Farewell to our beloved French Mamie (Feb 13,1926 – Aug.22,2020)

Though she was 94 and ready to go, we are never prepared to say that final farewell to our mothers. On the day we buried our beloved Mamie, we were overcome with waves of sadness that come and go like the tide crashing the shores of Trouville by the Sea where she lived for over 6 decades. Fleeting memories of her emerged like rays of sunshine poking through the dark clouds.

Mamie cut the quintessential image of a traditional French woman, “toujours bien coiffée”, scarf wrapped around her neck, wicker basket swinging on her arm, bustling off to market to banter with the local merchants for the best cuts of meat and finest cream. No one would dare try to pull one over on Mamie when it came to selling second rate fruits and vegetables, only the finest for serving her family.

Though she had a difficult childhood, she was never bitter about her lot in life. After meeting at a tea dance popular after the war, she married Guy Lechault in 1951. She had 2 beautiful daughters and one fine son, who became my loyal, loving husband.

Growing up during the hard times between two world wars, she dedicated her life to raising her family making sure her children never had need for naught. Family was the center of life and her 5 grandchildren were the apples of her eye. She was so proud of them; they were so fortunate to have had her as part of their lives during their growing up years. 

Nathalie her eldest grandchild remembers when she was old enough to drink alcohol and had her first glass of wine à table with her French family,

“Mamie was so delighted,” Nat says, “it was as if the messiah came!”

Mamie made everyone’s  favorites dishes, often serving 5 different menus when the kids were little, but they all grew up appreciating healthy food and mealtime remained sacred-a time to gather round the table to tell stories, talk about food and savor the tastes.

As soon as we finished one meal, Mamie, a woman who never served a sandwich in her life, would ask, “What would you like for lunch tomorrow?”

Lunch meant dinner in the old-fashioned sense — a five-course meal with a starter, main course, cheese platter, dessert and coffee with chocolates that she had hidden for special occasions. Then she would set out thimble sized glasses and poured “just a taste” of her homemade plum liquor.
We had barely cleared the table before Mamie started preparing for the next feast, scurrying back around to the village shops filling her wicker basket with fresh supplies from the butcher, the baker and the creamery.
She lived in a 17th century fisherman’s flat chiseled into the falaise on the quay of Trouville. The small rooms were stacked on top of each other like building blocks connected by a creaky, winding wooden staircase.Her home was her castle; the dinner table her throne, although she never sat down; she was always so busy serving others.
No matter how crowded the 12” by 14” living room, there was always space to squeeze in around the big wooden table that could always accommodate one more.

Mamie could be stormy with a sharp tongue that you never wanted to cross, but she was also sunshine filled with warmth and the first to offer consoling words in times of trouble. Ever since my car accident in France 40 years ago, like a mother hen she welcomed into her family nest and watched over me as if I were a baby chick with a broken leg.

Mamie was the sun and the sea, the wind and the rain, the beach, the boardwalk, the open market, the fish sold fresh off the boat on the quay. She was Camembert, strawberries and cream, chocolate mousse, apple tart and homemade red current jelly.

She may be gone, but she will never ever be forgotten. Our every memory of Normandy is a memory of Mamie, the matriarch, the heart of our French family.

 

Trouville sur Mer, Normandy, France

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86th Birthday Mom’s Child raising Advice Still Spot On

Even though I have lived abroad for nearly 4 decades, due to covid making travel from Europe impossible, I couldn’t be with my mom at the family cabin to celebrate her birthday for the first time ever.

Fortunately, last Christmas before we heard of social distancing and couldn’t begin to imagine a pandemic separating us from loved ones, my daughter gave her gift called, Storyworth, a computer program to record photographs and memories. My mom, Lenore, is having fun recapturing wonderful memories, recording history of days gone by and creating a priceless treasure for generations to come. Every week, Storyworth sends a question to trigger her memories and she writes her answer and sends it back to them to be published into a book. https://welcome.storyworth.com/

With the covid epidemic and no timeline for when we will be able see loved ones again, discovering family history, recording historical events and reconnecting with long distance relatives reminds us we need our stories more than ever to suture those connections between generations .

Lenore was only 19 years old and just graduating with her elementary education degree, when she began raising a family, 4 children within a span of 6 years. This was back in the day before child raising gurus and the self help motherhood books were popular. When her last little one went off to school, l my mom went back to the classroom, too, where she taught kindergarten for 25 years.

Lenore instilled the love of stories in me. First she read storybooks to me and later passed on that love to her grandchildren

As we reminisce on the phone and my mom tells her stories, I realize that although I flew far from the nest long ago, her philosophy of life has always been a part of me. Today, her reflections on raising children are still spot on, so I wanted to share her answer to the Storyworth question of this week.

“What is the best advice you would give about raising children?”

“The best advice I would give about raising children would be to love your child unconditionally, appreciate their uniqueness and know there is NO such thing as a “perfect parent”. The best parents are always willing to learn, change and improve their skills as well as allow their child to take small risks and let them make decisions on their own. That means there will be falls, scrapes and injuries”.

“Let your parent strategies build on mutual respect and a natural drive to get through the day smoothly. Be patient and persuade your child to calm down and cooperate. Work toward self discipline and allow them failure because a child will learn from his/her mistakes. Think of yourself as your child’s trusted and effective guide, not their dictator. Learn what is age appropriate so you won’t be expecting too much or too little.”

”Let them know how very precious he/she is to you and how much you love them. Tell them what it is you love about them. Enjoy every stage because time goes very fast. Encourage and praise and when very young (toddler age) try using distraction to avoid always saying No! Be playful and especially loving when (the child is) having a “meltdown” if possible. Remember you will make mistakes and that is OK. It is best if both parents agree and stand firm.”

My sister, who is a kindergarten teacher, wants to share this with her parents. My daughter, a pediatrician, imparts that message to the families she works with and in my role as a mother, teacher and coach it was the principles with which I tried to guide my charges.

As a young mother, my mom was wise beyond her years and even now on her 86th birthday she is sharp enough to continue imparting that wisdom. Her message is timeless. It shaped my life. It shaped the lives of my children. And it will probably continue to influence the way my eldest niece raises my mom’s first great grandchild.

Happy Father’s Day June 21, 2020

Father’s DaySo many of our fathers have passed on, but the lessons they taught remain ingrained. I have been blessed to be surrounded by good men from my husband who has been a wonderful father to our 2 children, to Father’s Daymy big brother, Doug, to my brothers- in- law, Cliff and Dick, to the first man I ever loved, my dad. Papa Mac was a father figure to so many students and athletes who traversed the halls of Sterling high School.He was hard working, loyal, a strong leader and a role model in his community.

My dad taught me to drive a car, shoot hoops, catch frogs, paddle a canoe, and swim laps. When I was just a hyperactive little kid, he tired of shooing me off the “dangerous” dock. Finally, he reasoned it would safer to teach me to swim than to keep track of my free spirited meanderings near the lake and in the woods.

He held my hand as I stepped off the sandy beach into the icy lake. Together we walked out over my head. While my dad’s strong arms held me afloat, I put my face in the water and blew bubbles. He taught me the crawl stroke, flutter kick and to cup my hands. “Reach forward, pull back.” He helped me master the trickiest part – how to breathe without swallowing half the lake.

Though I never had a near drowning experience, after a bad bike crash and later a debilitating car accident, I became trapped in a body that no longer worked quite right. My hoop dreams disintegrated. My aspirations of skiing down mountainsides and running marathons dissolved. I hung up my high tops, tennis racket, baseball glove; I set aside my football, basketball, volleyball.swimming saved my life

I was condemned to the pool where the buoyancy of the water kept me from further injuring my spine and joints. Early on, I became a has-been athlete plagued with bad feet, bad knees and a broken back. The scars of my past calamities never really left me; the sharp twinges and shooting, throbbing, stabbing aches remained.

But weightless in water, I became pain free.

To an athlete being confined to a pool seemed like a death sentence. Yet, after every misfortune, I retreated to the healing waters. Swimming became my solace, my meditation, my prayer.

As a child I learned to swim at my grandparents Camp Ney-A-Ti on Summit Lake. In my teens, I swam through summers at the old Emerald Hill pool. In adulthood, when pregnant – and ordered to bed rest for 3 months to prevent premature births – I begged the doctor to let me swim. In a Parisian pool, I bonded with my unborn child, gliding in sync alongside the baby kicking inside me.

Over the years, I even saved a few lives as a lifeguard. And I once dragged the semi conscious high school quarterback from the pump room when he became asphyxiated from the chlorine. But the real hero of my swimming story was my dad. He taught me to believe that no matter how rough the seas or how high the waters, I would never sink.

With each stroke of my arm and kick of my leg,Dad thought he was showing me the frog kick, freestyle, and breaststroke, but really he was teaching me how to survive.

As a child, my dad let go, so I could take my first strokes solo. As an adult I swam from one side of the lake to the other.
But after my serious accident this past April I am not sure when I will able to swim again. And I won’t be swimming in my beloved Summit Lake this summer because of the coronavirus Europeans are not allowed to fly to the USA.

Everyday as I struggle in physical therapy to squeeze my hand, raise my left arm over my head and regain the use of the left side of my body, I think of my dad and repeat the mantra he ingrained through hours spent correcting my jump shot, tweaking my swim stroke “Never give up.”

Though separated by the pandemic and my health issues, I can’t visit my dad in person right now, I look forward to seeing him every night when I call on face time and he says.“I sure am proud of you sweetie.You are a real warrior.”

With a twinkle in his blue eyes, he ends every conversation by saying, “I think of you everyday and love you more each minute.”

Father’s Day

Though many women will miss being with their daddies on this special day, may we all find comfort knowing a father’s love for a daughter lasts for eternity.

I almost lost my life. Again.

I almost lost my lifeI almost lost my life. Again.
“This is first day of my 2nd life!” I announced to Gerald triumphantly.
“No, this is like your 7th life,” he said recounting my previous life altering accidents a rabid skunk bite in the U.S., bike accident Germany, rolling a car off the autoroute in France…
I didn’t realize how miraculous my survival was until he brought me home after nearly 2 months in the hospital. Finally he explained the harrowing fall. “You came downstairs and walked over to where I was sitting in recliner. You turned, your body went rigid and you crashed onto the right side of your head on the tile floor. Doctors still aren’t certain what precipitated the fall.
“Timber,” I thought as he recounted the gruesome details and I pictured myself as an inanimate object, a tree falling in a forest.
“I called an ambulance,” Gerald remarked “Then I turned your body on your side, so you wouldn’t choke on the blood gushing from your mouth”.

ambulance helicopter

ambulance helicopter courtesy of Rega

In a series of time precision miracles, my husband’s quick actions and doctors’ skills saved my life. An ambulance from Nyon Hospital 15 minutes away arrived in 10 minutes, a doctor aboard called ahead to secure a helicopter to meet us at Nyon Hospital and fly us to the CHUV Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (one of the top 10 hospitals in the world). Meanwhile a team of doctors began preparing for surgery.
Within ninety minutes of my accident, when time is so crucial, some of the world’s finest neurosurgeons carved open my skull and drained the blood. I broke my jaw, my right cheek bone, my right eye socket, and cracked open my head, but the imminent concern was alleviating pressure building in my skull. The doctors surmised that the 5 hour surgery went as well as possible, although at the time, no one knew when I would wake up again or what shape I would be in.
My body was badly damaged. Messages from the right side of my brain weren’t getting to my left side. I could squeeze my left hand, but had no strength, between my shoulder and wrist. Without realizing it, I was tucking my left arm into my body like a bird with a broken wing. I could not stand up without support – I had no balance on my left side and my left eye would not focus. I had difficulty walking without staggering, or lurching sideway.
For 2 I almost lost my lifeweeks I could not move from my bed. Then I was transferred to a rehab center and started round the clock therapy. My days were filled PT, OT, neuropsych, speech therapy. I met with physical therapists, neuropsychotherapists, a psychiatrist, and neurologists to piece together my psyche and help regain my physical and cognitive skills.
After my brain surgery I could not talk,I could not walk, I could not use my left arm, I could not open the right side of my mouth. The expertise of neurosurgeons, the kindness of nurses and the passion of therapists saved my brain and helped it heal, but it was the voices of my loved ones that coaxed my soul back to life.
My baby sister and my son, both still in school, called every weekend. Friends sent text messages. Sue video called every night “to tuck me in.” Gerald listened to my rants that made no sense. While my brain was healing and I was medicated, I had irrational thoughts and hallucinations. I slept with a cell phone under my pillow convinced the nurses were stealing my possessions, that the doctors were keeping me prisoner.
My sisters, daughter and husband rotated calls making sure the last sounds I heard before drifting into a delirious, restless sleep was the soothing voice of loved one.
I am convinced it is their voices that gave me the courage to face another day of pain and provided the serenity I needed as I struggled alone during a pandemic where my husband wasn’t allowed to visit and the rest of my family was 4,000 miles away.
“Do you remember when you asked me to sing to you?” Nathalie inquired when she called after I finally was able to come home.
“I would leave my office at the clinic and go into an empty room. It was so sweet you tried to sing along with me in your croaky, raspy voice.”
I don’t consciously remember her singing but I know it was that song, that voice, that love between a mother and daughter that carried me through the darkness of another night, and lifted me into the light of day.
I almost lost my life

Happy 60th Birthday Baby Sis Little Miss Me Too

Happy 60th Birthday to my almost-born-on-leap-year baby sister Little Miss Me Too. The last in line in a family of 4 siblings born 5 years apart, Mom always said, “Karen raised herself.”
“She tagged along with the big kids and figured things out on her own.”
Born 3 years apart almost to the day, we celebrated birthdays together growing up. In our younger years, I made sure she never fell off the dock or crossed the street without looking both ways. In later years, she looked out for me by driving me to doctor appointments and hanging out with me in a dark room on bad days.
Karen was born cute from the tip of her perfect toes to her gorgeous toothpaste commercial smile.
Athletic, energetic, outgoing, to an outsider she made life look easy. She starred on her state championship basketball team, made friends with everybody she met and always saw the bright side of things.
But she worked hard.

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She reinvented herself midlife, returning to college to earn a master’s degree in education while working as a recreational therapist and raising family.
She’s never shied away from a challenge. Even today she courageously continues teaching kindergartners — pulling off 23 little pairs of boots 4 months of the year — in the snow belt of Minnesota.
An adored aunt, treasured wife, loving daughter, revered mother, cherished sister, she collects people as easily as others collect stamps. Church friends, high school friends, work friends, neighbor friends, family friends. Everybody loves Karen and her jovial partner in life Dick. She’s energetic, upbeat, easy-going and down right fun to be with on any occasion.
She raised 2 beautiful daughters, but also became a Mamá Dos to her niece and nephew who moved 4000 miles away from home in Switzerland to attend university in the Twin Cities.
My little sis and I shared a love of sports. She passed me the ball on the basketball court and long after my playing days were over, she took me to my first WNBA game. When I could no longer run, she ran for me completing her first half triathlon at 50something.
She works hard, but plays harder and never passes up an opportunity to celebrate life.
Her friends call her Care Bear, but to me she will always be The Babe, my beloved little sister, blessing my life the past 60 years.

Good Neighbors Add Allure to Summit Lake Wisconsin

Summit LakeWe used to be the only cabin on our side of the lake and I liked it that way, but when people built cottages next door, I discovered Summit Lake’s beauty magnifies when shared.

In 1952 my grandparents bought the log lodge peeking out from behind the pines on the point across from the island. They turned it into Camp Ney-A-Ti Boys’ Camp. The camp used to be the only sign of civilization on the western side of the lake.

In 1964, when my grandparents sold the camp and 40 acres, they had the foresight to save a 125 feet of lake front property on the far edge of their land. Then they built our little red cabin. On some else’s land. They were shocked to find out someone else owned that lot, so they lifted the wooden cottage and moved it over 50 feet.Summit Lake cabin

That landowner build a cottage on his land and generations later, we became friends with his grandchildren’s children. Then our children grew up together over lazy, fun-filled summers. The path through the woods between our cabins remains well worn. Instead of playing hide and seek of childhood, the “kids” sit on the screened in porch debating solutions to problems of the adult world.

We are the only flatlanders (Illinoisans) amongst the Wisconsinites; they accept us as long as we wear our Greenbay Packer caps.

A deputy sheriff lives on one side of us and a lawyer on the other. If we get in trouble with the lawman on our left, we could seek counsel with our neighbor on the right side to bail us out. But as grandchildren of Coach Mac, we would never consider breaking the rules.

Surprisingly, as much as I liked the idea of being alone in the woods, I discovered it is nice to have neighbors.

We hail from different cities and walks of life, but Up North no one cares where you come from or how much money you make, as long as you share the same values – respect for nature and community spirit.

kids of the lakeThe lake ‘hood children have grown up becoming doctors, nurses, plumbers, firemen and teachers. If the “kids” were ever Up North at that same time, we would have a “cabin” town of skilled professionals to cope with any illness, injury, wildfire, flooded basement, or backed up toilet.

With trees and foliage growing so thick, you don’t have to see your neighbors, who are never nosey, but if you do need anything they will be there.

At one time or other everyone has rescued my Frenchman when his catamaran capsized. All the neighbors have a story to tell about how they towed the yellow sailboat safely to shore behind their pontoon sailing Summit Lakeboat.sailing Summit Lake

Another time a neighbor helped jump-start my sister’s car at dawn in the dead of winter. And if you need to borrow a chainsaw, a shovel or a cup of sugar, just ask. Neighbors willingly share, sometimes even offering beds in their cabin when your own overflows with friends and relatives.

“You know the rule,” the guy next door says, “if my boat is out, and you want to ride or ski c’mon on over.”touring Summit Lake

Summer folks. Summer friends. Good neighbors. Good people.

Along with the wilderness and wildlife, human beings are part of the Northwood’s blessings too.Grandparents & kids