When I was a kid, my grandmother gave me a small cedar chest to hold my “special” things. Nothing in it had much value – it had lots of Boy Scout detritus, including my Boy Scout wallet, some Scout rings and bracelets, a carved Order of the Arrow, and lots of certificates for awards.
Is that green sticking out?
I thought I had hit paydirt when I opened the wallet and saw a green bill sticking up. Note my address: Kingsway Dr. Rt. 2. Our mailing address for years was just Route 2 because we were outside the Cape city limits.
Looks like a folded five-dollar bill
Yep, sure is. I don’t recall having many of those at that age.
All that is green is not money
When I unfolded it, it was only half as wide as a regular bill, and this was on the backside.
Note that the address was Highway 61, not Kingshighway, and the Area Code was still 314.
Barely visible through the glassine sleeve is my Totin’ Chip, which attested that I had read Chapter 15 in the Handbook for Boys, and that I knew that ownership of the woodsman’s tools means responsibility and that I accepted it.
“In consideration of the above, ” he is hereby granted “Totin’ Rights.”
To this day, I remember how to hand someone an axe, and to say “Thank You” to signify that I am accepting a cutting tool from someone.
The ink has pretty much faded, but I think Scoutmaster Ralph Fuhrmann signed the card.
A Western Union Telegram
Also folded up was a bit of yellow paper that turned out to be a Western Union telegram from my grandmother, Elsie Welch, who must have been visiting Miami.
It was dated the day before my birthday in 1950. I don’t recognize the handwriting, so it may have been an actual telegram received in Advance, Mo.
As years went by, hand delivery was phased out, and Western Union would simply call the recipient for permission just to read the message over the phone.
In the kinder, gentler years between wars, when the arrival of a telegram was unlikely to start out, “The War Department regrets….” I was known to send girls “thinking of you” telegrams to be delivered in school when I was out of town on debate trips, and the like.
I don’t remember sending Wife Lila a telegram, but I DID send her flowers when she was at a weeklong water safety camp in Eldon, Mo. It caused quite a stir when the flowers arrived, and I assume I earned serious Brownie points.
My namesake uncle was killed in Eldon
Eldon, ironically, was where my namesake uncle, Kenneth Welch was killed in a car vs. train crash in 1935.
The hospital where he was taken sent a $5 bill (that was paid in full).
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.”
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
It’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
I 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
The 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.
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.
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.