We spend our days moving back and forth to the hospital on tender visits to my 86 year old Mother. I feel thrown into a free fall of recognition that we all are terminal here. That includes my Mother who has been here since my time began 60 plus years ago.
That free fall throws me into the foreign land of modern medicine and new terms like “frail elderly” and the “old-old” applied to someone who is a foundational pillar in my life. While those terms have not come up in the current hospital experience, they have sifted through the cracks of a present reality which seems to swim amid details never imagined or previously overlooked. I may be in denial, but I don’t think Mother qualifies as “old-old”.
For me, another layer emerges. Perhaps it is in these times one naturally turns to family history. I am struck by the weavings of our family’s history as afforded by the 360 degrees surrounding that 4th floor where Mother spends those long days and nights. Her window faces East. Let us begin there.
We can see the building where my Mother and her Sister Ruth gave birth to me and to my beloved Cousin Susan in 1948.
We overlook the campus of what is now A.T. Still University. This community and this University pride themselves on being the birthplace of Osteopathic Medicine over a century ago. In 1902, 2 of Mother’s Uncles (Louis Brenz and Harl Wiles, who later married my Grandfather’s Sister Clara) graduated from the American School of Osteopathy. Their footsteps no doubt wove intricate and serious paths upon this place. [Photo below: Esther Wiles, Harl Wiles, Louis Brenz, graduation 1902, ASO, courtesy Still National Osteopathic Museum, March 20, 2009]
Louis was Mother’s Father’s (Fred Albert Brenz’s) brother. These 2 brothers agreed to put the other through Osteopathic training. That worked for the 1st of the 2, Uncle Louis. Life got busy for him with establishing a new practice in another state, marriage, and family.
Just before and after World War II, Albert A. Griffin, who married Mother’s Sister Ruth, was also walking his path in this place as he journeyed toward becoming an Osteopath physician.
With the passage of time, newer buildings sprouted among or replaced most of the older ones. While the vision of those buildings likely came from leaders of this profession, my Father’s hands can be seen amongst them. My Father (Jack Felix Bloskovich) was a bricklayer and foreman on the tall creamy gray brick Gutensohn Building. Dr. Gutensohn was the beloved Doctor and friend of both my Mother and Father.
Looking straight East down Jefferson Street, I see 401 West Jefferson, a spot which held until recently the Triangle Apartments. Mother, her sister Ruth, and their mother Lottie lived in Apartment 1 during World War II. That little apartment had 1 small bedroom with bath, a kitchen the size of a closet, and a living room/dining room just off the street. The 3 women took pleasure in each other’s company while they anxiously awaited news of the war and the return of the 2 brand new husbands (Albert and Jack) . In the mid 1960s, my Croatian Grandmother Dora and her daughter Anna lived in that same apartment. From 1967-69, Richard and I lived in that same apartment while we were finishing our education at Northeast Missouri State University.
One can see a broad expanse of level ground flowing mostly North to South. This space once held railroad tracks, the heartbeat of an earlier time. Factory workers from the 4 story red brick International Shoe Company used the tracks to walk back and forth from their homes. My Grandfather Fred and my Mother would have been among them.
Following Jefferson Street further, one can see the Bank of Kirksville, a building on which my Father again laid brick. While I sit in its locked chambers, I am surrounded by brick that perhaps he laid with his very own hands.
The sweep of the horizon to the Southeast shows the campus of the local college, which has been known by various names over the years. Who knows how many of our kin have gone there or worked there? When Mother’s Aunt Della Brenz went there to become a teacher, it was called the State Normal School. She graduated in 1906. I wonder if Mother’s Aunt Clara Brenz (later Wiles) went there too.
Mother’s Sister Thelma Louise’s son Russell D. Wells received his B.S. (1962) and M.A. (1965) degrees in Industrial Education from what was then Kirksville State Teachers College. Shortly after, Richard and I studied there; he finished his B.S. Ed. in Zoology in 1968. In 1969, we both walked across the stage in August; he finished his Master’s in Zoology and I completed my B.S. Ed. in Vocational Home Economics.
Mother’s daughter in law Diane Selby Bloskovich completed a degree in Business. Yet another generation studied there. Christine Wells (Russell and Sharry Wells' daughter) graduated from there in 1992. Mother's grandson Bransen completed his degree there in the mid 1990s.
Diane now works on the University campus. Once again, the University has a new name and this time a new mission. Truman State University is designated as the state's liberal arts school. Diane works in McClain Hall which is a red brick building built on a decidedly horizontal slant. Once again Dad was foreman and bricklayer on this building in an earlier time. Who knows how many buildings that he worked on that greet my eyes from this spot?
Down below Mother's room, I see the roof over the Emergency Room and Intensive Care Unit, places where my parents both made their way in these last 2 fragile years. As I ponder my view further, I note that Surgery is below me as well. Just 5 weeks ago, I had surgery on my hip.
I find myself pondering Pierce Street, which runs in front of the hospital. My 1st home was 510 West Pierce, which surely must now sit at the entrance to the Emergency Room. After the World War II, 510 West Pierce marked home to Mother and Dad, her sister Ruth and her husband Albert, and their Mother Lottie.
With all the boys returning from the War, housing was in short supply. The ever outgoing Albert with his winsome ways found this little white house through conversations at a grocery store, which was one of many in this town during those years.
I imagine that little house was packed with many things. Among them were the senses of humor and practical jokering of 2 funny guys (my Father Jack and his brother-in-law Albert). As I understand, they had never met before this time. The more gentle wits of Mother and her Sister Ruth filled in the open spaces, if there were any. Albert was seriously studying. My Dad was out and about looking for work. In 1947, his life time career as a bricklayer began. Mother was working at the Shoe Factory and Ruth was working at the Telephone Company. All four were providing loving support for Mother and Mother-in-Law Lottie.
The house at 510 West Pierce held those 2 pregnant Sisters. It held 2 new babies who were born 17 days apart, my Cousin Susan and me. Less than a year later, the Griffins packed up their car with all their worldly possessions and left to begin Al’s practice on the west coast. Mother’s Aunt Lula moved in. That spot surely held some of my 1st steps.
I took this picture in for Mother to see today. She smiled one of those beautiful loving smiles. This is Dad and Mother outside that little house. She said the picture was taken after the Griffins left. They bought the suits for Christmas presents that year.
When Mother and Dad moved out to our new house which Dad had built, my Grandmother had passed the year before. Grandmother was a classical pianist early in her life, a fact in which she and her family took considerable pride. Her sheet music had been stored in the attic and was forgotten in our family’s move. That music was never reclaimed. Its unintentional loss was a very tender spot for Mother over the years.
Mother’s Aunt Lula lived South of here on Scott Street next to the Ballards. Scott Street marks the southern boundary of the parking lot for the hospital. I remember fondly going to spend time with her when I was a little girl. One of my favorite all time memories is of her feather bed. She and I would snuggle into the middle of it for our nest in the night. The next morning she would fluff it up.
To the west, we see Twin Pines, the nursing home which held Mother’s Sister Thelma Louise, who passed there in 1991, and Dad’s Sister Anna, who passed there in 2004. Mother was a resident there for about 3 weeks, just before this hospital stay. Her simple possessions are still there, her bed is made up, and her roommate awaits her return.
Just north of Twin Pines is a house which while still stately shows signs of age, wear, neglect. This house of the classical revival style was built in 1912-1914 and was home to Andrew Taylor Still's son Charles E. Still. Family story here suggests that the house was home to the Atlas Club, the fraternity of Mother's Brother-in-Law Albert when he was in school to become a D.O. I remember Mother and Dad consistently pointing to that building and saying that was the Atlas Club, Albert's fraternity.
My interaction at the Still National Osteopathic Museum this week suggests that the Atlas Club was actually at another site during the years of Albert's schooling. The Club moved to the site of Charley Still's house in 1958. The site during Albert's years was still within view of Mother's room. Nevermind the specific location, it is the story here that is important.
My Father did not have access to the same privilege of education and wealth as Albert's fraternity brothers. He was smart and savvy in a way that neither money nor education could buy. My Father was also quite athletic and skilled in winning. Albert would bring Jack to the Atlas Club to play games against those students who thought they were pretty good. Dad would beat them more often than not. Albert and Jack would get a real chuckle out of that.
My Brother Brian surely must have been born just north of here too, although I am not sure in which building. He was born a little soon. His birth and infancy came in 1954 during the epidemic polio scare. Mother was super protective and ever vigilant in his care. I was 5 but I remember that time well. Mother kept my Brother inside the house and shielded him from visitors. Some slipped through her radar, but left her very fearful of what might be. I remember that if any of my friends came toward me while I was playing in my sand box during that hot summer, I had to run into the house. As a 5 year old, I did not and could not understand. But I know today that must have been a very traumatic time for any Mother of a new baby, my Mother included. I can imagine she experienced a deep gratitude for her baby’s health and the vibrancy of his boyhood steps.
Sweeping down North Osteopathy and up on the next hill is the Forest Llewellyn Cemetery, which surely must be the oldest in this town. We would regularly visit there to decorate graves when I was growing up. Over the years, I do not believe my Mother has missed a single year. Her Grandfather, Frederick Gottlob Brenz, and her Grandmother Matilda Waibel Brenz are buried there.
Frederick Gottlob Brenz immigrated to the United States in 1861 from Wurtemberg, Germany. He was trained as a “Cooper” or barrel maker. At the time of his immigration, young men were required to attend military classes. This was cited in family lore as a reason why he left. In reading about that area during that time, I discovered that war seemed imminent in the region of his home.
He left at 17 and his Brother (John) left about the same time. They agreed to meet in St. Louis, which seems our family’s version of “Meet me in St. Louis”. Great Grandfather Fred arrived in New York City and quickly enrolled in English language classes. When he had enough working knowledge of the language, he headed to St. Louis. Upon arrival there, he stopped at various hotels inquiring of his Brother. The 2 reconnected in their new homeland. I am struck by the perseverance and fortitude of this 17 year old. He (and his Brother) left a homeland on the verge of war and made a new home in a land embroiled by Civil War.
Frederick and John made their way to Bethel, Missouri, a German Colony. Frederick met a little German woman Matilda Waibel. They later married. Their 2 daughters who died in infancy are buried beside them. Their 2 daughters Della and Clara both lived into their 80s. Della and Clara (with her husband Harl Wiles) are buried there too.
That full circle sweep of 360 degrees takes me around the close space of this hospital. My Mother has certainly been through a lot over the course of her life, and especially these last few weeks. She prides herself on being a tough old German woman. She is.
I think about interweavings of footsteps of our family. The above stories are only those known to me in this moment. They deal with the past and a bit of the present. I see layers and layers of footsteps, some in the past, others in the present. I wonder what layers will be seen of our family here in the future. These interweavings form a tight sacred nest for Mother and all of us now.
Note: I am deeply appreciative of interaction with personnel at the Still National Osteopathic Museum, who assisted in some of the details here, including the photos of Mother's 2 Uncles.