Son Adam turned 36 on July 7. He posted this on Facebook: “Sadly, this will be the first year I won’t get a card from Mary Welch Steinhoff for my birthday with some family photos in it.”
See, Mother had drawers full of hundreds of photographs of family from way back, plus hundreds more we sent her over the years. I’m not sure when she started the custom of mailing pictures BACK to us on our birthdays, but she was way ahead of Facebook in returning memories. The birthday envelope would contain a card, a stack of photos, and a check that roughly correlated to your age (I think she may have capped it at 50 bucks when we got older, but I’d have to go back to look).
I hope this tides you over
There was no telling if you’d get a picture of you as a baby, a toddler or an adult. I think she just reached into a drawer or a box and grabbed whatever fate dealt.
Happy Birthday, Kid
So, Adam, I’m not your Grandmother, but I DO have access to her stash. I hope these bring back good memories. Click on the photos to make them larger.
Folks, if you’re looking for a nice family tradition to start, give this a try. P.S. please write dates and names on the back of the prints. Locations, too, will help down the road.
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
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.”
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
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
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
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.”
“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.
Son 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.)
Grandson 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
Son 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
Brothers 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.)
Grandson Graham, 5, was playing tee-ball for the Hawks the other night. After waiting 15 minutes or more with the kids getting more and more wound up, the word came from the other coach that he didn’t have enough boys, and they were going to forfeit.
When you are five, you don’t care a whole lot about formalities, so a bunch of boys were rounded up and a pickup game ensued. That’s Graham sprinting for home. He sports #2 in the pictures.
Attention spans are short
Watching the game brought to mind the Peter, Paul & Mary song, “Right Field, with its chorus,
Right field, it’s easy, you know. You can be awkward and you can be slow That’s why I’m here in right field Just watching the dandelions grow
Won a game ball
Graham won one of the two game balls. I think I heard it was for being “most attentive,” but I’m not sure.
“Most attentive,” as I decode it, was where he would stand there while a ball rolled past him, then he’d tear out after it, making a spectacular dive and roll like he was roping a calf. Once he and the ball came to a full and complete stop, he’d stand there watching the action until it dawned on him that the ball was supposed to go to someone who could tag the runner out.
When Son Adam was playing the the youth leagues (he was a killer catcher), I tried to never miss his games. I’m not going to be in town for many of Graham’s games, so here’s a whole gallery of him and his teammates. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move around.