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.
- October 16, 2008 – It’s Mother’s Birthday Season
- Mother’s Birthday Season 2009 – Renewing her license
- March 29, 2010 – Favorite story: how Mother lost her arm
- April 2, 2010 – Mother remembers the spring on Bloomfield Road
- October 18, 2010 – Mother gets an iPad for her 89th
- Nov. 26, 2010 – Family adds shoes to the Perkins Shoe Tree (Pole)
- Dec. 14, 2010 – Christmas at the Steinhoffs in 1969
- April 3, 2011 – Mother with Abe Lincoln
- April 4, 2011 – Mother hooks up with Elvis – declares him “stiff”
- April 6, 2011 – Mother survives our Florida – Missouri road trip
- July 4, 2011 – Mother shows how to handle fireworks
- August 23, 2011 – Mother collects autographs from everyone (almost) in Advance
- September 3, 2011 – Advance school photos from the ’30s
- September 4, 2011 – Mother and the Advance Glee Club
- September 8, 2011 – Mother shoots the SEMO Fair
- October 15, 2011 – Mother’s 90th Day 1
- October 16, 2011 – Mother’s 90th birthday party
- Jan. 25, 2012 – Mother and Dad in the back yard
- May 12, 2012 – What?! Mother had a life before I arrived?
- August 8, 2012 – Chairs through the years
- Nov. 16, 2012 – Mother’s gone nuts over pecans
- Nov. 20, 2011 – Pulling the plug on Mother
- May 18, 2012 – Mother and the Belly-Up Bar
- October 17, 2012 – Birthday Season at Altenburg museum
- Dec. 25, 2012 – St. Louis Christmas Y2K
- Jan. 6, 2013 – Photos of my parents on their Florida honeymoon 71 years ago
- May 12, 2013 – “Not enough words” – a collection of photos
- July 22, 2013 – Birthday Season starts early
- October 18, 2013 – Blowing out the candles
- April 18, 2014 – Mother’s Easter decorations
- April 27, 2014 – Mother gets fencing lesson
- May 9, 2014 – Mother and the hedge clipper
- July 4, 2014 – The Flag is where you have your photo taken
- July 29, 2014 – Mother and the Class of ’66
- August 3, 2014 – Cutting up with Neighbor Rhonda
- September 14, 2014 – Mother pursues the wild pine cone
- October 17, 2014 – Birthday Season Birthday Season 92-364/365ths
- February 12, 2015 – “She’s a tough bird”
- February. 27, 2015 – Circle of friends shrinks
- May 21/2015 – Thanks for all the cards.
- June 18, 2015 – Four generations of Steinhoffs visit