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Fred Bonisch: Mom remains a giant despite her tiny stature

People who reach the age of 100 deserve to be recognized for their longevity. Even with the assistance of modern medicine to keep us healthier and able to live longer, reaching this milestone in life is quite an achievement.

While we generally refer to longevity as a blessing, life is not always a Garden of Eden. We often hear it said that we should count our blessings when things go well. All of us experience hardships, so we can relate to these low points in our lives. With longevity comes old age, which itself brings joy as well as sorrow. The joy of seeing one’s grandchildren growing up is often countered by the loss of beloved family and friends.

Anyone who has lived through the past century has experienced the tremendous technical advances that have drastically altered our lives. At the same time, the devastating hardships of war have required sacrifices and left scars on the survivors.

My mom will turn 103 this year. Those who know her often express their amazement about her age, considering the many hardships she has endured. She now holds the distinction of being the oldest person in her small city in northern Germany. With Dad having died some 30 years earlier, Mom lived on her own until just a few years ago. She is now cared for in a nursing facility. Although she is alert, her physical condition has rendered her nearly helpless.

Mom was only 5-foot-1, but for us children she was a pillar of strength. Dad was drafted into the German army at the outset of World War II, and four years later became a prisoner of war, leaving Mom with the overwhelming task of caring for and protecting her four young children on her own.

During the final years of the war, we experienced daily and nightly bombings and desperate shortages of everything, in particular food. For the many air raids, we were trained to hurry to our basement. On those occasions, Mom would always be last, double-timing while carrying two oversized, heavy suitcases that contained our most needed belongings. She would always refer to it as “just in case” – a sentence that she never finished but we understood.

Mom slaving over her old-fashioned washboard doing her weekly wash remains a permanent imprint in my memory. Her struggle to provide for her family during those very hard times was simply heroic. In spite of our own struggle to survive, Mom took in relatives who had lost their homes in bombings and others with no other place to go. Most of these relatives remained with us for the next several years.

When Dad was finally able to return home in 1949, life became more normal. But Mom was never one to move slowly. With the previous influx of wartime refugees, she became a driving force to help start our small Catholic community. She not only had faith, she demonstrated it through her action.

Mom was well-recognized for her excellent cooking abilities, something that is still mentioned by those who have had the pleasure of tasting her food.

In spite of her small size, we view her not only as our mother, but as our matriarch. Assuring our family’s survival during those very dark days in our history was truly heroic. For all of us who still enjoy her longevity, we can only say: “Thanks, Mom, for your sacrifices and for a job well done. You continue to be an inspiration to all of us.”