Sunday, November 16, 2008

End of a Century: Marian Loeser Wheeler

Marian Loeser Wheeler would have been 99 years old last Friday, but she passed away last September. David's Grandma ("Mom" Loeser to some, "Grams" to others) was famously shrewd about money and investments, and while she didn't see the recent vagaries in the stock market, she certainly saw her share of ups and down in her 99-year career as a hard-working, well-dressed, tough-nosed, fine-arts-appreciating New York State dowager.

Born in 1909, she was the precocious and well-loved only daughter of a German immigrant butcher. Her mother died when she was young, and she took over handling the books for her father's business and managing the home. She spoke English though her parents were German, and her father doted on her. Marian outlived husbands, World Wars, cancer, and saw the coming (and perhaps the going?) of tv's, phones, filament light bulbs, mainframe computers, cars that crank, and other antiquities. The daughter of a working class immigrant, she became a propertied New York State matron, with children with PhD's.

Up until her last few days she was mentally sharp and enjoyed reading without reading glasses (!) and watching Lawrence Welk. Her hearing was going, but her mind and eyes were sharp, and, if she heard you, she could have a completely lucid conversation about any number of topics. A person of tremendous wherewithal and a capable businesswoman in her own right, she consulted with acuity -- almost up until the end -- with her accountant and lawyer as well as her nurses and doctors and friends and family.

She was adamant that her family eat nutritiously and her physical power until the last days is a great testament to basic German engineering, of course, but also to eating your vegetables 3 times a day. I think she told me to be sure and eat them at least a few times in the 12 years I knew her. Grams told all of us more than a few things, I suspect, in the years that we knew her, as she was outspoken about life's material practicalities -- meals and nutrition, finances, clothing. Grams enjoyed lovely things -- nice fabrics, delicious meals, jewelry -- and wanted us to be smart so we could enjoy those things, too, one day.

Grams loved to play bridge and travel on cruises, and she traveled all over the world. I have seen happy pictures of her in ornate caftans presiding over cruise ship dining tables. She looks eminently at home in those pictures, to me, and I suspect that was a particularly home-y spot for her: a woman given a manly sense of adventure and forthrightness, but living with a controlled and old fashioned idea of what is proper for ladies when traveling.

It's amusing and touching to me how I see much of that little, tiny firecracker of a lady -- last propped up in her wide, white hospital bed -- in my tall manly husband. ...In his practical and dogged and frugal German sensibility, his quick intellect and tactical, pragmatic approach, his bluff speech, and physical strength.

Grams was a small but powerful bundle of hard work and true grit -- an outspoken character that fitted a novel better than a nursing home, so she couldn't really have gone on much longer at sweet St. Ann's. And even her formidable grit couldn't wrestle down that Final Appointment. When we lost Grams, we lost a family legend.

No comments: