Woster: The loss that always causes an ache inside
I’m 79 years old now, but when I walk down the street in my hometown, I still have people stop me to gush about Marie Woster and how she played piano.
Before my mom’s funeral back in 2004, my cousin Michael, who officiated at the service, remarked to me that now I was an orphan.
The comment stunned me. I had turned 60 a few months earlier. Yes, my dad was gone, too. He had died back in 1968, so long ago it seemed like another lifetime. But my mom had always been there, living alone for more than three decades, making new friends across generations and delighting in the antics of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
It took a few moments, but then I realized, yes, I was an orphan. Not the normal kind, but still a man whose parents were both gone. I had none of the life struggles of people who lost parents early in life. I did struggle emotionally for a time as I worked with the idea that an anchor to my past was no longer holding me fast.
I am not totally adrift, of course. I have two brothers and two sisters still alive. We share the same childhood, the same farm upbringing and many of the same memories of our parents. But the generation of family that guided us through our early years is no longer around, and sometimes that still causes an ache somewhere inside.
My big sister always refers to our mother as a small woman. Sometimes she calls her tiny. I guess that’s so. She seemed small on the hospice bed in her final days. But even though I grew to be more than a foot taller than she was, I never thought of her as small. She was just my mom. She raised me as best she could, and only a time or two in my whole life did I ever talk back. That would have been unacceptable. It would have been unkind. Really, it would have been unthinkable in those days.
My mom never considered herself intelligent or talented. She could play anything on a piano or church organ, though. I’m 79 years old now, but when I walk down the street in my hometown, I still have people stop me to gush about Marie Woster and how she played piano. When they do, I still feel like a little kid. I guess that won’t change until I’m gone, too.
She was a shy woman at heart, yet she made friends easily. She had a way of making people laugh, and she didn’t mind laughing at herself. Such qualities are rare these days.
Her family loyalty was fierce. If she thought one of her children or grandchildren was in trouble, she would have gone running to save them.
Now, sometimes she might not have been sure which child she was rushing to save. A famous family story tells of a time on the farm when she suddenly realized she didn’t know where her youngest child, Kevin, was. She ran outside and hollered, “California.’’
It was the first name that came to mind, she said later.
My siblings will tell you our mother was immensely proud of each of us. She celebrated each accomplishment, but she didn’t like to brag. My dad did. When he did, my mom squirmed. She leaned toward that Bible story about doing good deeds in secret and letting the Father reward you. And she did not mean our dad.
My mom worried. She became highly skilled at it. People say not to waste time worrying because most things won’t happen. My mom figured she could worry about everything, because some of those things surely would happen.
For years she drove around town in a big boat of a four-door sedan. She loved that car. It got her to coffee. The family remembers the time she came awake in a hospital after a heart procedure. She had a tube down her throat, but she motioned for paper and pen and scribbled a few words. It took some deciphering, but it was just a reminder that she had an appointment to have her car worked on with Kermie Swanson.
To this day, when I see him on the street or at the boat ramp, I think of my mom.