In celebration of the life of Irene Mae Lynch Schwartz June 29, 1913 – July 13, 2008
Written by her daughter, Lynn Durham
Thank you all for coming, we appreciate your support and love.
How do you capture almost 100 years of living in a few minutes? Not an easy task. I’ll attempt to get to the essence of a woman, my Mom, who when she introduced herself said, “Hi, I’m Irene Schwartz, my maiden name was Lynch,” as if it was all one word. She loved the fact that she was a red headed Irish colleen and a Catholic and her legacy was to remind us to Live Juicy!
Hildegard of Bingham, a 12th century mystic, recommended to her spiritual directees to live juicy, not dry and withered. When I think of Mom, I think that she was filled with the Fruits of the Spirit, the visible attributes of a Christian Life. To remind you, they are: Love, Joy, Peace, – Faithfulness, Patience, Kindness, – Gentleness, Goodness and Self Control. Even if she didn’t reach perfection in each, they were evident in her life.
Besides Irish and Catholic being important to big Irene, Love would be the common denominator in her life. Loving pretty things at home and in person, loving fun and making others laugh, and especially loving her husband, children and grandchildren. Love could pretty much sum up her life. Whoops, I have to add her GREAT grandchild. Mom wouldn’t want me to leave out Lisa, Abigail, you know, Devin and Betsy’s adorable little girl. Mom loved Alyssa and it was returned, Alyssa loved GG.
That Mom loved us a lot cannot be denied. She was a good sport on our love of the beach too. She went daily with a large hat and sunglasses, one of Dad’s long sleeved shirts on, an umbrella to attach to her chair, and still she burned or her freckles merged. And when we were shivering and our lips were blue, she only made us sit on the sand until our lips turned red again.
Mom told us that even as a child she loved to dress up. She complained that her bunions came from wearing shoes that were too tight when she was growing up. She endured the pain because they were stylish. Looking good, had to be a part of her core that she continued up to the last week. Known for her fancy hats at one point in her life and for her vibrant colors and beautiful scarves at another, Mom loved to be snazzy, wazzy, spiffy, diffy or ritzy, ditzy and she wanted us to be too. She shopped and primped to make it be so for herself and her home. And a constant addition to her wardrobe was her brilliant smile. Mother Teresa’s suggestion to add more joy to the world was, “Smile more, smile at those you love and smile at strangers.” Mom did.
Mom was Gentle and Kind and she loved to bring people Joy. She enjoyed written jokes and made extra copies to bring them to the hospital or to put in get well cards she was often mailing as she reached out to others. She loved my Prescription for Joy bookmarks and passed those out as well.
Mom had difficulty seeing and hearing. We were well aware of it with all the funny misunderstood words and the quiet of no more TV. But my guess is most people didn’t know. She put on a pleasant front for others so it wouldn’t interfere with her sharing joy.
That’s where I’d like to focus for a few minutes – Joy. Even just lately from her bed at the Carolton she had her three Durham grandsons laughing. She was telling Joshua to lead the girls on and let the girls give him a good time. “Wait a minute ma! What are you saying!” Tyler and Brett were asking about her dad making beer in the basement during prohibition. “My father never made beer.” “Mom, I thought you told me he made beer.” “No, he never did.” “No, – my mom made the beer.” They laughed. And we heard about how the A&P man met them on the stairs and went down to the basement.
I can see Mom standing in Nancy’s real estate office wearing lime green Capris and a hot pink top. She looked down at the brightly colored, hot pink and lime green patterned quilted purse she was holding and said, “I don’t know why Irene got this for me. I never wear these colors.” We all laughed.
Some people may remember Mom’s Youth Dew fragrance trailing wherever she went. I understand the scent is still in her room and I hear Estee Lauder stock just plummeted.
If you want a good laugh, ask one of us about working on the telephone company switchboard and listening in on calls. She didn’t want anyone to know because she was afraid of going to jail! Well, she’s safe now so we can tell her story. I don’t know why she was so worried, John Santa said he’d come visit her in prison.
And so what if she wasn’t exactly politically correct. OK, so what if she was totally not PC. It made her grandchildren cringe to hear some of her references to race or nationality. Archie Bunker, move over.
Mom loved my Jonathan and he collected some new stories as he sat listening to her. Mom told him how she took the family car out for a spin-without a license. (And I thought my father taught her how to drive?) Anyway, this underage teen, took the Essex with younger siblings in the back seat and got stuck on the trolley tracks in downtown Bridgeport. She told Jon, “The motor man kept ringing the bell to get me to move out of the way but I couldn’t get the car going. He was very nice and got out of the trolley and started the car for me and moved it off the tracks. Then he told me to take it home and leave it there.”
Goodness is a Fruit and Mom was a good woman. I remember her ironing the vestments and linens for the Altar Society at Our Lady of Peace Church. As a child there were many nights we attended Novenas. I can see the dimly lit church, hear the Tantum Ergos and smell the lingering incense even now. After she got older she claimed her elderly exemption on church attendance, but I have often seen her with her Rosary beads after she’s in bed. It brings her Peace. Her Novena example made an impression on me and probably accumulated enough indulgences for easy entry through the Pearly Gates.
I live in NH. I had an appointment there and I called to tell them I’d be back in about five hours, I was dropping my Mom off at the hospital. They told me, “Don’t come, Stay there with your Mom, that’s more important.” “I’m dropping her off, my sister will pick her up later. She’s working.” Everyone knew her red hair and her talkativeness. A self-declared chatty-Cathy she put her outgoing personality to good use for over 20 years serving as a volunteer at the Bridgeport Hospital Information Desk until some health challenges last fall. There are several anecdotes of how she helped people there.
One interesting story I heard about her volunteering came to light this April when we were in the Emergency Room. After the staff had stabilized Mom, one nurse finally looked at the face of the body she was working on and said. “I know you. You work at the Information Desk, don’t you? – You’re the reason I’m a nurse.” Apparently this young single mom came to the desk for directions to the employment office to apply for a nurse’s aide position and she had her resume with her. She told me, “Your mother said, “Let me see that,” and after looking it over told me, “You’re too smart to be a nurse’s aide. You go right over to the school Honey and apply to be a registered nurse.” I was accepted that day.” Over ten years later this woman helped save Mom’s life. I guess it’s true, what you give, – comes back to you.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Mom was proud of her Irish heritage. She attended a few of my presentations and she stood and shared this Irish Blessing with one of my audiences. I’d like to share her blessing with you now:
May those that love us love us, And those that don’t,
May God turn their hearts, And if he can’t,
may he… Turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping.
As a nurse I’ve heard of another Alzheimer’s disease – it’s called Irish Alzheimer’s and it’s differentiated by forgetting everything but your grudges!
Where someone else might have exercised revenge, Mom exercised restraint. Self Control, another of those Fruits. I never heard my mother yell. She didn’t need to, she controlled us in other ways. I was telling a joke that my mother was a travel agent, saying she used to send us on guilt trips. And my sister said, “What do you mean used to?”
I remember Mom playing the piano – I can hear the joyful notes of the Connecticut March. As children Irene and I used to sneak down the stairs to watch Mom and Dad’s friends laughing, dancing in the basement and singing drinking songs. Eina Brun Zieg and Oct a libra Augustine Can anyone tell me what they mean? I remember bridge tournaments. Mom and I were partners for one and we won — by baffling our opponents with mistakes and weird bids! We played bridge even this April in Woodbridge and her bridge club played with her at the nursing home.
Most years Irene, Mom and I took a trip in June for her birthday. We went to Martha’s Vineyard or a road trip to Maine. One time traveling in the car we asked Mom for her help looking for Route 235. She was the first to find it and exclaimed, “There it is!” Irene looked quickly, but couldn’t find the road so she pulled off into a gas station to look for it. “There it is,” Mom said again as she pointed to the sign – for the gas price! She loved to bring us joy even if she didn’t do it on purpose. On her 90th birthday we celebrated in Maine at the Kennebunk Inn. After dinner we were singing in the piano bar and then when the customers found out about her big day she was asked to dance with some. This June her 95th birthday was celebrated in Bridgeport Hospital, I told her I didn’t like that hotel, next year I want to go back to Maine.
As a teen, my friends used to love to come to our home and if I was somewhere else and the phone rang after 9 PM everyone knew it was my mother. Because Mom was most practiced and very skilled in worry! (Eight out of nine Fruits isn’t bad, is it?) I had to promise to drive around by the airport so I wouldn’t be on that “lonely” road through the marsh, or ….I could wear a man’s hat so they wouldn’t know I was a girl. What a vivid imagination she had! She kept Irene and John’s house safely locked up tight. She did such a good job even they couldn’t get in.
I can’t talk about Mom’s life without talking about Dad. There was a sweet love story. The only time I heard either say anything tinged with any anger was when Dad was sanding the paint off the house. He was standing on a ladder two stories high with a sander in his hands and mom was at the bottom of the ladder worried about him falling. He said, “Irene stop it, I’m fine. I can’t fall; I’m hooked to the gutter.” Sure enough, there was a rope around his waist that went to a small C-clamp attached to the gutter of the house to appease her. If he fell it couldn’t have stopped him. It would have pulled the gutter down on top of him.
You could see they loved each other’s company. They described each other and their times as “swell.” Even people who didn’t know Mom and Dad admired them as they pedaled around Lordship on their bicycle-built-for-two. Mom was Dad’s constant companion until the very end as he died slowly with cancer, Steadfast and Faithful in her giving to him.
When Kerstin, Beth and Devin raided 357 Stratford Road looking for their mother’s wedding gown for a 40th anniversary surprise, they made an awesome discovery. Kerstin wrapped the treasure in a ribbon and presented it to Mom. Mom’s frail hands were shaking with pleasure as she accepted the gift. To her it was better than gold. In her hands she held a stack of letters from 1940 written to and from the love of her life – Rudolph, when he was working in Watervillet, NY. She was so excited as she opened one, and then it was sad for us because she couldn’t see well enough to read them.
Kerstin volunteered. The letters didn’t say much but they both wrote to each other faithfully daily or sometimes more than once a day, repeatedly declaring their love and counting the moments until they’d be together again. It was so hard for Mom to lose Dad 24 years ago almost to the day she died, and it’s hard on us to lose Mom now, but we know there are no more moments for them to count, they’re together again.
Mom was filled with the Fruits, Spiritually and Physically. John Santa, her first favorite son-in-law saw to it that she had fresh fruit and Irene brought fruit smoothies to get her to drink. I have to say thank you to them for their love and the exquisite care they took of Mom for years. Mom showed us examples of loving and it’s extremely evident that it has been passed on – to Baby Irene and I see those character traits in all the grandchildren. What a legacy. And now with Mom in the spiritual realm we are blessed with more help for us on our way. Thank you Mom for showing us how to Live Juicy, you’ve left your fragrance in our hearts, we love you.
P.S. when these flowers have gone by, we’ll keep the bows!
I see her coming and I’d get a smile on my face just to see her. I knew I was in store for some good laughs.