back to Ode to my mother, Agnes (Part one)
…We now had a doctor in Kingsville, Dr. Shelley, who would take eggs, chickens and vegetables and whatever, if you didn’t have enough money. He took care of my mother during the pregnancy and came tearing down the road in his new car when the time came for the newest Langrehr to make his/her appearance. A neighbor, Mrs. Dilworth, was helping Dr. Shelley with the delivery and he took the baby out in the kitchen to show him to my father. “Another boy!” he said and he hurried back into the bedroom just in time to see another head pop out of the womb. Both he and Mrs Dilworth shouted out at the same time, “ANOTHER boy!” Dad dropped the stack of dishes he had just dried and sat down with a thud.
My Mom would never tell you it wasn’t difficult – four kids, the Depression still lingering and Dad having problems again – but somehow we all persevered. I was seven years old now and could do most of the chores around the farm myself but the plowing and planting was a little above me yet. I could help feed the twins (their bottle) , change a diaper if needed and baby-sit both of them. But to have a farm and not use it seemed foolish so plans were being made to sell the 10 acres.
Since we had to start thinking about school and church, my mother suggested that we try to locate near St. Stephen. After all, there was a grammar school, high school and church, all in one spot. The twins were almost two when Frank Hammond, our local character and realtor, found one acre of woods on Bradshaw Road just feet from our targeted St. Stephen. Mom was overjoyed, Dad was relieved and Henry and I looked forward to new adventures. The two little guys just sat wide-eyed, going along for the ride.
Frank Nizer, the man who bought the house was in no hurry to move so they had cleared the trees and almost finish the new place before they had to leave Old Landing Road for good. My mother was delighted, couldn’t wait for the new home. She lived her life for her family, having no outside interests and all that she thought of now was of how this move was going to make life a little easier for all of them. There was an “inside” toilet that flushed and a bathtub too. True, you had to carry water from the hand pump that stood over the artesian well out back and heat some in a large kettle to take a bath but it beat an outhouse and a washtub.
The house was heated by a coal stove in the dining room and she could now cook on a stove that used propane gas from a tank outside the kitchen window. No more spring house, there was a refrigerator, slightly used I think. but who cared, it was new to us. Also, Mom now had a sink that was hooked to a drain so she could just pull the stopper after she did the dishes. Until they were able to afford an electric pump for the well, they would still have to carry water for use in the house.
Life soon settled down into a routine and the days on the farm were put behind them. Then, about two years after their big move, the world made the big move to war again. Up until now the fighting had been mostly in Europe and some in Asia but the Japanese decided they could sneak up on a sleeping America and break us in one fell swoop. Mom told Dad that she thought it would be a long and bloody war. She was right.
My father tried to work for the war effort, like everyone else but his health soon forced him to stay at home. Mom, even though she had become more shy and introverted because of her deafness, decided, “I can do this”, so she went to a plastics factory in Franklinville that made parts for airplanes and applied for a job. To her surprise and delight, she got the job and soon Dad was tending the boys and she was making plastic parts for the war effort. A nice young man, as she called him, came by the house and picked her up for the ride to Franklinville, about two miles away. The job only lasted about a year but it opened up a whole new world for my mother. She made friendships that lasted for years.
One thing that helped fill her silent hours was crocheting. She did beautiful work and was constantly doing something for someone in the family or a neighbor. One project she decided to take on was a twelve-inch wide crochet edge for the Altar cloths for the main alters as well as the two side altars for St Stephen Church. It was the image of the Sacred Heart, I think, and it delighted Father Fitzgerald who was the pastor at the time. They used them regularly for a while but then decided to keep them for special occasions. It was a long time ago, but they may still be folded up somewhere in the “has-been” items of the church.
Everyone said it broke her heart when I enlisted in the Air Force and left home. I really had little choice, I would probably have been drafted eventually but when North Korea invaded the South and we declared war in June, cousin Frank Muller and I decided to enlist in August. For me it was an adventure, never having been farther from home than Belair and I guess I wanted a little bit of freedom & independence too. My mother’s health had already begun to decline. She had started to gain weight after the birth of the twins and had developed High Blood pressure. High Blood Pressure and strokes was the bane of the Miller Clan and none of them lived much past 60.
There were few medicines or treatments at the time and her frequent trips to Johns Hopkins did little to alleviate the problem. She tried their experimental diets and some new medicines but to no avail. She suffered for many years with the problem and eventually it destroyed her kidneys. If I had known how she felt and the consequences would I have enlisted? I don’t know…maybe not, but I don’t think it would have changed the outcome much if I had tried to get a deferment on family hardship grounds.
There is much more that could be said of Agnes, our mother, her devotion to her family, her devotion to the Blessed Mother and to the church, her love of all children and her relatively short life that was spent mostly for others. She was my hero and I cried many nights when I was a child and even in later years, just thinking about the burden she carried without complaining. I loved her very much and I still think of her often.
Because of her deafness, she lived in a silent world of her own for many years but she instilled in us values that serve us well to this day. She made more Miraculous Medal Novenas than we could count and I am sure those prayers are stored up for all of us who followed her.
Don LangrehrAre you receiving your free digital subscription to The Zone Magazine? If not, click here!