Remembering Elizabeth Henrietta Loewenhardt-Ring, 1898-1953
by Pauline M. Loewenhardt
My parents – Elizabeth Henrietta, and Herman Joseph – had traditional values that I was disdainful of as a teenager. Their heavy German accents set me apart from my friends, as did the handmade clothes she lovingly sewed on her Singer sewing machine. Sewing came naturally to her as the daughter of a tailor. Her childhood years were spent helping in the family business in their home in St. Ingbert, Germany. (However, when the time came, I did learn to sew and used her old machine for years to make clothes, first for myself as a teenager and then in later years, for my three children.)
My sister and I wanted to hear the popular music of the day, not her beloved Strauss waltzes, even though I remember laughing with delight as she danced us around the living room. I couldn’t know during those times when we made peach jam or danced around the living room that these days would end within a few short years.
I was entering high school when we moved to this three—bedroom, one—bathroom house on Greenlawn Avenue on the west side of Detroit. The year was 1948. When all six of us sat around the small enamel-topped kitchen table, one of us could reach the sink, one of us the refrigerator, though they had to get up in order to open the door, and another the stove. It was the first time we had a whole house to ourselves. Prior to this we had lived in rented flats with only two bedrooms. That meant that one of my younger brothers slept on a daybed in the dining room and the other shared the bedroom that my sister and I occupied. Now Lucy and I had a bedroom to ourselves and my brothers Joe and Hubert shared a bedroom of their own.
It was a hot, humid summer day in mid-July. My Mama, in her cotton housedress and flowered apron, stood in front of the stove and stirred the large blue enamel pot of peach jam with a sturdy wooden spoon. Her brow, beaded with sweat, frowned in concentration. Chunks of peach floated in the thick rust-colored syrup that was almost ready to pour into the sterilized jars. The sweet, delicious aroma filled the house and I couldn’t wait to slather some on a slice of buttered Koepplinger’s brown bread. Healthy, whole grain bread was all that was allowed in our house—no Wonder Bread for the Loewenhardt children!
I disliked the feel of the peach fuzz so peeling and slicing was not my favorite task. But I was eager to help ladle the hot jam into jars that I had carefully washed and rinsed and then lifted with tongs out of boiling water. Together we covered the jars with melted paraffin and screwed on the lids. They shone like jewels on the basement shelves that Dad had made. Mama would smile and say in her German accent, “Don’t that look good?”
The peaches came from one small tree in our backyard. It bore generous crops for years. The tree and a small garden produced an abundance of food. Mama had a green thumb, no doubt about that. She learned about making do with little in her parents’ home in a small village in Germany. Growing vegetables and “putting up” the produce from the small garden helped feed our growing family in the aftermath of the Great Depression and later during the war years.
Mama’s goal in life was to create a loving, comfortable home for her family and in those days nourishing, hearty meals were the mainstay of that self-imposed obligation. Roast chicken or pot roast were the tradition on Sundays especially when friends came to visit. We ate dinner early on Sunday afternoon, as was the custom back then. On many Fridays our meatless supper was potato pancakes with applesauce. Desserts were usually some kind of kuchen, either topped with fruit or streusel made from a recipe from The Settlement Cookbook: The Way to A Man’s Heart. I still own and use the 1954 edition of this celebrated cookbook. I wish I had Mama’s 1940 edition.
I learned that my Mama had breast cancer the day I had my high school graduation picture taken on January 18, 1951. It was my 17th birthday. She died in June of 1953 at the age of 55. I would start my junior year in nursing at Mercy College of Detroit that fall. There would be no more peach jam or garden or wonderful meals unless my sister or I put forth the effort to create them.
I have very few memories of her death at Grace Hospital. The cancer had spread to her bones and lungs. She lay with her eyes closed under an oxygen tent. The small room seemed crowded with family and visitors. Several nuns from the college came to visit. A priest from our parish came to say the rosary. I remember thinking this was all a bad dream. I was not there at the moment of her death. My older half-sister, Margot, had convinced me to go home and rest that evening. She died shortly after I left and when Margot told me she had died, I threw myself down on her bed and wept.
My classmates appeared at the funeral in their white uniforms, caps and navy blue capes. I have never been able to talk about any of it with my siblings. We didn’t talk about it then, just as we hadn’t talked about her dying throughout the months before her death. Dad had said he didn’t want her to know her diagnosis. But of course, she knew. The result was awkward silence that spread over the household like a thick, gray cloud.
I told my Dad I would quit school and come home to take care of him and my siblings. He insisted that I stay in school and graduate and that is what I did. Our family split apart after her death. Both my younger brothers joined the Navy as soon as they were able. My sister went off to become a nurse as I had done. After my marriage in 1957, Dad came to live with us. He lived for another 20 years and never considered re-marrying. He joined the Third Order of St Francis, a Catholic organization for lay people that does good work such as visiting the sick and helping the poor. He spent his time doing that work until he lost his sight from Glaucoma. He died in 1972 from a stroke. I was happy that his grandchildren were able to know and love him. He helped care for them, played ball with them and sang German nursery rhymes to them.
My grief at her death lay buried in my heart for years like a cold, hard stone. There was no time or opportunity to express my sadness, shock and disbelief. I was wrapped in my own private shroud of grief though I went through the motions of daily living which meant classes during that summer for the beginning of our clinical nursing. Only much, much later, in a variety of therapists’ offices, was I able to bring the stone of my grief out into the light and wash it with my tears. Slowly over time it has dissolved and now my love for her is expressed words as I try to recapture her presence with memories.
To this day, the aroma of peach jam instantly transports me to the tiny kitchen of that home on Greenlawn Avenue. Now, more than half a century later, I celebrate her life with my own home made peach jam and deeply cherish her values and memories of her loving ways. Here is her recipe: