The Last Picture

Mary Steinhoff 03-20-2010
Mary Steinhoff 03-20-2010

Bear with me while I get around to my real topic. When I started kindergarten, we stopped moving from job site to job site in a small trailer and settled down in a rental house at 2531 Bloomfield Road. I could look out my bedroom window to watch the traffic on Hwy 61 in the distance.

One morning around 2 o’clock, when I was six or seven years old, I woke my parents with a strange pronouncement: “I just realized that I will never see those cars and trucks again.” What I meant was that the world was fluid, and the folks who were flying down the highway would never appear in that configuration ever again. I can clearly remember saying that, but I’ve managed to suppress their reactions.

That’s the moment when I think I became a photographer, even though it was half a dozen or more years before I would actually pick up a camera.

You see, while other kids were dreaming of time machines that would let them go forwards or backwards in time, what I really wanted was something that would freeze time and never let it get away.

The “see you later” picture

Mary Steinhoff 06-30-2010
Mary Steinhoff 06-30-2010

I’m not exactly sure when I started taking a photo every time I left Cape. Maybe it was when I realized that Mother and I lived 1,110 miles apart, and she was getting to the age where every goodbye might be the last one. Maybe that’s why always said, “See you later,” rather than “Goodbye.”

Bittersweet moments

Ken - Mary Steinhoff 10-18-2007
Ken – Mary Steinhoff 10-18-2007

Most of those photos were taken in the living room, or outside in front of the living room window, or at Kentucky Lake. Most recently, I started posing Mother with family, friends and road warriorettes under the flag at the side of the house. The light was good there, and the colors vibrant.

Even though we were usually smiling, the ritual had its bittersweet moments. I learned early on that once I had climbed in the car, I had to pull out of the driveway, give two toots on the horn and disappear. If I needed to fiddle with anything in the car, I did it out of sight of the house. Those smiles were fragile.

I was afraid this might be the last picture

Mary Steinhoff - Ken Steinhoff 04-12-2015_6205
Mary – Ken Steinhoff 04-12-2015

Mother had 92 good years, but she started slowing down in the fall of 2014. She was using the clothes dryer instead of the clothesline; she would still hop in the car to ramble, but she usually wouldn’t get out. By the spring of 2015, she had gotten to the point she couldn’t walk by herself and she would fold up in a C-shape and roll out of the chair if you weren’t watching her.
I had to go to Ohio to set up a major photo exhibit, so Brothers David and Mark came to Cape to spell me.

There was no way she would make it outside for the traditional flag photo, so I brought the flag inside. I spent about 10 days in Ohio waiting for The Phone Call, but it didn’t come. Mark, David and Mother came to the conclusion that she needed more help than we could give her, so she agreed to go into the Lutheran Home to build up her strength so she could come home, even if she needed assistance.

Couldn’t make it to the wedding

4-generation 06-15-2015_7413

Matt – Malcolm – Mary – Ken Steinhoff 06-15-2015

After a few low spells, she seemed to rally. She decided that she didn’t have the energy to make it all the way out to Tulsa for Granddaughter Amy’s wedding on June 20 – “I have to save my strength to be able to go home” – but she WAS able to speak with the new bride and groom via Facetime right after the ceremony.

One good thing about having the wedding was that my two sons and their families stopped by Cape on the way to Tulsa and had good visits. She perked up and told them stories that even I hadn’t heard. In the four-generation picture above, she has the dress she had worn to two weddings, had planned to wear in Tulsa, and had asked to be buried in.

I didn’t take a last picture

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

I checked in with Mother, did some prep work for the coming Dutchtown flood, and blasted out of town on Saturday June 20 to make it to the Tulsa wedding. Mother was in good spirits and seemed satisfied that I’d be back in a day or two. For the first time in probably a decade, I didn’t take that waving goodbye photo.

I had car trouble, so I called Mother Sunday night to tell her I’d be a day late getting back to Cape. Her voice was strong, and she didn’t seem concerned.

Monday morning, at 7:10, I got The Call from the nursing home that Mother was found dead when they went in to get her for breakfast.

As close as I can figure out, this is one of the last, if not THE last picture I had of Mother. She’s holding her new great-grandson Finn, and they are both enjoying it. THAT’S the image I want to hold onto.

Mark sent me a letter “not to be opened until June 23.” He closed it this way:

As I find myself at the bottom of this page, I couldn’t decide which to end it with, so you get both. Put it into context if you will. (Enclosed was a photo Mother sitting in his kitchen.)

“My memory loves you. It asks about you all the time.”

and

“Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.”

Stories about Mother

I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford a Missourian obit that told all of the stories I had collected about this remarkable woman, so I complied them into one big blog post, followed by an account of her funeral.

“See you laters” over the years

Mother with friends and family over the years just before the horn went “toot toot.” Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move around. See you later.

Dad Would Be Proud; I Am

Matt - LV Steinhoff 12-1975Son Matt was only two years old when Dad, L.V. Steinhoff, died in 1977, so he really only knows him from photos. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

Malcolm

2015-06-13 MLS family at Mammoth CaveGrandson Malcolm, son of Matt and Sarah, is 11. He’s a voracious reader, a soccer player and a serious geek with a wicked sense of humor. He’s coming to spend a few days with me in Cape next week while Wife Lila is attending her Class of 1966’s 50th reunion.

I hope I can give him some Swampeast Missouri memories to take back with him.

Graham, Elliot and Finn

2015-06-15 Adam family collageSon Adam and Wife Carly produced three rambunctious, adventurous and terminally cute boys, Graham, Elliot and Finn.

One of Adam’s Facebook friends, Laurel Cherwin, created a collection of photos of the family, along with this copy:

I Honor Adam Steinhoff : a man who loves his boys! He passionately embraces Fatherhood as an exciting adventure and fills his boys lives with love, pure joy, exploration, thrill seeking activities, encourages creativity, expression and silliness! I Love you Adam & So proud of the father and man you have become.

I can’t say it any better than she did.

A quick thought on Father’s Day

Steinhoff family c 1953Brothers David and Mark and I were blessed to be raised by two great parents who nurtured us, guided us and made us who we are today.

I’m proud of the way my boys have turned out. That’s the best Father’s Day gift anyone can have.

(That’s my grandmother, Elsie Welch, on the couch in this photo from 1963. I’m the guy in the mirror taking the picture.)

The Clothespin Bag

Mary Steinhoff's clothespin bag 05-07-2016I’m at the stage of life where I should be getting rid of stuff instead of acquiring more, so I haven’t claimed a lot of things from Mother’s house. One thing I snagged was the clothespin bag she’d hook over the line while hanging up the laundry.

She and Wife Lila both preferred to dry clothes and sheets where the wind and sunlight can do the job, even though perfectly good dryers were available.

Wood cart Plan A didn’t work

Mary and Ken Steinhoff loading firewood 10-13-2004The basement has some furnace ducts, but most of the heat comes from a wood-burning fireplace. For Mother’s 2004 Birthday Season, I bought her a garden cart that has been featured in a bunch of funny family photos.

The only problem was that it could just barely make it through the basement door, and, when fully loaded, weighed more than she did.

It became the wood depot

Basement Kingsway Dr 10-13-2004Whenever one of us boys hit town, we’d load the cart to the brim for her to draw from if the weather was too bad to go outside to replenish the wood bins on either side of the fireplace

The bright-colored fold-up thing on the left wide of the photo was the laundry cart she’d use to haul the wet clothes down the hill to the “garden” where the clothesline lived.

“It’s too nice for wood”

For short hauls from the wood stacked outside to the bins, she’d load the firewood into a clumsy metal cart that would just as likely dump its load as carry it if it wasn’t balanced just right. On top of that, the wheels and axles had long gone kaput, and Brother Mark had “repaired” them with axles that were about two inches too long on each side, so they’d snag the door weather stripping on the way through.

I hated that bleeping cart, so I bought her a nice-sized heavy-duty plastic cart that wasn’t too heavy, was well-balanced and would fit through the door.

“Smile and say ‘thank you'”

Mary Steinhoff gets new washer 10-16-2008After she had a fit about it, (leading to a discussion about “what you do when someone gives you a gift, even if you don’t want it,” leading to the right answer, “You grit your teeth, smile and say, ‘thank you.'”) but, eventually, she smiled and said, “Thank you.”

The only problem was that she didn’t want to “get it dirty,” so she wouldn’t put firewood in it. It got pressed into service replacing that cloth rolling laundry cart, which WAS a good second choice.

This, by the way, was her cranky expression. We got that during Birthday Season 2008 when she came home to find out that we had replaced her washer, which was leaking water all over the floor. We finally convinced her that it wasn’t a good idea to be standing in water while operating an electrical appliance.

She was more accepting by 2009

Sending it on its wayShe was ready to kick her old dryer to the curb in 2009, so we didn’t get much resistance when we replaced it.

Mark and I kept trying to convince her to let us move the clothesline closer to the house so she wouldn’t roll down the hill, be buried under a bunch of wet clothes, then drained dry by a cloud of mosquitoes, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

By last fall, we could tell her energy was fading because she was using the dryer more and more. Mark and I planned to surprise her with a new clothesline, but we never got the chance.

Laundry on the line

Malcolm running through laundry 10-06-2007I’ll keep Mother’s clothespin bag hanging in my office, and Wife Lila will keep hanging laundry on the line for grandkids like Malcolm, age three at the time, to run through. (Here’s the video version of it.)

When I went away to school at Ohio University, the semester was winding down; I was working as photo editor for the school paper, and I had a bunch of final exam work to get done, so Mother’s Day slipped by unobserved.

That mistake made me sure it never happened again, hence this post. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

 

I Guess It’s Time

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015It’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

Mary Steinhoff obit card Funeral Docs 03 06-24-2015The 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

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015Mother 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?

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015Mark 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”

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015David 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

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015We 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”

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015When 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

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015Mother 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

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015 What would a celebration of life be without Champagne and a toast?

When I got back home

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015When 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.

Mark’s thoughts

 

Mary Steinhoff funeral 06-24-2015Also 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

Sunset by Mary Steinhoff 11-09-2014_050The 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

Steinhoff plot 06-25-2015 IMG_1369Well, 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.