I figured I’d better get this posted before another Christmas rolls around. (It was supposed to go up before 2016 went to sleep, but the software didn’t want to upload the pix). I normally take two to 2-1/2 days to make it from Cape to West Palm Beach, a distance of 1,110 miles, no matter which route I take. I had the traffic day from hell going through Chattanooga and Nashville. I spent almost all day making less than 200 miles. Even Atlanta, caught at rush hour in the dashcam photo above, only took an hour to clear.
That put me at Son Matt’s house just in time to chow down on Christmas Eve with Sarah, Malcolm and Wife Lila. I was too tired and too busy eating to take pictures of the festivities there.
Christmas at Kid II
Christmas Day found us out at Son Adam and Carly’s watching Grandsons Graham, Elliot and Finn playing with Santa’s leavings. Wife Lila had made each of the boys a unique Christmas ornament out of palm fronds from the yard, and she wanted to get a shot of the three of them holding them.
Since she had that angle covered, I shot what it was like to herd mischievous cats.
Boys can make blasters
This goes to prove that boys can make blasters out of anything, not exactly the Christmas spirit image Gran had in mind.
True confession time
I make a tiny percentage when you shop on Amazon after pressing the Big Red Button at the top of the page. I try to shop locally, but I find myself hitting the Red Button on a regular basis. Since I rely on reviews to make purchasing decisions, I feel it only fair to review stuff I’ve bought.
Have you ever read a review where somebody confesses that they received the item for free or at a discount? Well, I must have written enough reviews that vendors are starting to send me discount and free offers to review their stuff. One of the items was a set of Maggift 30 Pcs Magnetic building blocks.
That sounded like a great stocking stuffer, particularly for free. The older boys were too into their battery-powered toys to be excited by this, and Finn was initially more interested in destroying things his mother made with the blocks than making things himself.
Hey, these things go together
It didn’t take him long to discover the magnets made it easy to stack the pieces together by shape. The box says ages 3+ but Finn, who is half that, found them fascinating. They look too big to be a choking hazard, and the magnets are affixed well enough that I don’t think they would break off.
A quiet moment
Any toy that will keep an active toddler occupied and quiet is a good toy. I’ll end up filing a 4 out of 5 star rating for it. A four because the product arrived on time and was as described. Something has to really knock my socks off to get five stars, something I point out to vendors before I agree to review it.
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.)
I’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
The 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
Whenever 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'”
After 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
She 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
I’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!