The Steinhoff family was never big on jewelry. We’ve had our wedding rings, and I inherited my grandfather’s ring which had been passed onto Dad (and which will go to Son Matt), but Mother was still wearing clip-on earrings until well after Wife Lila and I got hitched. Not long after that, she had her ears pierced which brought her more options.
After Mother died, Sis-in-Law Robin bagged up all of her earrings, broaches, etc. Various family members took things that had special meaning, then the rest of it was sent to Niece Kim.
Kim turned the jewelry into neat displays that she sent to family members for Christmas.
It’s been three weeks since the early-morning phone call from the Lutheran Home telling me that I had become an orphan. In those three weeks, we wrapped up a wedding in Tulsa, held a funeral service, scattered the family in all directions, and started to deal with all the minutia of unraveling someone’s life. Brother Mark and Robin have done a great job of starting to box and discard. He was elected to be the one to handle all the executor stuff. While he was doing that, I skipped town for a week to go to Ohio to set up some projects there.
So, I’m back in a house that is slowly looking less and less like the place I grew up. I find myself talking to myself – usually griping, like when the alarm goes off – to fill the silence.
As I described in the last post, Mother wanted a simple funeral – no church, no sad songs, a balloon release and happy memories. What we ended up with was a unique send-off that contained elements even the funeral director said he hadn’t seen before.
About three dozen attended
The funeral home register contained about three dozen signatures, and nearly 500 readers “liked” my obituary post. She got quite a send-off. I was even pleased to see several of Mother’s favorites from the nursing home staff show up.
Brother David and I spoke briefly; at the last minute, we consented to having a Bible verse read, and David asked to have Over the Rainbow played while the attendees left the service.
The publisher of The Gastonia Gazette threw a big party every year for advertisers and news sources. It included lots of good food and a band. A stereotypical old Southern Belle stopped the band in mid-song saying in honey-dipped tones, “They played that song at muh daddy’s funeral. I can’t stand to hear it.”
At the time, I thought she was overly full of drama and entitlement, but I know, now, that I will never think Wizard of Oz when I hear Over the Rainbow.
Signs of respect
Mother always liked to ride down a road she had never been down before, so I guess her final ride qualified for that. It reminded me a bit of the 2001 Birthday Season when we rented a couple of limos to take her and her friends out to dinner. They were honored that so many people lined Broadway that evening to see them go by (not realizing the crowds were setting up for SEMO’s Homecoming parade.
I love how cars in Cape pull off to the side as a funeral procession goes by. The most touching moment was when we passed a group of three or four construction workers wearing their day-glo shirts. The men straightened up, pulled off their caps and held them over their hearts. It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to get a photo. Like I’ve said before, some days you make pictures; some days you make memories. I’ll never forget their gesture toward someone they never knew.
Stay or leave?
Mark and I had a last-minute discussion about what we would do when we got to the cemetery. I told him I’d be happy to leave before the casket was lowered into the ground, but he said he wanted to be there until the very end.
See you later”
David asked if there was anything wrong with scratching something onto the top of the casket. There were no objections, so he carved on it, “See you later,” the phrase Mother always used instead of “Goodbye.” Before long, a bunch of us were leaving last messages. David’s daughters tossed bridal bouquets on the casket, and Son Matt left behind Groucho Marx glasses (more about that later).
David turns the crank
We Steinhoffs are curious folks, so Brother David asked the young grave digger (I don’t know if that’s his official title) lots of questions. He let David push the button that lowered the casket into the vault, but explained that the vault and casket weighted about 2,300 pounds, so a heavier cable set was used to finish the job. David turned the crank that lowered the vault into its final resting place.
Despite my earlier trepidations, focusing on the mechanics and the process helped distract us from the contents of the box we were lowering into the ground. Instead of being a morbid experience, the great-grandkids were fascinated by what was going on. I think it was healthy for all of us.
“That’s your dad next to her”
When the vault was finally in the hole, the young gravedigger said, if you look toward the head end, you can see something that looks like a cave. If you look even more closely, that’s the edge of your dad’s vault showing.
It was comforting to see that after 37 years and a few odd weeks that Mother and Dad were going to be side-by-side again.
The celebration begins
Mother always like to watch to car dealer over on Kingshighway cut loose the balloons tied to its cars, so she wanted a balloon release at the cemetery.
Popping the corks
What would a celebration of life be without Champagne and a toast?
When I got back home
When I got back home, two envelopes were waiting for me by my computer. I had been up until 4 a.m. the night before putting together a slide show for the viewing, which caused Wife Lila and me to leave separately from the rest of the family.
Mark explained what they were later:
I had made up a little packet for everyone in the family and some others and gave them out right before they let us view mother. Since you arrived at a different time, I did not get yours to you. I left them on the desk by your computer. The glasses commemorate her photo at Ky Lake and the tissues are obvious.
Also in the packet was a one-page document: “I wrote the thoughts on my phone while sitting on the couch with her one night at home before she went to Lutheran Home.”
I’m glad I didn’t see it before the service because that small box of tissues wouldn’t have been near enough. He summed up so well what some of those long nights were like.
“Playing like we are happy?”
Weak as a kitten, boney as an old cat… I rub the back of my 93-year-old mother as she drifts off to sleep on her couch at home.
Her pajama top is brushed combed cotton so rubbing her feels just like kitten fur. She wakes herself up and says to me “What are we doing?” And I say “Sitting on the couch together” and then she says , “Playing like we are happy?”….”Yes, like we are happy.”
Outside the window
The sun has sunk down behind the trees and so has she, sunk, bent forward sleeping in her own lap. How is this possible? Her skin is like onion paper and tears so easily yet she is flexible enough to sleep in her own lap. Cars drive by the house outside the window on their way to someplace. While she sleeps going no place yet somewhere in her mind she is far away.
We are both sitting side by side here on the couch and neither one of us not wanting to be here at this place at all.
Damn you, time
Damn you memories. Damn you time.
Damn you Vulcan Spock for not having emotions.
Why only you?
This time is different
This time is different.
In the past, had the top scoop fallen off my ice cream cone, I could have gone in and gotten another one. This time, this time I can only look at the scoop on the ground and watch it melt away.
Seems like a lifetime ago when I was in the basement of this house stringing tinsel on a Christmas tree. Only slightly worrying about what I would get as presents. Who is that kid and how many trees have come and gone since then? Seems odd that I have all the original tree ornaments and they look the very same as back then and everything else has gotten older and somewhat tarnished.
Did I sleep too much?
Did I sleep too much, did I waste the days, the moments and the minutes? I want to roll some of them, actually a lot of them back, please. I want to savor them now more than I did when it was a fleeting moment.
So what happens? Like at the moment you turn off an old tube TV set and the picture suddenly disappears and shrinks to a white dot before the screen goes completely dark, is that what happens?
It’s going to be hard to “play like we are happy” very hard indeed.
I feel cheated
I think I want my money back. I want to review the warranty closer and really read the fine print. ‘Cause I think I missed something, feeling cheated is how I can best explain it. I guess I should have gotten the extended warranty.
I’m not so noble that I want to trade places. I just want to beat, if not cheat, the system a tiny bit. Not stepping on the, “…And on the third day he rose…” story, more of a “Lazarus take up your bed and walk” turnabout fair play thingy. Can you blame a guy?
Graveside photo gallery
Well, I got to use Mark’s box of tissues. I edited the photos right after the service, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about it. I’ve gone on to shoot some other stories, but I didn’t feel like I could post them until I got this one out of the way. Maybe we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming. I won’t promise that I’ll keep up my old daily schedule, but I’ve missed you all.
Thank you for all the cards you sent to Mother at the Lutheran Home, and thank you for the support and love you have sent to the Steinhoff family.
Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to navigate through the gallery.
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.
Depending on who you ask, the news that Niece Amy is getting married in Tulsa this weekend is greeted by “Already?” or “It’s about time.”
Mother has met Ian, the prospective groom, and given the union her blessing.
She wanted to make it out to the wedding, but decided that it was better to build up her strength in Cape than to go through the hassle of flying or an eight-hour road trip. We sent a picture of Mother in her wedding dress to be held up when the group family photos are taken.
Miss Amy through the years
Here’s a gallery of photos of Miss Amy of the Steinhoff Tulsa Branch. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery.