My Mom was born September 5, 1913 in Hainesville, NJ on the Kyte family farm near the Old Mine Road, the oldest road in the US, and the Delaware River. She was named Florence after her Grandma Rosenkrans and Elizabeth after her Grandma Clark (nee Kyte). She died in January 1997 in Hackettstown, NJ at the age of 83. She is the person that (so far) I've had the longest relationship with in my life - 56 years, my Dad having died in 1975. Mom's mother was Alice Rosenkrans Clark and her father, John Kyte Clark. I don't know too much about my Mom's early years, but it was definitely in the horse and buggy days, growing up on the farm. They had a large extended family who were the descendants of the Europeans settlers who came to the area in the 1700s. I have a picture of a Civil War reunion in 1915 (50 years after the end of the war) which shows my Grandma Clark holding "two year old Florence." My grandfather farmed his small farm with horses right up until 1945 or so when he sold the farm and moved to Newton, NJ. I'm not sure when they bought their first car. They were self-sufficient, independent small farmers who grew most of their own food, made most of their own clothes and provided for their own needs to a much greater extent than people do today. As little as possible was store bought. I'm sure my Grandma Clark instilled in my Mom and her sister, Winnie, their prodigious work ethic that lasted them their entire lives. My Mom was extremely energetic, productive and ambitious, not one to sit down and relax until every last chore that could possibly be done was done. However, on the farm there was a clear delineation between "men's work" and "women's work." My daughter, Justine, asked her once if she'd ever milked a cow, and she said "no." When asked why she said, "No one ever asked me to!"
Mom attended a one or two room schoolhouse and later went to Newton HS. It takes about 15 minutes to drive by car from Hainesville to Newton these days, but in those days the trip was prohibitively long so my mother roomed and boarded in Newton presumably coming home weekends. Later she went to Montclair State Teachers College in Montclair, NJ. She and her sister both became teachers. Summers she worked as a waitress at nearby Rock View House, a resort of sorts where they had a golf course, swimming and horse back riding. So it wasn't necessarily all work and no play although the work ethic was very strong. Sometime during the 1930s my Mom, her sister and one other girl made a car trip to California to visit their uncle, one of Grandma Libby Kyte's brothers, who lived in Santa Monica and was an optometrist. That was quite an adventurous trip for three young women in those days before the advent of the interstate highway system. Later, being childless, Uncle Kyte left quite a lot of money to Grandpa Clark when he died. I think this paid for my Mom's college and later for the mortgage on our house.
After graduating from college, she worked at Franklin HS in Franklin, NJ, home of the world's richest zinc ore and mineral deposits probably due to a meterorite that crashed into earth eons ago. There she met my Dad. My Dad sent her a note via one of the students which said, "Do you want to have turkey with me and my parents..." so that was their first date. My Dad used to joke about eating "old, dead cow," so I guess I owe my existence to an old, dead turkey! They were married at the family farm June 30, 1940, and visted all the civil war battlefields on their honeymoon. That was my Dad, a history major's, idea. I was born about a year later. My Mom was a stay-at-home Mom while my sister and I were kids. Later she went back to work as a teacher. When I was four we moved to the house on Lewisburg Road in Wantage Township, NJ where my Dad was principal of the Wantage Consolidated School. She would stay there for the rest of her life except the last three years when she relocated to the House of the Good Shepherd in Hackettstown.
Shortly after my sister was born in 1945, my Mom was diagnosed with TB and had to go to a sanitarium in Glen Gardner, NJ. This was tragic for our family. I remember the day Grandpa Clark came to pick Mom up and drive her to the sanitarium while Dad stayed with me and my sister, Jeanne. My Mom didn't like emotional displays and had coached me to "be grown up" and not get emotional. Everything went smoothly until, at the last minute, I grabbed my Mom and didn't want to let her go. After that I only saw her once in the next four years till she finally came home when I was in second grade. My Dad was left with two small kids and a responsible job he had to do. My Mom was there for almost four years! Finally, the invention of streptomycin saved her life, but the shots were so expensive ($180. per at a time my Dad only made about $250. a month) that it forced my Dad into bankruptcy, what they called medical indigency at the time. So people going bankrupt over medical bills is nothing new. My Mom, in the course of her treatment, had half of each lung removed. For the rest of her life she couldn't walk up a slight hill without getting winded. It's amazing how much she accomplished despite that and she never complained.
My Mom was a beautiful woman. She had movie star looks although she wasn't the emotionally expressive, dramatic, actress type at all. Quite the opposite. She was very intelligent and had a clear, rational mind. In fact she was probably the most rational person I ever knew, man or woman. There was a bit of role reversal in our family. Usually, the husband is the left-brained rational type and the wife, the right-brained emotional type. Those roles were reversed as my Dad was more emotional than my Mom, and my Mom was more rational than my Dad. My Mom was also a perfectionist and could be quite critical. She always did what she was supposed to do, and she expected others to do likewise. Her favorite sayings were, "There's no time like the present," and "Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today." To say my Mom was industrious was to say the least; she was a powerhouse - a great homemaker and a professional woman. She was very cheerful, and I don't think she was ever depressed although once in a while she could be in a bad mood. Later, when my sister was older, they had a live-in maid, Mae, who took care of my sister and was practically part of the family. Even she called my Mom "the slavedriver" and the "General."
Mom and I had a bit of a personality clash as I'm more of a creative type, and she was more businesslike. She wasn't the kind to suffer fools gladly, and, therefore, she didn't suffer me gladly at times. She once told Justine, "You and your Dad are both dreamers." But I owe my self-discipline, ability to be organized and my English language skills to her. For my entire life, after I left home, we exchanged weekly letters. Later there were weekly phone calls as well as the letters. We always stayed in touch and our relationship was better from a distance than it was when I was "under her thumb." Mom had an agenda for me which clashed with the agenda I proposed for myself which was made up, largely, as I went along, improvised, so to speak. Mom was what I call the "corporate" type - businesslike, industrious, clear-headed, cheerful. I'm more the bumbling, depressed, creative, muddling through type. Mom had a clear idea of what I should be and where my life should go which I perceived as somewhat overbearing. I had to define my own life and make my own mistakes. I suppose I'm not the first one to have this kind of tension with one's parent.
When Mom came home from the sanitarium, she had another challenge to face - my sister had been born with brain damage and couldn't walk or talk although it wasn't obvious when she was young what the extent of the damage was. She looked normal. Later it would become evident that the damage was massive as she never learned to talk even as an adult and had the mentality of about a one and a half year old her entire life. Despite all this, my parents never lost their optimism, their belief in God and the American dream. They were both professional people; they had a lot of nice friends, mainly other professionals, and a very active social life. My Mom kept some friends her entire life. In fact at the end of her life she roomed with Betty May at the House of the Good Shepherd whom she had known in high school. I think my Mom felt as if she'd come a long way from the farm in Hainesville although she spent almost her entire life in Sussex County, where she grew up. It was nice having all your extended family within a 15 mile radius unlike today where families are spread out over the entire country.
Around 1950 or so, Mom and Dad took in a foster daughter, Shirley. Shirley stayed with us a few years and then moved to Hackettstown with another foster family. She married and raised four children. Although out of touch for several years she and my Mom eventually got back in touch and remained close for the rest of Mom's life. In fact it was Shirley who called to tell me that Mom had died in the hospital at Hackettstown. Shirley and I became great friends as we are till this day. We are truly brother and sister. I regard Shirley as practically a saint having raised four of her grandchildren due to circumstances beyond her control. Shirley and I and the kids went on a lot of trips together when they were growing up. Recently, Megan, the oldest, graduated from college. She still has Jonathan who's in eighth grade at home.
When my Dad died in July, 1975, Justine and I flew to NJ from CA and spent the entire summer with Mom and Grandma. She and Justine, her only grandchild, had a special relationship for the rest of her life. She loved and spoiled Justine. We always flew back there for Christmas and had a lot of wonderful Christmases together, the three of us. Christmas morning we always had orange juice, cinnamon rolls and coffee. My Mom was famous for her cinnamon rolls. I loved them. That was before the cinnamon roll craze of today, and still I've never had a better cinnamon roll than the ones my Mom made. She also was famous for her brownies, and she always had cinnamon rolls and brownies in her freezer which she took out when I came home. Because I was self-employed since a year after my Dad died, I usually spent a few weeks a couple times a year with my Mom. That was a lot of vacation and a luxury I wouldn't have been able to have if I worked a regular job where they give you two weeks of vacation a year. My Mom, however, would have preferred that I had the regular job because that is what she pictured in her mind for me even though I felt I was doing a good thing by spending so much time with her.
For many years we were a vertical family, Mom, the widow, my daughter, Justine, only granddaughter, and me, the single parent - three generations but very much integrated as a family. I was a single parent with custody of Justine for most of her childhood so Mom fulfilled a much larger role than most grandparents did in their grandchildrens' lives. I remember when Justine's Mom first left, my Mom came out and stayed with Justine and me until things settled down. She did all she could to keep our family together and was heart-broken when her influence wasn't able to do it. She was a fighter, but a very gentle, somewhat shy (in public) and classy person who was always impeccably dressed and liked to have luncheon (never just lunch) with her respectable friends. In later years Mom supported Justine and I financially to a certain extent. She was generous beyond belief giving us both large checks for birthdays and Christmas and later, when Justine was in college and graduate school, practically every month. Mom looked out for us, but she didn't worry about us. She was not a worrier. She always wanted the best for us, and she always thought she knew what that best was. If only we would live as she prescribed. I think it was one of the frustrations of her life that we didn't.
My Mom took more courses and became a school librarian largely because she didn't want to have to deal with the discipline cases any more. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Clark (no relation), the principal, whom she didn't like very much, started sending the discipline cases to the library! My Mom had to go on the war path to get Mr. Clark to rescind this policy. She was a fighter. She retired - early I think - after she had just gotten in enough time to collect her pension. She had Dad's life insurance, her pension and social security so she was set. She spent winters in Florida going from one friend's house to another's. They came and stayed with her in the summers when Florida was too hot. The house, for which they paid $5000. in 1945, was obviously paid for and they had added on along the way. My Mom was an excellent decorator and the house always looked nice. They had a lot of dinner parties sometimes for 3 or 4 couples at a time. My Mom did all the work of preparation, cooking and clean-up. In those days the housewife did it all. People didn't bring dishes for potluck. I think my Dad considered this one of the perks of being married. He used to joke around sometimes to my Mom's embarrassment. He once said the only reason he got married was so that he'd have someone to darn his socks to which my Mom said "Oh, Cliffff ..." They had big family and friends picnics in their yard in the summers. I built the fireplace they used out of field stones when I was 11.
Some time after my Dad died, my Mom got a call from Jack Bauer, a guy she had dated in high school. I guess Jack had never fallen out of love with her, and since she was a widow and his wife was incapacitated with Alzheimer's or something, they struck up a relationship. She and Jack were together for a few years, and they traveled together except that one of her destinations in Florida was no longer available to them because the people didn't approve of them living together and not being married. It didn't seem that long before Jack got cancer and died. She had another great friend, Wally Wirths, who was a very rich guy who had built a mansion on some nearby property that belonged to the Stires family when I was a kid. I used to go there and play with Gary Stires who was in my class. We used to swim in the pond, play baseball etc. I don't know if Mom's relationship with Wally was romantic or not. I think it was for the most part platonic. Anyway Mom and Wally went into the antiques business together opening up a little store in Colesville. They pursued this for several years till my Mom started feeling it was too much and got out. Antiques and flowers were her passions her whole life. She edited some of Wally's books, paeans of right wing literature. Wally was an ardent right winger which presented something of a culture clash as I was a left winger and anti-war protester from the sixties.
At Wally's urging, Mom took in a Vietnamese foster son, An Nguyen, who was one of the boat people fleeing Vietnam during the war. An went through high school and college while living with Mom at the house on Lewisburg Road. It was a good arrangement for both of them. An's prescence helped my Mom stay active and involved in life. Presently, An lives in Singapore, is married and has a daughter who he named Florence in honor of my Mom. Once An and I took an all day canoe trip down the Delaware River from Dingman's Ferry to the Delaware Water Gap, and An used to pick me up from the airport when I went back there. We'd stop for Korean or Chinese food on the way home.
I sometimes wonder why my Mom didn't use her intelligence in more profound ways. As an English teacher, she was a good writer. She was primarily a grammarian and would always correct Justine's grammar. "It's Heather and I ... not me and Heather." But I think my Mom's orientation was practical, down to earth, home, family and business, not pie in the sky, artsy fartsy, intellectual. She would leave that to me although she didn't want me to be that way either. In the final analysis one can only be a good writer if one has something to say, if one's life has some emotional content or inner turmoil. My Mom was very unemotional and had no inner turmoil so, even though she was intelligent, her intelligence was directed outward towards the practicalities of life. She was not introspective in the least. I was always trying to get my Mom into conversations about relationships or politics. She could talk about these subjects, but she didn't seem to want to most of the time unless she was humoring me. She was a relentless small talk talker. She would go on for hours talking about the trivia of her and others' lives while we were driving somewhere to which I would reply "Um Humm. Uh Huhh." And so it would go until we reached our destination. My Mom seemed to be all business or all small talk. It was frustrating for me. I wanted my Mom to be my friend, but I think she thought her role was to be my parent. I remember when I was a kid I was always trying to joke around with her, but she would say I was being "fresh." I think she was lucky to have Dad, me and Justine in her life. We diverted her from being "all business."
We diverted her from living by rote. I think my Mom's philosophy was you knew what you should do and you got up and did it. No discussion necessary. You didn't have to mull it over, question it, wonder about it. My Mom was definitely anhedonistic. She did her duty, but she didn't seem to enjoy things the way other people did. She got a lot of satisfaction out of doing a job well done. Enjoyment or entertainment was secondary. She wasn't a "leave the dishes in the sink" kind of a person. My Mom hardly ever went to the movies her whole life. As an English teacher, she didn't seem to have a lot of intellectual interests either. She didn't read much. She used to enjoy watching "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" on TV, two shows I detest. I know she read books and studied French in college, but she was quintessentially middle American as was my Dad, and I think they read Reader's Digest condensed books. There was never hardly anything in the way of an intellectual discussion at the dinner table. Again, more small talk or no talk at all. My Dad was the ringleader of interesting things to do and my Mom, more or less, went along. Later Justine and I were the ringleaders. Mom always wanted to get somewhere by the shortest possible route, the route she had always taken before, while I wanted to explore, try a different way and see new vistas. Justine used to joke around with her, and, being a good grandmother, she never told Justine she was "fresh." She was a wonderful grandmother and friend to her peers. She was the family matriarch, the rock of Gibralter, and looked out for Justine and me in terms of our needs and especially financially. She was really a class act, and, because she was such a beautiful woman, she could get away with being the "General."