Pinky Pie

Mom & Me

Posted on: May 9, 2010

Mom & Me at my confirmation in 10th grade at United Hebrew Temple in St. Louis. Don't I look deeply spiritual?

When I was a young reporter assigned to write what we used to call a feature obituary, I was terrified. And also bored.

I didn’t get it.

Then one day I ran into the  daughter of someone about whom I had written. She told me how much that obituary helped her family.

It changed my whole perspective. Death – at least writing about it – became less scary and even important.

It’s become something that I do as a profession, as a gift for friends experiencing a loss and something I’ve written for my mom and my first son.

“Last writes” tell the story of the person who has died, paying tribute and letting folks know what they missed if they didn’t know the person. As a personal historian, I believe each life has a story and should be told. I don’t mean just the whens and wheres of a life but what shows the essence of that person.

I was lucky enough to have a mother who loved me unconditionally.  This being Mother’s Day, I am going to rerun what I wrote about my mom when she died in 2005.

LA CROSSE/ST. LOUIS – Lee (Goldberg) Hessel, 88, of La Crosse and formerly of St. Louis, died Dec. 28, 2005, at Bethany Riverside Home in La Crosse.

Born in Allentown, Penn., to Louis and Nettie (Itzkovitz) Goldberg on March 21, 1917, she grew up in St. Louis, graduating from Soldan High School at age 16 in 1933. Lee had a real gift for words but not numbers.

Because she skipped grades, she ended up in the same grade as her older brother Maurice, who helped her through algebra and geometry. “If it weren’t for Maury helping me in math, I’d still be at Soldan,” Lee often joked.

After finishing high school, she attended Margaret Hickey’s School for Secretaries.

Lee could pound away on a manual typewriter at more than 120 words a minute – anything faster, and the keys would jam. She also took shorthand at more than 130 words a minute in her prime and, boy, could she organize an office (a skill her daughter did not inherit).

It was while she worked at Famous Barr Department Store in St. Louis that she met her husband, Milton Hessel.

They married April 1, 1944, and had a wedding planned in a week in the midst of World War II. It may have been April Fools’ Day, but they sure weren’t fooling. They spent the remaining wartime in San Francisco, where she worked for the American Red Cross. Dad died in 1979.

In later life, she worked for Brown Group and Associated Services, both in St. Louis.

Lee is survived by her children, Andrew (Lynne) of Portland, Ore., and Susan (Richard Mial) Hessel of La Crosse; six of seven grandchildren, Meagan, Aaron (Sharon), Evan and Jacob Hessel of Portland, Maggie Hessel-Mial of Kansas City, Mo., and Michael Hessel-Mial of La Crosse; one great-grandchild, Luke Hessel; and one brother, Harold Goldberg (Margy) of St. Louis.

Lee was preceded in death by her parents; her husband; a brother, Maury; a grandson, Matthew Hessel-Mial; and many family members and friends in St. Louis.

To give you some idea of what Lee was like, she and her husband had a weekly and sometimes twice weekly games of Scrabble with their lifelong friends, Bart and Bertie Passanante.

Anyone who knows the game knows how valuable it is to lay down all seven tiles in a single play. As the story goes, Lee once refused to play all seven in one turn because it required her putting an “S” in front of “HIT.”

In later life, she laughed she probably would.

A brownie baker extraordinaire, Lee’s brownies were never forgotten by anyone getting a pan from her, and many did. In fact, the staff of her St. Louis dentist even told the staff of her first dentist in La Crosse that they were lucky to get her and “she makes great brownies.”

A kind woman, Lee excused crabby waitresses or sales staff by saying, “Maybe her feet hurt.” In other words, she cut them – and others – some slack. As a wife, mother and grandmother, she offered unconditional love to her family.

Lee, who moved to La Crosse in 2001 to be closer to family, never met chocolate ice cream that she didn’t love. “This could be habit-forming,” she said each time she had a bowl, which was quite often.

In her final years, laughter remained Lee’s greatest treat, and she continued to have a wonderful sense of humor practically until the end despite her troubles. On a good day she’d say, “We did some good laughing today, didn’t we?”

Here’s hoping that wherever Lee is, she’s laughing with family and friends. In the meantime, have some brownies, eat chocolate ice cream, laugh in her honor and, please, play your Scrabble tiles wherever they must lie.

A few years ago, I picked up a Mother’s Day card that was perfect for my mom. On the outside it said something like, “Mom, you taught me to laugh at adversity.”

Inside it said, “Mom, I’m hysterical.”

Here’s to my mom, your mom and moms everywhere.

And naturally, if you want help writing about your mom – or dad – or another friend or loved one or yourself,  I’m here to help. (This would be the self-serving part of my blog post today. But it is Personal History Month.

Mom & Me pretending to fight over our family treasure - the bottle opener of our youth that I put in a shadow box. It is hanging in my kitchen so that when my brother comes to visit, he sees I have it. Hah!


3 Responses to "Mom & Me"

Fantastic obit, fantastic mother and lifelong friend. And a hell of a Scrabble player. And a connoisseur of french fries — well done and very hot. I miss her.

Well done and very hot is absolutely correct, although it is hard to describe one’s mother as “very hot.” — I know you were describing the Steak n Shake fries; I couldn’t resist.

Thanks for sharing. I had forgotten what a lovely tribute you wrote at the time of your mom’s death. I always remember her for the half-birthdays and the brownies.

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