Classy. Beautiful. Practical. Frivolous. Gracious. Caring. Loving. These are the words I heard during my life to describe her.
Lyda Marie Gerster was born on July 24, 1926. She died July 25, 2002. In between those times she was a daughter, a sister, a wife, and my mom.
She never told me much about her childhood during the Depression except that she hated mashed potatoes, and even more, the next day the potato pancakes made from the leftovers. She did win a trophy at the Missouri State Fair at the age of 6 or 7 for the “Healthiest Child at the Fair”. The trophy was almost as big as she was.
She went to college after high school. That was still fairly unusual for the girls of the working class. There she met my father. He was a sailor in the V-12 program studying pre med. He was handsome. Mom turned his head and his heart. They made a striking couple. Since he belonged to Uncle Sam, they had to wait to get married. They married October 7, 1945. Mom became the wife of a medical student. Because of the time she grew up in, financial hardships were nothing new. She was a wizard at stretching the few meager dollars they had and was able to take care of their growing family.
Adventure and travel would be the reward, much at the invitation of Uncle Sam. She soon adapted to the life of a military officer’s wife. When he left her standing in Golden Gate Park with 2 children, his orders were for Korea. Fate decided differently. In Hawaii he, along with 12 other doctors, were taken off the transport ship and kept in Hawaii to replace the doctors that had been shipped to Korea. Mom figured out a way to be able to join Dad there, at her own expense. That was fortunate for me as I was born in Hawaii while they were stationed there.
After the military, Mom and Dad settled in a small town in Illinois. She thought it was important for us to have a home. She was always there. She was my Blue Bird (like Brownies) leader. She was the class mother. She was on the PTA. She was part of the Hospital Auxiliary. She played cards with her lady friends. She and Dad belonged to two bridge clubs. She enjoyed the high school football and basket ball games. She helped us to build floats. She was there when we came home for lunch. And she was there when we came home from school. Every Friday she went to the beauty shop and on the way home always stopped at the bakery to bring something special home for dessert at lunch. She loved to sew and knit. She had a talent for decorating and creating things. One year she took a green velvet prom dress she had made the year before for my sister and turned it into a Christmas tree decoration for above our fireplace. The beautiful sweaters she knitted raised money for the hospital.
She loved her friends. Many she kept in touch with until her death.
She loved to travel. And that she did, circling the globe several times over as well as visiting every state in the United States of America. She made the best of living in places most people did not even know existed - Mogadishu, Somalia, Vientiane, Laos, and finally Vienna, Austria with a couple of stops in Washington, DC. In Mogadishu and Vientiane she took advantage of her artistic abilities and designed jewelry (the gold markets were fabulous!) and dresses (no Lord and Taylor’s there). We had wonderful times going shopping and sightseeing. She was the “blonde lady in the red convertible” that would pay baksheesh instead of getting a ticket. (Dad had to hire a driver out of desperation and actually saved money!). She rode the elephant in India and the camel in Egypt. Dad fulfilled his promise he made to her while they were dating by taking her to see the Taj Mahal with an added bonus of a full moon. She traveled the Mediterranean Sea.
She dined in palaces and school cafeterias. She was just as comfortable with ambassadors and presidents as she was with school children. She knew her way around a table set with ten different eating utensils, five different types of stemware and 4 or 5 courses as well as the picnic basket at the state park in the fall or the beach in the summer.
But what Mom loved most was her family. Even with the globetrotting, much still at the hand of Uncle Sam - just a different department, she always managed to make sure to be with her family for Christmas, except for one year. After that particular Christmas, she swore she would never be away from her family again for the holidays. Shortly after that, Dad retired from the Foreign Service and they settled down in Charlotte, North Carolina for a while.
I got the chance to get to know her all over again, this time as a mother to a mother. We talked. We laughed. We went to lunch. We went to Concerts. We went to see the Designer House. We went shopping. And now she was amazed at how I stretched the few dollars I had. We spent time together.
As I was growing up, I felt like Mom pushed me in areas she thought were important - clothes, hairstyles, jobs, etc. Except for education, those things were not important to me. In looking back over the years, I see that, even though she did bring up those things often, the things that were most important to her were family, friends, and - although she did not always have a permanent one - home. She would go to great lengths to be with us at special times. She managed to put together a wedding for my sister in about a month, just to have it before we left for Africa. She insisted I wait until Christmas for my wedding so she could be there from their newest overseas assignment. And she traveled the length of the continent to be with my brother. For the births of her grandchildren she traveled half of the way around the world to be with my older sister, she extended a vacation almost two weeks to be with my brother, and was there when I came home from the hospital.
Even through her last years and her illness, she still showed us how important her family and friends were to her. She would make short trips to visit these people she had known for fifty years. When she couldn’t travel any more, she still planned special events, a surprise party for Dad’s 75th birthday with family and friends and her last one being last summer for Dad’s 80th birthday. Now we will be short one always.
Many times in these last few years I cried out to her. I wanted to talk to her. I wanted her to hear my problems and tell me everything would be OK. I was afraid, though, to actually telephone her. She had not been well and I didn’t want to burden her further. Besides she was also taking care of my father who had suffered from three strokes and had his own set of problems. Now I can cry out to her whenever I need her and know she will hear me.
Often I felt like I didn’t measure up to her standards, but if I look at the love for and commitment to my husband, children and grandchildren, and my friends, I know that I have learned well the most important lesson she ever taught. And for that I will be eternally grateful and blessed.
Mom, I love you and miss you.