I got my first Christmas card earlier this week, and in many ways it will be the most welcome card I will receive this year. It came from my Godmother, Marge Schnoor. She lives in a retirement home near Fremont, Ohio. Marge is a cousin and the last link with my mother’s side of my family. She and my mother were first cousins and were close most of their lives but especially around the time that I was born. They kept in touch thru letters and cards till 1995, when my mother had a stroke and pretty much lost interest in life. My mother was four years older and Marge was kind of like the younger sister she never had.
The only time I hear from Marge now is at Christmas. She used to write a paragraph or two of news on her cards but this year it was just “Doing pretty good for 88 and a half!” But seeing those few words written in her own hand warmed my heart considerably. Some Christmas there will be no card and then I will know that she likely passed that year and that no one bothered to tell me.
That scenario played out last spring when I found out almost by accident that the other remaining link with my mother’s family died. I found out several weeks later from cousins on my father’s side. They emailed me and said that they assumed that I’d heard the news about Janet. I hadn’t. Her second husband and I barely knew each other and I guess he never thought to inform me. Janet was a year younger than me and we were pretty close as kids. She was very social, loved to dance, and tried to pass along some of those skills to her pathologically shy cousin—but to no avail.
My mother and I visited Marge and her husband Henry back in the summer of 1990. We dropped by their little house in Oak Harbor on short notice. We hadn’t seen them in years and so we spent much of the day visiting and catching up. Marge fixed lunch and afterwards Henry got out photo albums. Many of the family pictures I’d seen before. However, I hadn’t seen the pics of Henry in the Army during WWII. They were taken somewhere in the Phillipines or the Solomon Islands and mostly were of skinny, shirtless men living in tents. Henry was a quiet, modest sort of man but I think in his own way he wanted us to remember that he’d been part of the great crusade in the Pacific. It was a memorable afternoon. My mother was doing well then and it was great to see her and Marge interacting just like they did in the old days of the 1950s.
Henry died two years ago and in her card last Christmas Marge said that she missed him tremendously. I can well imagine, as they always seemed to me to be an unusually close and affectionate couple. The last time I saw Marge and Henry was in August of 2000. My mother had passed in January of that year and I drove up to Ohio in the late summer to reconnect with my roots and the old home town again. I had a family photo I wanted to give Marge. I had copies made of a photo taken in 1910. My grandmother Alma and Marge’s mother Stella were part of a family of ten children. In the pic all the kids and their mother, Gramma Murphy, were seated on the front porch for a formal portrait. The pic was 5×7 and unusually sharp for that era. Marge was very happy that I had thought of her and that I had this special portrait copied.
Like my parents, Marge and Henry just had one child, Freddie. He was 3 or 4 years younger than me but we spent a lot of time together as kids because our mother’s were close. I never hear from him. He’s a retired school superintendent. He tows his boat down to the Keys each winter but has never stopped to see me. I had told Marge to tell him that he was welcome to stay here. I guess he’s not sentimental like I am.
My grandmother’s family, the Murphys, were a hard-living bunch. I calculated once that of the 10 children, 7 or 8 were either recovered or active alcoholics. Frank, John, Herb, Maggie and Violet all lived in Detroit. Stella lived in Toledo, and my grandmother, Edith and Patricia lived in the home town, Port Clinton. The youngest, Dick, was retired Navy and lived in Key West. When I was a kid my mother and I were perpetually going to Detroit or Toledo to visit. Several of the ten Murphy sibs had large families but I have no idea where their offspring are any longer. They have scattered all over this restless, peripatetic country of ours. As a kid it felt like I had a big family, but now Marge and Janet, and a couple cousins from my father’s side are about it.
Of all my relatives, Marge and Henry lived out their faith most sincerely. They were always active in a Lutheran Church and in contrast to most of the Murphy clan said a blessing before meals. That impressed me as a kid. In our home we mostly said grace at big events like T-day and Christmas. Other than Herb, none of the Murphy’s were notably religious. Stella, Marge’s mom, was the family comedienne, always making funny faces and quips. Her dad, Fred Walters, liked to have a drink or two but it wasn’t a problem. Fred and Stella were real people but not religious people. However, they did a pretty good job rearing their five kids. Some of Marge’s character surely came from them. Her quiet faith and sincerity came across in both her letters and her conversation. It is good to know that she and Henry will be spending eternity in the Lord’s bosom.