Mildred Clark (nee Koepl): 16 Years ago today

I really did not want to write this post. Not due to any ill will at all. Quite, quite the contrary. I loved my grandmother so much. It is just that in remembering that it’s been 16 years since she past, it reminds me of what has gone on, what she would be saying if she had lived through to see the tumultuous situations I got into, and where her daughters are today in their lives that depresses so.

She was a tough-minded, work-till-you-sleep, never-pulled-any-punches type. She was of German descent – so, that explains a lot of that. She worked from age 10 onward; grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, cooking for 20-30 hands on a farm in her early years. She drove the tractor around before she could really legally drive – and continued to drive without a license later on in life from 1962-1992. She was stubborn that way.

Her older sister commited suicide at age 17. I can’t image what Milly felt about that. It wasn’t a subject discussed in great detail. She carried on, doing whatever it took to make it best for herself.

She met my grandfather, William, after WWII when her family moved south to Dyer, Indiana. They were fixed up by friends of theirs – though I don’t think those friends were around much after that. During a baseball game at old Comiskey Park where a fresh-from-the-fighting Ted Williams was leading the Boston Red Sox, they fell in love, almost literally – with my grandfather trying to catch a foul liner hit by Teddy Ballgame down the 1st base line. He dove over my grandmother and got a bruised hand and a wife in the process.

They married on February 18, 1950 in Niles, Michigan. For some crazy reason, which I believe had to do with Grandma’s mother’s disapproval, they drove up to Michigan in a snow storm. The story related was that Mildred gave my grandpa an ultimatum : either that day or forget it. They started out their marriage $75 in the hole – the cost of the justice of the peace.

Unlike others in the 1950’s, they had a difficult time. At one point, they were living out of their car while letting their daughters stay with relatives or friends at the time. My grandpa was undereducated – 9th grade was his last year – so, that might of been part of it. He did finally get on track in construction and worked in the mills for 25 years. But whatever the fallout was from that period, my grandmother lost her own mother’s love, what little likely existed before that. As a result, for the last 30 years of her life, Mildred didn’t speak to most of her family, and never to her mother again.

By 1968, my grandmother was well entrenched in the housecleaning/janitorial business. She did that for the remainder of her life. She cleaned the Lowell Public Library (I write from the new one) for 20 years – passing away 4 months after the new one opened. During the mid-1980’s, I would go to the old library, push mow the 3/4 acre grounds and saw grandma during various stages of getting the library cleaned from stem-to -stern. I enjoyed this – I liked trying to give her a break, getting her to talk about sports, especially those Cubbies, who she came to mock after their inglorious 1969 season. I thought she was wrong, but alas, it has been 100 years since those Northsiders have done it right.

She would do anything for me – college, for one, she assisted me financially more than I really know – and I think saw what she and grandpa wanted in a son they didn’t have…maybe.

When the doctor diagnosed her with cancer in late 1991, it was too late. She had hid the fact she had been bleeding for months – she hated doctors, I suppose for the reasons most give and the fact she lost husband to cancer – and it had spread from the uterus to her liver.

On the day she passed, the doctor was in North Carolina on the links. I remember seeing her take her final breath and just going nuts. I stormed out of the room, pushing my aunt and mother aside. I slung a food tray down the hall watching peas scatter like marbles all over the place. A nurse or CNA screamed something incoherently as I went to the elevator, then I turned and said to her: “Shut…your…mouth…bitch!!!” And I got in the elevator as mad as I have ever been in my life.
My mother and I had drove up seperately that night. I had my grandparents old 1967 Electra 225. This car had plenty to give under the hood; I nearly had an accident one time at age 17 in a McDonald’s parking lot when the accelerator got stuck as I pulled away from the drive-thru. It took a miracle for me to stop the car before I roared out onto the main road in Lowell.
But that night, I was all for speed. I got into that 2-ton monster with one intent: to see how far I could push my luck. I tore out of that parking lot looking for a sitdown with God I think . The old ambulance route is a winding road with a speed limit of 40MPH. It has one stretch where you might be able to get up to 80 MPH and hold it on the road. I wasn’t interested.
Before I could think clearly, I buried the needle beyond 120. I took a curve at probably 95 MPH, using as much skill as sure luck to keep it on the road. I managed to come to my senses as I reached a T in the road.

I stopped and cried.

(That was the last time that car saw a speed over 60. We sold it 6 months later…)

My grandmother hasn’t yet received her headstone due to finances. My grandfather got his from his Naval service. Every year, I put two quarters on that stone – my grandmother kept coins prior to 1964 since they actually contained silver – in remembrance of this profitable quirk. She kept a huge change purse – I think we counted out $58 in coinage upon her death. And she had another $550 dollars, all prior to 1964, upstairs in her room. (Of course, that got spent by her oldest…)

I would have posted a picture – and I will (March 3, 2008)- but I didn’t think I would write this post. It just didn’t know what would be best.

Thinking of you grandma Clark!

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Comments

  • carol webb  On March 2, 2008 at 7:20 am

    I did enjoy reading about your Grandma. I hope my grandchildren feel some love towards me as they get older. You never can tell!

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