High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Breakfast With Mother: Fond, Wistful Memories of Margaret Schneider on
the 106th Anniversary of Her Birth

Tom Anderson sitting in for Shady Del Knight this week. The 18th of April is a very important date on the Shady Dell calendar. This year, for the first time, it is a bitter-sweet occasion. Here to bring us the story is my dear friend Kathleen Mae Schneider.




Kathleen Mae Schneider

It seems like my dear mother

is still here with me this morning.

Smiling through tears, I drink my coffee from
her favorite mug, taken back to a year ago on
this day. I had just given her a kiss and said,
"Happy 105th Birthday, Mom!", and she
shook her head, not quite believing
that she had lived so long.

Then, after taking a sip of high-caffeine
coffee prepared with milk from this favorite
butterfly mug of hers, she set it back on her
breakfast tray and with her characteristic
impish smile, pointed to it and said to me,
"The doctor said coffee wasn't good for me." 

The memory this cup conjures up for me is
quintessential Mother. Irrepressible, sharp of mind
and positive in outlook to the end of her life,
Mother's unique sense of humor no doubt
contributed to her longevity.

I was so fortunate to grow up in a home where we
laughed a lot. Because there wasn't a lot of money,
we didn't own a television set until I was 10,
so we made our own entertainment.

Once, Mother mistakenly hung her slacks on my
dad's side of the closet. After he squeezed into
them, he pointed to the side zipper and asked her,
"Margaret, can you please tell me how to use
the fly in these new trousers you got me?"

In addition to both my parents demonstrating how
to find such things as this to laugh about, Mother
taught me to marvel at, and be grateful for beauty
of all kinds. Flowers especially pleased her. Our
house was surrounded with annual and perennial
blooms and flowering shrubs and trees she planted.

I called Mother every evening, but often couldn't reach her
because she was outside watering her massive garden of
zinnias. (The woman next to her is my second cousin.)

Mother also grew and preserved many kinds of
vegetables, having first watched her mother feed
her large family from the Shady Dell's garden.

Growing one's own food was a necessity during the
Great Depression and Second World War, but Mother
still took pride in her Victory Garden - her hobby,
physical fitness and healing - well into her nineties.

Much of Mother's garden bounty was given away
to others. Visitors were treated to Mother's specialty -
homemade root beer - over good conversation. They
left laden with vegetables and flowers, a loaf of her
fresh baked bread, and of course, another bottle
of root beer. Any good was meant to be shared.

I think Mother's gratitude for nature's beauty and
life's blessings grew out of experiencing much adversity
in her life. The laundry list of traumas and misfortunes
she endured just in her first 16 years would take many
of us down for the count: serious illnesses, sexual
abuse, bullying, jail time for a parent, homelessness,
lack of education, and the murder of a sibling, among
others. However, she grew to be a kind and beautiful
woman, without a trace of bitterness or self pity.
No wonder my father fell in love with her!

My parents, Margaret Brown, 18, and Ralph Schneider, 25,
strolling on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the summer of
1930. (I love the icy-looking sign below the movie title
advertising early air conditioning!)

Mother personified resilience and unconditional love.
Her acceptance of others and forgiveness if they hurt
her, her humility, gentle nature and kindness, all
belied a steely toughness that triumphed over
so many tragedies.

In yet another pair of blows to their happiness,
she and my father nearly lost their first child,
my brother James, to a birth defect, and
Mother suffered terribly from a long
and serious postpartum infection.

However, this picture taken at the beach a few
years later shows a healthy young family.

Then, two years before I was born, Mother
nearly died from drinking contaminated
water from a friend's well.

(right) Mother, back home after a six-week bout with typhoid fever. She claimed living through such awful events as this only made her stronger!

Although she worked in sewing factories as a teen-
ager, she never sought any other career. However, she put her excellent seamstress skills to good use making doll clothes, Halloween costumes and school outfits.

At two and a half, I was obviously pleased with my very well dressed doll.

Six years later, I won the blue ribbon for this
"Dutch girl" number that Mother designed and
sewed for me. My father carved the wooden shoes.

Mother was proud of her "career" and considered
her 46-year, happy marriage to my father, mothering
their three children, being grandmother to seven, and
great-grandmother to six, her greatest achievements.

Mother with her grownup "kids", James, Betty and me,
at her grandson's wedding

My two children adored their Grammy! The feeling was mutual.

Great grandson Max with "Old Grammy".
(My sister is just "Grammy")

My father's death in 1980 was one of the worst
losses Mother ever suffered, but she soldiered on,
insisting on keeping busy and engaged with life,
and staying alone in her house. She worked hard
to tire herself out and helped others whenever
she could so she'd forget her problems. Loving
everyone and working hard were her solutions
to any encroaching sadness.

Mother sweeping her sidewalk.

Mother, 102, in rehab healing from hip fracture #2.
She preferred clipping coupons to the
nursing home's entertainment!

Mother and me holding one another up
after the death of my son 12 years ago

So unlike the colorfully wrapped gifts I gave her
in 2017, my only gifts to her this year are some
pink petunias I placed on her grave and this
tribute to honor her. For the rest of my life,
however, these are just some of the enduring
and precious gifts she continues to give to me:
laughter, love and forgiveness for everyone,
flowers and gardening, gratitude, faith in God
and resilience. I was blessed to be able to have
her as my mother, my best friend, counselor,
role model and inspiration for over 70
of her amazing 105 years.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mother!

I love you beyond measure.

Oh, and now that I'm finished with my coffee,
your mug says it best....