May 12, 2013 at 10:28 AM ET
Born in 1922, my mom, Ann Votel Fashingbauer, lived for almost a century, and saw some of the biggest changes this country has ever known. Cars, telephones, radio, television, computers -- no matter her age when they were introduced, she embraced them all eagerly. For years, she would send a lengthy email to her seven children every night, sharing scraps of family news, relating the events of her day, and looking back on the long-ago past that was never dim to her.
Here are some tidbits from some of her emails sent after my daughter, Kelly, was born in 2007.
"Kelly looks just the same as she did when Rob was holding her -- only she's a little bigger. She is so pretty. Glad you went to the class although you'd probably have picked up any information you need by reading. Sometimes it feels better when someone shows you but I think instinct is the best for taking care of your baby. Way back when, people used to say don't feed a baby more than every four hours, and don't pick them up every time they cry, etc., and women would brag about having their babies on a SCHEDULE. My babies and I made our own schedules."
"I'd never keep a pacifier from Kelly if she wanted it; it was just that we had no experience with them so let you and (her granddaughter Erin) have them all the time. Not the fault of you two. You were like two little smokers ... going all around chomping on them."
EARLY DAYS OF TELEVISION
"You asked if things looked bright after the war. I think they did; it was such a relief of course. … The big good news was television and surprise! -- I told Dad we were getting one and we did. I picked it out. I had said we'd get it for my mother when she came and when she died so soon after coming with us, I stuck to my guns and we got our first set for Christmas, 1948. We were the first people I knew to have a set so some of our friends would come on Friday evenings to watch and when my brother, Hank, came in from Rice Lake and saw ours, he said he was going back and getting one and he did. Grandpa Fashingbauer loved to come and see wrestling. One of my fondest memories was that when Rudge would come from school, he'd sit on the floor and watch Howdy-Doody or whatever was on but what he really liked were the old Laurel and Hardy comedies. He laughed so hard one day that one of his teeth that was getting loose came out. Saved us the trouble of waiting. That first television set, which also had a radio and record player, cost about $500. I really must have had Dad in my power back then."
"What are spinach enchiladas like? After my father died, my mother was out with friends and had something Mexican and came home to tell us how good it was. I just remember it was wrapped in, I thought, leaves from a corn stalk. ... Too bad that when my children were small, we weren't exposed to different dishes. I'm afraid that pizza was a big variation from our standard fare. I can remember when Eileen Ries gave me a recipe for making it! I still have it."
NEW YEAR’S EVE
"I know I've told you this before, but when has that ever stopped me from telling it again? After my father died and my brother Hank was out on New Year's Eve, he always would call my mother at midnight and wish her a happy new year. It was a sweet gesture and she was always so pleased. So, of course, this copycat did the same thing. Always called her. I wasn't out very much when I was young, though ... but the first New Year's Eve that I went out with Dad, I told him I had to go upstairs and use the phone. ... Dad went with me and when he heard me call my mother, he called his mother. She was so pleased...you can't imagine how excited she acted. And from then on, he always called her, too. She'd be sure to let him know where she'd be. I remember once she was at Caroline's house playing cards and she was so proud when she got her call -- said she told everyone he'd be calling. And several times when she was with us in a group, she'd tell how Sonny always called her on New Year's Eve.
LOSING A PARENT
"When my father died on Nov. 5 (1934), our Christmas wasn't a happy one because we were all remembering the previous ones. But my mother still put up a tree. We decorated it and she bought gifts for all of us and for the people she always remembered at Christmastime and we sent cards out as usual. Of course, it wasn't like those past Christmases. But she made sure that my little brothers didn't realize how much it had changed. My brother Tom once told me that he didn't remember our father very well. I must have been the right age -- 12 -- because I remember him so well and remember all the times he and my mother made possible for us."
"Today I cleaned every shelf in the refrigerator and I learned that we had more than six jars of pickles plus pickled herring in there. One jar of pickles was the only one I used. I managed to cut it down some. Dad watched while I was doing that and when I finished, asked if he could help."