She is amazed that she has lived this long. My father died 30 years ago and people of their generation were looking at a much shorter life expectancy than we project out now for my generation.
I am dedicating this article to my mom, who I love dearly and am grateful for her longevity.
My mother gave up driving several years ago due to her various physical limitations, and so I have become her driver. We’ve become our own version of “Driving Miss Daisy.” Her increased difficulty with walking has led to longer drives and less shopping. So, as we roll along the country roads looking at the scenery, she will tell stories of her life. I love to hear about how things used to be, but mostly I enjoy hearing about her life.
One of my favorite stories that she shares is about how her dad came to the United States from Germany. Alone as an 11-year-old child, he came by boat to Ellis Island and then arrived somehow in Chicago. He had two brothers and two sisters, and they each came as children to the Chicago area. Their father had died of pneumonia shortly after the last child was born in Germany and I so speculate that their mother sent them on to family here, since the “streets were paved with gold.”
My mother tells of her childhood growing up as an only child and her parents owned and operated a bakery in Chicago named after her — Lorraine’s Pastry Shop. Her father was the head baker and her mother ran the sales counter. There were about six more bakers working with my grandfather, and my grandma had about nine “girls” who worked the counter. Mom would go in to the bakery with her parents when not in school. Near to the bakery were several movie theaters, so my grandparents gave her enough money to go to the movies all day long while they worked. No wonder she is such a movie lover, especially all the classics that she grew up with.
Back in the day of Lorraine’s Pastry Shop, all transactions were done in cash. So mom recalls coming home with her mom on the trolley carrying the cash bag from the bakery. Grandpa would have left before them since the bakers went to work at 2 a.m. She also remembers her mother hiding money under the oriental rugs they had and that twice their home was robbed. Sadly, during one of the robberies, their chow dog Chink was killed, the only dog my mom had as a child.
My grandfather had a car and my mom started driving when she was 13. Her mother never learned to drive. One day, when the car was parked on the street alongside their house, someone jumped into it and drove it away with my grandfather chasing after the car. I don’t think he ever caught up with the thief.
My mom graduated from Steinmetz High School, majoring in what we would now call business education. Back then, this was typing and shorthand. Students would ride public transportation to get to school.
Mom and her best friend, Evelyn, rode the same train to school. Every now and then, they would decide that it was a better day to shop then go to school, so they would just continue on and have themselves a day off.
Mom began working right out of high school and would ride the train to downtown Chicago to go to work. She lived with her parents until she married my dad, then they lived in an apartment until my dad was drafted during World War II. She moved back home with her parents when my dad was sent to Hawaii after Pearl Harbor.
She boarded a train in Chicago going to California to try to see my dad before he “shipped out,” but received a telegram from her dad that the ship had already left. So, she came back home and continued to work while my dad spent two straight years in Hawaii. Mom has a beautiful picture of my dad walking down a street in Hawaii in his sailor uniform that must have been taken by a street photographer.
When dad was discharged from the Navy, my parents worked hard to buy their first house shortly after my brother was born four years after me. Mom did part-time work at a drug store until we were both in school and then she went back into jobs where she used her secretarial skills. She was always very professional in her appearance; hair and nails done, shoes and matching purse, jewelry to top off a nice dress. She bemoaned the changes when women started coming to work in pants, not because pants weren’t professional, but the fit and style weren’t. To this day, Mom always dresses up to go out and always looks beautiful.
Besides sharing her stories with me while we drive around, we usually find some things to kid around about. We had a good laugh recently when we rode out to the cemetery to check on a beautiful purple mum plant we put on my dad’s gravesite last week. The plant was still there, but not the flowers. The flowers had been chopped right off. The deer had a nice snack — her treat!
I feel very blessed that my mother is still alive. I have truly enjoyed all the years we have had together. Happy 95th birthday, Mom!
— By Janice R. Beuschel, Tribune community columnist