would generally be about the weather, what her friends were doing, the price of gas, what was going on with the other family members. She also was a person who didn’t say “Good bye.” When she was done talking, she was done, and you’d be listening to dial tone. It was a trait that was passed on to me. My guys would say, “You’d better say it fast, and you’d better not sound like the call is wrapping up, or the next thing you’ll hear is a click.”

Maybe I’ll leave that one around for awhile. I won’t set it, but it’ll always be there.

Funeral instructions

MLS Card 06-03-2015 Several years ago, Mother told Wife Lila what she wanted to happen when she was gone. She wanted no church service, no sad music (specifically banning Amazing Grace, one of my favorites), no big hoopla, she wanted a bunch of balloons released at the graveside, and she wanted to wear her favorite dress.

We’re going to gather at Ford and Sons Funeral Home on Mount Auburn Road from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, June 24. Since nearly all of her peers have already moved on to gossip and quibble from perches on clouds, we don’t expect a lot of people to show up. We’re having an informal service – no ministers, no funeral director, and no set program. We may just sit around sharing memories and stories.

After I posted the news on Facebook Monday, I received an unbelievable flood of comments from many of you who recalled stories I had almost forgotten. I sense that Mary Welch Steinhoff was the mother everybody wished they had. She claimed that she didn’t like perfect strangers coming up to her in stores asking, “Aren’t you Ken’s Mom?” but she really loved the attention.

Formal obit

Here’s the formal information from the obit I wrote:

Mary Lee Welch Steinhoff, 93, of 1618 Kingsway Drive, died Monday, June 22, at the Lutheran Home. She was born Oct. 17, 1921, in Stoddard County, the daughter of Roy and Elsie Adkins Welch.
She and L.V. Steinhoff were married Jan. 7, 1942. He died in 1977. A brother, Kenneth Welch, died in 1935.
She is survived by three sons: Kenneth L. Steinhoff (Lila), West Palm Beach, Fla.; David L. Steinhoff (Diane), Tulsa, OK.; Mark L. Steinhoff (Robin), St. Louis. She had four grandchildren: Matthew (Sarah) and Adam (Carly), Florida; Kimberly Tisdale (Casey), Austin, TX, and Amy Hawkins (Ian), Dallas, TX.
She had four great-grandsons: Malcolm, Graham, Elliot and Finn Steinhoff of Florida, and three great-granddaughters: Brynn, Taylor and Emery Tisdale of Austin, TX.
Mary Steinhoff was a housewife, but she has become well known for the tales told about her in her son’s blog.
Visitation and an informal service will be held from noon until 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 24, at Ford and Sons Funeral Home on Mount Auburn Road. She will be buried in New Lorimier Cemetery next to L.V. Steinhoff.

 Holy cow! That’s a lot of posts

I can understand why my readers feel like they know Mother. Here’s a partial list of the posts I’ve done on her. They are arranged by date.

Mother and Elvis near Dothan 04-04-2011

Nixon and a Pigskin Purse

Pigskin coin purse from Mexico c 1949; gift to KLS from Elsie WelchMy original headline read “Stuck in the Sock Drawer,” but I changed it because “Nixon” will score higher with the search engines.

Even that headline was a little misleading, because we’re not going to talk about my exact sock drawer, although there ARE a lot of weird things hiding in there, too.

Many years ago, my grandmother gave me a good wooden  box that was probably supposed to hold jewelry. It’s been a catchall for heirlooms of no real value, something that became apparent when our house was burgled a few years ago.

The crooks made off with some of Wife Lila’s jewelry that was rich in sentimental value, but not worth much in dollars. The mopes didn’t even bother to root through my box.

Maybe they feared the curse of the pigskin purse, a souvenir my grandmother, Elsie Welch, brought back from Mexico (the country, not the county seat of Audrain County, MO, where the annual Miss Missouri pageant is held) when I was about two years old.

I never had much money as a kid, so the poor pig was always pretty skinny. Now, nearly seven decades later, he still hasn’t put on much weight.

Elvis Presley and President Nixon

Richard Nixon presidential cufflinks given to KLS by Ollie AtkinsOllie Atkins, President Richard Nixon’s official photographer, was a speaker at a National Press Photographers Association conference I attended. To be honest, I thought Atkins was a pretty pedestrian photographer kept around for dull grip ‘n’ grin shots of dignitaries. His photos perfectly captured the wooden Richard Nixon.

One of his images, though, according to a 2012 story in The Guardian, is one of the most requested images in the National Archives and Records Administration, more popular even than the Bill of Rights or the Constitution of the United States. It’s the photo of Dick Nixon and Elvis Presley shaking hands after a secret meeting in the White House.

Presley wrote Nixon a six-page letter requesting a meeting with the president and suggesting he be made a “Federal Agent at Large” in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The events leading up to and after the meeting are detailed in the documentation and photographs included at this link, which include Presley’s handwritten letter, memoranda from Nixon staff and aides, and the thank-you note from Nixon for the gifts (including a Colt 45 pistol and family photos) that Presley brought with him to the Oval Office.

Nixon cufflinks

Richard Nixon presidential cufflinks given to KLS by Ollie AtkinsFrom time to time during the conference, the moderator would draw numbers for door prizes. After Ollie’s presentation, he reached into the box and pulled out mine. Instead of some cool photo equipment, I was presented a pair of presidential cufflinks. That prize was especially ironic because, up until I picked Bill Hopkins to run my campaign for student body president of Central High School, I thought I might get to wear a set of cufflinks like these some day.

They have never been out of the box. When I scanned them tonight, I pulled the lining of the box out to see if anything cool, like the nuclear launch codes or something, was behind them. I am sad to report the bottom of the box was empty.

You can click on the photos to make them larger, but ignore all the white specks: I didn’t bother to dust the plush lining in the box.

Matchless Nixon

Nikon Air Force 1 matches given to KLSOllie must have sweetened the pot by tossing in a box of matches from Air Force One.

I beat the devil

Nikon Air Force 1 matches given to KLSWhile I was looking at the unused book of presidential matches, I thought of Kris Kristofferson’s song, To Beat the Devil, about a down-and-out guitar player. It contains the line, “I ain’t sayin’ I beat the devil, but I drank his beer for nothing. Then I stole his song.”

Well, I never got to be President, but I ended up with his cufflinks and his matches.

Other encounters with Richard Nixon

I’m a Year Younger!

Ken Steinhoff celebrates birthday in Advance with Elsie WelchMarch 24th is my birthday. Like I wrote last year, since I thought I wouldn’t make it past 60, I haven’t paid much attention to birthdays.

Sunday afternoon, the Florida Clan (note “clan” is spelled with a “c,” not a “K”) descended on the house. In addition to Matt, Sarah, Adam, Carly, Malcolm, Graham and Elliot, Neighbor Bill and Friend Anne showed up for ribs, turkey burgers and birthday cake.

Miz Anne, bike partner and Road Warrior, had the temerity to ask me how old I was going to be. I suspect she was flaunting her youth.

“Sixty-eight,” I replied without hesitation, “if I make past midnight.”

“You’re not going to be 68”

“You’re not going to be 68,” Wife Lila responded. “You are only 66. You were born in 1947. You’re going to be 67.”

I didn’t bother to pull out a calculator because it was a given if I wanted to make it past midnight to whatever my new age was going to be, the right answer was, “Yes, Dear.”

(When I got back to my office, though, I pulled out my calculator and did the math. Not unexpectedly, she was right.)

So, I just got a year younger instead of a year older. (I wonder how many forms I filled out over the past 12 months where I claimed to be 67?)

I hate to break the news to Curator Jessica. She checks the obits every morning to see if she can lay claim to my Ohio photo collection for the Athens County Historical Society’s museum, and she’s going to be sorely disappointed to find out I’m not as old as she thought.. (Although, in her case, she has to stand on a stepladder to see 30, so I don’t know if she can tell the distinction between pretty old and REALLY old.)

By the way, you can click on the photo at the top of the page to see me celebrate my birthday with my Grandmother in Advance before my cute wore off.

Portraits for the Ages

Bollinger County Memorial Park Marble HillI spent a lot of my younger years in Southeast Missouri cemeteries because Mother and Grandmother made a point of keeping fresh decorations on the graves of family and friends. As a child, I was fascinated by two things in the Advance cemetery where my namesake, Kenneth Welch, was buried.

A few rows over from his stone was a marker with a photograph on it. On the left as you made the circle to leave the cemetery was a wooden box with a glass cover. Inside was an intricate hair bouquet made from the deceased’s hair. The ceramic photo is still on the first marker, but there is no trace of the bouquet on the second one, and I’ve not been able to figure out which grave it marked.

Since then, I’ve been acutely aware of gravestones with photos on them. My interest was rekindled when I saw a photo of a young woman in her coffin on a stone in a church outside Gordonville.

Bollinger County Memorial Park Cemetery

Bollinger County Memorial Park Marble HillWhen Mother and I went down to the Bollinger County Memorial Park Cemetery outside Marble Hill looking for Veterans Day flag photos, I was amazed at how many graves were marked with pictures. This is the cemetery, by the way, that had the unusual shoe marker.

Some photos captured a tender moment in a pair of lives. Others were more formal. Some dated to the turn of the 20th Century, others had been taken in the past decade.

Toddler photo was hard to look at

Bollinger County Memorial Park Marble HillI had a hard time editing the photo of Ricky Dale Wiseman, who died in 1967. A bright-eyed one-year shouldn’t be beneath a tombstone. I didn’t feel floods of emotions like that until I had kids and grandsons. I guess you do acquire some wisdom with old age.

“Lucky”

Bollinger County Memorial Park Marble HillOne large black stone had the photo of a young couple on it. (OK, RELATIVELY young: he was born two years after me.) Steve L. Chandler died in 2004; his wife, Julia M. is still living. At the bottom of the stone is a photo of “Lucky.” I have to wonder if Lucky is buried there.

Sometimes you should leave well enough alone and not do any more research. FindAGrave, carried Steve’s obit: “Steve L. Chandler, 55, of Marble Hill died Dec. 3, 2004, at his home, following an illness. He was born July 12, 1949 in Cape Girardeau, son of Lynn and Wanda (Ricketts) Chandler. He and Julia Johnson were married April 18, 1992 in Marble Hill. Mr. Chandler was a member of Lutesville Presbyterian Church and Marble Hill VFW Post 5900.

He was co-owner and pharmacy technician of the 103-year-old Chandler Drug Store in Marble Hill. He was a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War and was awarded a Purple Heart. Survivors include his wife. He was preceded in death by a son, Austin Lynn.”

Still curious about Lucky, I expanded my search. RootsWeb’s WorldConnect project had the same obit, but it also had a link about Austin Lynn. I wish I hadn’t clicked it.

The Southeast Missourian – July 30 1992 – Marble Hill–Austin Lynn Chandler, 5, was found dead Tuesday, July 28, 1992, in Crooked Creek near Marble Hill.”

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. All thoughts of having a happy post about Lucky evaporated.

Photo gallery of grave photos

I don’t think I can handle any more obits for children tonight. Here’s a collection of some of the photos that appear on tombstones in the Bollinger County Memorial Park Cemetery. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery. I’ll post similar photos from other cemeteries from time to time.