I go through this routinely during the last month of the year. Not moping, but reflective. December’s always been different and unique. Mom’s, Shannon’s and my birthday are in December. I remember birthdays in Iowa where we had a snow day from school during a blizzard and birthdays where I wore shorts because it was 60 degrees, sunny and downright fabulous.
My mom, Florence (Wanningen) Gerritson passed away in 2004. Her twin brother Floyd passed away less than a year before her. Floyd at the very end of 2003, mom in the fall of 2004. Although their deaths occurred in different years, both were 77. I’m not surprised how close together their deaths were. They had an unusual bond even though for much of their adult lives lived a couple thousand miles apart.
When I mull their childhood I find it incredibly sad, but it wasn’t that unusual for the year of their birth in 1926 (which makes it even sadder). Their mother, Jacoba (Coba) Berghuis married my grandpa two years prior on December 6, 1924 at the tender age of 18 (same age as me when we eloped). Coba graduated from high school in May of 1924. By October (that same year) she had her teaching certificate and began teaching in Sioux Center, Iowa. My grandpa, Gerrit (his nickname was Lakey) Wanningen was born in 1896 and 28 when they got hitched.
By their second anniversary Coba was ready to give birth. Mom never told me if my grandma, Lakey or even the doctor knew she was having twins beforehand or if it was a big surprise to everyone. Prenatal care was seriously lacking by today’s standards.
The celebration of the twin’s birth was short lived because Coba, 20 died of complications when the babies were 13 days old. After all these years this still makes me feel so bad for mom and Floyd. Never having a chance to know their mom, but had to rely on stories from relatives and friends about their mom. I know once Lakey lost Coba his attitude about life, marriage and parenthood took a huge toll on him. For the twin’s first few years he was not an active presence in their lives.
Both sets of grandparents were supportive and played a big part in raising the twins. Coba had 6 siblings and 2 of the twin’s aunts supplied a lot of love and nurturing. Alida was the oldest, married and had children not much older than the twins, so Florence and Floyd spent a lot of time on their farm. The other aunt was Lena who was a couple years older than Coba and still living at home. But the majority of time the twins lived with Lakey’s parents, Guert and Jantje, both close to 60.
The Wanningen’s had recently lost their only daughter and newborn grandson. Both mom’s maternal and paternal families had suffered tragedies. Still, for the roaring 20’s these three deaths were not that uncommon. Death during childbirth or complications shortly after was part of life back then. I was told Grandpa Lakey’s sister, Jennie died from cancer the day she gave birth to a stillborn son. He was placed in her arms in the casket and they were buried together.
Mom came to terms with the loss of her young mother a long time ago. She doted on all four grandparents, especially her two grandma’s and felt she was lucky to have them in her life. She lost Jantje in 1950 right before I was born and Effie Berghuis in 1958, the same year we lost my 12 year old brother Larry.
About 2 months before mom passed away was the last time I was home to visit. She’d been in a long term care facility for a few months and decided not to start treatments after her 3rd occurrence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She and dad celebrated their 62nd anniversary a month before she died. She called me October 18th and told me she loved me. Dad was with her the next day around noon when she passed, a couple months shy of her 78th birthday. Mom would be celebrating her 95th birthday on the 13th. It seems impossible that she’s been gone 17 years already…