Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Grandma Schuck

Her grandparents came from Austria and Western Czechoslovakia during that great migration from Europe to America in the mid-1800s. She was born Theresa Rebecca Heim on October 1, 1893, in Florence, Colorado, and she died of a stroke on December 18, 1958, in Gardena, California. She was 65 years old, and I was 9. She left behind a husband, four children, and 9 grandchildren; later, 2 more grandchildren were born.

This picture was taken circa 1911, when she was perhaps 18 years old. I was stunned when I saw it for the first time only a few years ago. It is hard for me to believe that this beautiful girl became my grandmother. My memories of her now—49 years after her death—are very fuzzy. I am not alone, I have been tapping the memory banks of 2 of the older cousins, and they don’t remember much either. Oh, we all remember snippets about her: We all remember going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Christmas and the like, but not really anything very specific, probably because by the time we all developed mentally enough to remember, she was becoming increasingly disabled by a series of strokes and could not interact with us as much.

The only picture I have of her me and her together was taken when I was an infant and she was 56 years old. Her glossy dark hair, which must have been nearly black, is mostly gray, and she is wearing “old lady” shoes that were common in the 1950s —black lace-up shoes with thick 2-inch heels.

My grandfather, Alpha Schuck, owned a soda fountain in Globe, Arizona, and she worked as a chocolate dipper in a candy factory. She was sent into my grandfather’s soda fountain on a sales call, and the rest is history. She divorced her husband, my grandfather’s first wife had left him; they came to Los Angeles, got married, and raised 4 children during the Depression. My mother talked a lot with Grandpa about Theresa in the years after she died. She was “out there,” says my mother, far beyond her time as far as feminism was concerned. She rode a motorcycle. She was very creative. She could look at a dress and design a pattern and make it, and for a while she worked as a seamstress in the costume department of Paramount Studio. She was very intelligent.

She suffered a series of strokes that began shortly after she sent her son, my father, off to WW II in 1942. My mother thinks it was high blood pressure caused by worry over my father’s safety that brought on the initial stroke. She recovered well from that stroke (the treatment prescribed by one doctor was soaking in a bathtub full of ice-cold water), but then more strokes came and took their toll, and she became more and more disabled, and by the time she died, she was mostly confined to bed. My cousin remembers spending the night at their house. Grandpa did the cooking, and she sat by grandma’s bed and ate dinner on a tray. Grandma was mad at President Eisenhower, for some reason.

And a last bit of intrigue: My brother did some research on the Internet and learned that many Jews with the name of Heim were in concentration camps during WW II. Were her grandparents Jews who fled Europe to escape anti-Semitism? Well, it is an interesting think about, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Her genes are now spread among 11 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, and a handful of great great grandchildren.

No comments: