Friday, May 1, 2009

Everybody Has a Mother

Today is my mother's 100th. birthday.

She's not still with us, however, she died quite a while ago. She died of complications from a perforated ulcer. Now, of course, we know that ulcers are caused by a virus and not the stress caused by raising two recalcitrant children. But we didn't know that then, so my brother and I figured that we had driven her to an early grave, or at least I did. If not for the stupid ulcer, she might still be alive. Sixty-six years old isn't very old for our family, everybody lives into their nineties. Except my father who died at eighty-nine after smoking and drinking his whole life. Sixty-six, boy, that's only a few years older than I am now! That's a sobering thought, huh?

That's Mom on the right with her younger brother Richard who has on almost as nice a dress as she does. She was born Sophia Eleanor Pawlak on May 1, 1909 on a farm in Silver Lake, Minnesota. These folks weren't well-to-do genteel farmer types, they were Polish farmers in a Polish community. And that community had most of their roots from a couple of small towns in Posen, Poland and they all grouped together and continued their lives in the United States.

So, she grew up working and that's what she did her whole life.

In this photograph, that's Mom on the right with her mother Wanda (Pokornoski) Pawlak, her brother Richard and her sister Delphine. Her youngest brother Edwin hadn't been born yet.

She did jobs like pick strawberries for extra money, but mostly, and for the rest of her life, she was a maid. I look at the photographs of her when she was a child and she's never smiling. In this shot of her at her confirmation, she's very serious with those eastern European eyes looking at us. What was she thinking? Was she making plans? Was she glad to be alive? Or was she already feeling old?

I can't ask her, because I never had the sense to when she was alive.


So, as soon as she was old enough, she got a job as a maid for a well-to-do family in Saint Paul, the von Neida family. At one point, all three older Pawlak children Sophia, Richard and Delphine all worked for the von Neida family. The family began wintering in Miami and that's where my mother met my father and you know how that turned out. Isn't it something how a seemingly small decision becomes a pivot point and everything that happens after that was dependant upon that one turn?

Here's Mom at twenty-one, she's very fashionable with that hair, huh? Remember, in 1930, they were very much in the Depression, I'm REALLY glad she knew enough to get some photographs taken.

But she also knew there wasn't going to be any college for Sophie. There wasn't going to be any 401(k) money to lose, there wasn't going to be any money, no trips to Tahiti, no ball gowns stuffed into the waiting limo. Actually, she never even learned to drive. No car, no reason to drive. Simple reasoning, huh?

But she came into her own, that's for certain! Perhaps I'll write about that tomorrow, you can't stuff a whole life into one post.

So, I'll leave you with a photograph of the four Pawlak childen in 1934. From the left is Edwin, the youngest, Delphine, Sophia and Richard. It might bore you almost to tears to learn that I was named after my Uncle Richard. They were going to name me either Richard or Kenneth. And that was one of those pivot points I spoke about, because Kenneth would never have lost his hair!


Leah Kleylein said...

Happy Birthday Grandma Kleylein!!!

Dave said...

Very well written Rich! Donna and I and Don were just talking about May 1st being mom's 100th birthday. I also wish I had asked more questions when she was around.

debbie said...

She was a wonderful mother-in-law, so kind and loving. I still miss her.