In just a few days, it will be 4 years since we lost my mom, Leta Schwiderski. At the time of her death, I wanted to deliver a eulogy at her funeral. The Diocese of Peoria has a "rule" against this type of addition to the liturgy so I was denied the opportunity. It was probably just as well because I wouldn't have been able to get through it but I have always regretted not sharing my thoughts. Since this blog is my way of working through things in my life, I'm using it as a forum to get past the regrets.
Our mother, grandmother, sister-in-law, and friend, Leta Schwiderski lived a life much different ours. She did not have the advantages that she made sure that Frank and I had but she never complained.
Mom was born in 1917 in Toluca, Illinois to immigrant parents, Massimo and Maria Passini (or Paseni...no one was ever sure of the spelling as her parents were illiterate in both Italian and English), the youngest of four children. Massino passed away in the early 20's leaving Maria with four children and no mean with which to return to Italy. She housed single coalminers as boarders (in a two bedroom "company" house), took in washing (with a wringer washer and outdoor clotheslines) and cleaned the local post office. Mom never shared much of her childhood memories but she also never complained.
Mom attended St. Ann's elementary school (as did my brother and I) and intended to go on to high school. When the first day of what would have been her freshman year came, Mom made plans to meet her friends on the corner across from the school. Whether it was a communication problem or whether Mom was late to the meeting place, I have never learned. When she arrived, her friends had already gone in. Mom was very shy and she could not make herself walk into that building alone. So, instead, she walked 3 blocks to the local garment factory and applied for a job. At age 14, Mom went to work full time. I'm sure that she missed doing what her friends were doing at school but she never complained. Her weekly paycheck went to help with the family's living expenses. She bought a wooden ironing board with some of her first paycheck....the ironing board is in my laundry room. It is no longer used but it's still here, part of the family.
Our dad, Clarence (Bud) Schwiderski noticed Mom and pursued her relentlessly. Mom was not interested and perhaps Dad's sense of style had something to do with that. Dad was a farmer and had the habit of going "uptown" in his denim bib overalls, minus a shirt and with a red bandanna tied around his neck. This was not something Mom considered in good taste or the height of fashion but it was the Depression... Dad finally wore her down and she improved his look. He never gave up the bibs but he added a shirt and lost the bandanna. They dated for several years and Mom waited patiently through World War II, writing to Dad every day. All of her friends were in the same situation, waiting for their fiancees so I'm sure that she never complained. After all, he was coming home and all in one piece.
When Dad came home from the War, he wanted a more secure future for his family than farming could provide so he went to work at Caterpillar Tractor Company in Peoria. Dad was an avid hunter and outdoorsman so his choice of second shift (3 to 11 p.m.) was perfect for him. He could still hunt in the morning and when nothing was in season, he could do private contractor work. That choice left Mom at home alone every night. I'm sure that she hated it but she knew what Dad needed to be happy and she never complained.
Dad's second shift work made Mom a single parent in many ways. Parent-teacher conferences, extracurricular clubs and sports and everything that was involved in parenting was pretty much left up to Mom. It wasn't that Dad didn't care, it was that times were different and Dad put our financial stability ahead of his parenting responsibilities. And Mom never complained.
Mom walked everywhere she went. She never learned to drive a car. Everything that she needed was located within walking distance from the house that Dad built less than a block away from her mother's home. The grocery store, post office, church and bank were all within walking distance. Shopping for clothes was another matter. She shopped mostly from the Montgomery Ward catalog but we did need to shop for school clothes and Christmas gifts. If Dad wasn't available to drive us to Streator or Peoria, Mom had to ask someone to take us on these shopping trips. Aunt Rita usually got the call and Mom paid for the gas. I know that she felt that she was imposing on others but she really had no other choices and she never complained.
Frank and I were fortunate to be able to attend college and that meant moving away. I know that Mom was lonely during these years because she was truly at home alone in the evenings and no longer had the responsibilities of taking care of us. When I came home for a weekend, I used to complain because she talked the entire time that I was home....I couldn't find a minute to myself. But Mom never complained about being alone. And she was proud to have two college graduates when she had not been able to make herself walk into the high school.
We also made Mom proud by each marrying a terrific spouse and presenting her and Dad with 5 grandchildren. These grandchildren were the highlights of her life. (And being a Nonie now, I understand completely how much she loved the title!) She understood that jobs moved us far from home and that meant time with these grandbabies was limited. We came back to Illinois as often as we could and she and Dad drove out to see us a couple of times a year. She would have preferred to see our families daily but she understood and she never complained.
A lifetime of smoking cigarettes result in Dad developing COPD. His last years were tough ones and their travels came to an end. There were many hospital stays, many doctor's appointments, and lots of medication but Mom never complained about the care that Dad needed.
Dad passed away in 1998 and we were all worried about how Mom would handle being alone with no one to care for after all the of the years of devotion to us and then Dad. She surprised us by forcing herself out of her comfort zone and discovered the senior citizen services provided by the state. Mom joined a group of ladies who hopped on the county van every week for a shopping trip to Peoria, Streator, Pontiac or Bloomington. She made a whole new circle of friends and faithfully joined those bus trips even if she had no shopping needs. She especially enjoyed the "secret" stops that the bus made at the local casino. Since this was a state-provided service, the driver was technically not allowed to make this gambling visit but everyone was sworn to secrecy and you never saw a happier bunch of ladies....imagine..putting one over on the state of Illinois! There were no big winners but the adventure was enough excitement for them.
Mom was able to live on her own for many years even when she could no longer hop on the bus. Friends like Cathy Althaus and Joanne Butenas were there to fill in when Frank and I could not. But the time finally came when it was no longer safe for Mom to live on her own. She moved into assisted living at Heritage Manor in Minonk and this time, she did complain. She wanted to be back in her own little house where she could stand on her front porch and see the place where her childhood home had stood. She wanted to eat what she wanted to eat and watch TV when she felt like it. She wanted to go to the church that she had been married in, where I had been married and where Dad's funeral had been. She wanted to sit by her picture window and keep an eye on the neighborhood. (Her vision was awful but she never missed a thing and could tell me how many strange cars had been at neighbor Kay's over the weekend.) But she did understand and finally adjusted to life at the Manor.
We were able to have Mom with us until just days before her 92nd birthday. She lived a long life and one that was, for the most part happy, but even in the bad times, she never complained. I miss her every day and Sundays just don't seem right without our weekly phone conversation. But I do know that Mom has been reunited with Dad and the rest of the family and that if there is a shopping van, I am sure that she is on it. Now if I could only stop complaining!