Tag Archives: family

Eileen Koenig

11 Oct
Eileen Koenig passed away on October 8, 2012 at 9:05pm. She was my last living grandparent. She was my mom’s mom. After several minutes of holding each other and grieving, my mom and I began a search.
My mom remembered coming across a paper where my grandma scribbled a few notes about what she’d like her funeral to include. Along with this informal note was a collection of funeral service pamphlets. Was my grandma attending a funeral when she thought of what she wanted to happen during the grieving of her own concluded life?
The problem with this note is that it wasn’t safely stored in a file labeled “When My Mother Dies”. So, at 10 pm, instead of packing for a rapidly approaching departure to Chicago, my mom and I found ourselves searching through boxes of her mom’s old stuff.  Actually, my mom was searching through boxes; I was searching through one box of photos, pretending that maybe the little note was going to pop up in there somewhere. It’s not that I don’t think funeral wishes are important; it’s just that these memories from the past needed me, and that piece of paper about the funeral wishes was acting all aloof and secretive anyway.
In my grandma’s photos was a face I never saw while watching her make a pumpkin pie or show my sister how to walk in a ladylike manner. These photos showed a time before her six daughters were born, when my grandmother felt young and free.
Grandma’s stage play
I pulled out a stage play script and oversized photographs of actors. My mom gasped. Her mother spoke of acting in a play, but had never shown anyone the photos.
Then I saw scenes with toddlers and babies, my mother and her sisters. On the back of each photo my grandma wrote the background story of the moment she had captured.
My grandma, Eileen Koenig, earned a university degree at a time when only 12% of women age 18-21 were enrolled in places of higher education. With her degree she went on to work a few jobs before and while raising six daughters. She also helped develop a tutoring program for foreign- and American-born adults and a social service program for senior citizens in her area. In addition my grandma served as chairman and trainer for a national literacy program. In this article a reporter form the Chicago Tribune tells about the South Area Literacy Council my grandma started.
The note about my grandma’s funeral wishes was never found, but my grandma is not in that note. She is in her incredible achievements. She is in her six daughters and their children. She is in each of my uncles, too. She’s in her sisters and their families. Eileen may have been on the quiet side these last few years, one nurse even referring to her demeanor as “stoic”, but maybe that’s because she’d already said all the important things. Maybe she’s a bit tired from all she has achieved. And by the looks of how big and wonderful our family is, that’s a whole lot of achievements. I trust we will celebrate her life in a grand and proud way this Saturday. I also know that her integrity and beauty is in us and ready to be passed on each and every day.

My grandma on right

Even more poses were taken of her, but I chose four and made them into this collage.

My grandma on right

Grandma and Grandpa Koenig

My mom Jeanne, the oldest daughter, at the beach with her father.

My grandpa and grandma with my mom (on right) and her sister Kathie on Christmas Day 1954.

Written on the back: “Taken on our front porch when Lenore was about 3 weeks old. June 1955”

Kathie, the second oldest (also on the right in the previous photo)

Eileen Koenig in December 2009

My Aunt Nancy

20 Oct

It’s time for a story about my aunt Nancy. Aunt Nancy has brown hair. This is important because the other five sisters have blonde hair or the appearance of it anyway. Although, my own mom’s hair is now a silky gray color which incidentally looks very nice. The Aunt Nancy I remember visiting as a young girl was a mailman lady person. She lived on a tree-lined street in a house that felt warm and cozy while also managing to feel impressive. It was filled with dark colors and items that were from a culture I was not familiar with. I’m not sure if these were items she had found while traveling or what. I was only about eight or so years old, and other than my own house which had a lot of paintings and nicknacks from my parents’ time living in Europe, I mainly only saw houses filled with regular items like a lamp bought at a department store in the mall or a figurine bought at a boutique.

Anyway, in her backyard my Aunt Nancy was growing a ton of plants, mostly herbs. To this day I still have a clear image of that garden. The plants’ growth seemed to be chaotic, but yet after Aunt Nancy  took us around to smell and touch several of them, I realized how organized it actually was. I especially remember the catnip she picked and gave to the cats. I had the oddest, magical feeling when we cooked marshmallows over the fire in the backyard. Fire in the backyard? I usually only experienced camp fire feelings when I was camping, and they were always coupled with climbing out of a dew filled tent in the middle of the night to stumble into the pitch blackness and pee while putting the coyote sounds I heard earlier out of my mind.

Anyway, I was wearing overalls that night.

Just because Aunt Nancy went out of her way to give Erika and me a special vacation away from our Mom and Dad centered world, doesn’t mean I didn’t find a way to be unhappy. Having temper tantrums isn’t uncharacteristic for a kid, but I think I was an odd child. I know I felt odd. When I informed my mom that I’m aware of being weird, she laughed and said, “Oh come on Emily, stop kidding yourself; you’re normal.” I should have been comforted, but I was just disappointed. When you feel weird, you’d rather it be affirmed, so you don’t have to begin thinking that your feeling weird is weird, making you feel as though either you or everyone else is wrong.

I digress, so at Aunt Nancy’s house I was unhappy at some point. I do not recall why, but what I do remember is that to let out my intense anger, I stepped on my baby dolls head causing it to cave in. As soon as I deformed her in this way, I was horrified. My stomach dropped and I immediately forgot about my anger, feeling only an intense sadness and guilt. My baby doll was my prized possession. Other than a brown maker spot that somehow appeared on her head and became, with a concerted effort on my part, an accepted birth mark, she was kept in excellent condition.  I never took out my anger on her or abused her in any way until that day.

I couldn’t get her head to pop back out. I’m pretty sure I ran to my Aunt Nancy with horrified eyes. Or maybe I was balling my eyes out and she came to my rescue. Anyway, Aunt Nancy fixed the head, and the baby looked exactly the same as before. Phew, life could go on.

Thanks Aunt Nancy, baby doll savior and magical house extraordinaire.

Aunt Nancy with Uncle Ian and the twins (Robert and Jonathan)

This is a photo taken about eight years after my vacation to Aunt Nancy’s house.  She married Ian when I was in junior high, and I specifically remember that all of us cousins forced him into a very tight space, could perhaps be called a closet, during the reception of their wedding in order to grill him on how well he knew the family. We told him it was a test, and he would only be allowed to marry our Aunt Nancy if he passed; apparently we didn’t fully understand the importance of the order of wedding events. Anyway, we were all a little disappointed when he didn’t even stumble in the slightest. He feigned complete confidence and acted as though this interrogation had been scheduled weeks in advance. But now that we know him better, we are fully aware that his ability to hide his true feelings is just one of his many talents. I just KNOW his armpits were sweaty when we asked him how many kids our grandma and grandpa have.

P.S. The next post is new also