Another member of the greatest generation has passed away. Only this one was not a soldier, it was a woman. One of those tremendous people who kept the home fire burnings and gave the men who fought in World War II and the years immediately before and after something to come home to.
I know there were many women who served during the war and I would be the last person to discount their contribution but this woman I am writing about married into our family and meant more than I realized before she was gone. Louise Zellers, like so many others like her, will be sorely missed.
The man she married, Glen Zellers, was in the Navy and was my first cousin. Louise’s funeral is today.
She always told people she was my aunt and that is OK because her kids and I grew up together. In reality, my mom was her husband’s aunt but they were raised as brother and sister due to the difference in ages. (Now, we will all sing the chorus to, “I’m My Own Grandpa.”) So, when she passed away it was easier to just tell people she was my aunt.
We went to her visitation near South Bend yesterday.
Emotions are a tricky thing. I don’t recall crying when my other aunts or uncles passed away and the tears didn’t come until I walked into the funeral home yesterday afternoon. I saw her youngest son, who waved at me and 5 minutes later I was blubbering. I am not a cryer.
We arrived shortly before the visitation was to begin at 4 p.m. and after lots of hugs from my cousins, the family had to go into the funeral director’s office to take care of some last minute business.
I walked up to the casket with Linda, my wife, and touched Louise’s hand and the tears flowed.
Louise was the last member of my mom’s generation.
You have to understand that when I went home from college, Louise’s mother-in-law (my true aunt) always made sure she fixed home made macaroni and cheese and cherry cheesecake because she knew I like them. No one else in the family except Louise ever made me feel special like that. Linda was the only other woman in my life who seemed to care like that.
After my aunt passed away, Linda and I would go to see Louise from time to time. It was always a little embarrassing because she would make such a big deal about it. She had a small house next to Potato Creek State Park and she would call in all her kids.
“Terry’s going to be here!,” she would say. “Let’s get together!” (Terry is my given first name, Franklin is my middle name.)
One time we showed up unexpectedly and she was going to fix a big supper and we begged off because we had a long drive home.
That did not go over well and we never left without eating again.
The visitation at the funeral home was much like a family reunion as far as I was concerned. We saw people I had not seen since my kids were born more than 40 years ago.
Cousin Gary and I swapped stories about our times growing up together; some stories I did not remember.
“Do you remember the time we went to the parade in St. Joe, Michigan, and Little Joe Cartwright was the grand marshal?”
“Do you remember the time we spent a week in that rented cottage at the lake and the people next door took us out in their speed boat and taught us to ski?” (But Gary was the only one who got up on skis.)
“Do you remember the time Bob and you and Kirby and I accepted an invitation from Bob’s neighbor and I was dressed as Santa Claus? And one very fat drunken woman insisted on sitting on Santa’s lap and she started kissing me? And I looked around for you guys and you were n’t there? When I got away, I found you guys in the driveway laughing like there was no tomorrow!”
“Do you remember the time ....?”
I turned to Josh, one of the now grown up kids on the sofa. His dad, Mark, is one of those cousins I grew up with.
“Have you ever heard old folks tell so many stories?” I asked Josh.
“Not until just now,” Josh said.
Decades ago, Mark, was maybe 4 years old and I was in high school.
Mark curled up on the couch next to me when we were watching TV one day and said, “You know what, Terry? You’re my bestest brother-cousin.”
I’m a little concerned about the modern tradition of foregoing funerals altogether or just having visitation for about an hour before the service. I know every situation is different and all families are not like ours but it is so important for families to stay in touch.
After writing this column and thinking through what yesterday meant to me, it’s no wonder I was bawling like a baby. It’s important to remember our roots.