Mamie Drumm – a memorial
In the late 1800s, two Italian immigrants to the US met and in 1901 they married. They lived in Roseto, PA named after their home town in Italy. Work took them to Columbus, Ohio along with many other Italians. There, they raised their family. Born in 1917, was little “Baby Rogers” who they called Mamie. She was the youngest female of the six children who survived to adulthood with only Danny being younger.
Mamie was always proud of her Italian heritage. Things were done the “Italian” way or the “American” way. Never mind that she was as American as any other native-born citizen.
She attended high school at Columbus Central High, and if I remember this right, she was the only one of the six kids who graduated from high school. At Central, she met Bob, an athlete through and through. He was the football quarterback, the track star, the wrestler who, through his career, was never pinned. He became the love of her life. They stuck together through the Great Depression, waiting until jobs and income were sufficient to support themselves as husband and wife.
Although he was 26 years old, Bob was drafted into the Army to serve in the signal corps in the Pacific theater of World War II. He spent two years in the Pacific while Mamie managed the household alone. She took a factory job like millions of her female peers. They wrote to each other constantly.
Their early lives together were not easy. But Mamie had been a strong child and became a strong adult. She could take control of a situation and knew how things were to be done. She was a good cook who knew how to make all the staple Italian foods. She had done much of the cooking for her family as her mother began to suffer the symptoms of diabetes, and brought those skills to her marriage. But she was not afraid to branch out, try new recipes, make them her own.
Her mother-in-law made fabulous pies that Bob loved. Pies were not something she had had growing up, but she learned to make them in spite of her mother-in-law’s reluctance to show her how. Pies became her trademark, the culinary wonder that everyone who tasted them would crave. People fought over her pies at bake sales. They made sure they were there to claim the pies before the sale even began.
Pies became my favorite dessert. I judge the quality of a pastry chef’s pie by comparing a cherry pie to Mom’s. Few make the grade.
Over the years, Mamie had several pregnancies but only two children. Illness would always spook her, and I think she always feared losing a child. Tradition was strong in Mamie, but somehow she expanded herself beyond the norm. This began, no doubt, by falling in love with and marrying a fellow who was in no way Italian. French, German, Irish – she called his heritage “League of Nations.”
She adapted to the new ways of doing things to spring from the 1950s. No more coal fired furnace. A refrigerator in place of the ice box. A washing machine without wringers. She wasn’t afraid to use convenience foods, and in the early 1960s, she left the house to work in retail, earning money she could use to put her kids through college. With Bob going back to school to get a degree in Physics and her two children eventually earning advanced degrees, she’d refer to herself as the “dummy” in the family. We all knew this was not close to true.
Mamie had an incredible mind and the most gifted memory I’ve ever known. She knew the birthday, marriage dates, relationships, children of children of relatives I didn’t know I had. It was truly incredible. Dates and places – she’d recall without a second thought.
She managed the family finances, kept a budget scrupulously. I always figured it came from living through the depression, but I don’t know others who managed things so well.
Aside from her miscarriages, Mamie had more than her share of physical ailments. I could never count all the many operations she had. And several happened in an age when, frankly, surgery was still pretty iffy. But notwithstanding physical issues, she had an incredible strength. These problems were not going to stop her and barely slow her down. If the house needed cleaning, by God, she was going to clean it.
And her own ills did not interfere with her providing assistance to others. One of her sisters is sick, she’d do her laundry. She’d clean her house. It was expected – it’s just how things were done. Someone comes over to visit from out of town? You give up your bed for the guest.
Her kids didn’t always follow the path she expected. Her daughter attended marches protesting the war in Vietnam. Her son took up skydiving as a weekly activity. Both left Columbus and her, to stake out their own lives. She missed us, but understood.
Whatever we needed to do, no matter how she felt about it, was okay. Accepted. Of all the lessons we learned from Mamie, acceptance and unconditional love were the most important. The world could learn so much from her.
Mamie was proud of what her children had become and what they had done with their lives. Her children trumped everything else.
In 2006, my sister Grace suggested we get the whole family together for a Christmas in Florida. It was a great idea and terrific Christmas. Living in upstate New York and then in Minnesota, I spent the holidays at home with my family. The one year we drove to Ohio for a surprise visit for Thanksgiving, we hit a snow storm along Lake Eire that reminded us why we didn’t travel for the holidays. So, gathering with the Drumms for Christmas was special.
And walking on the beach at Christmas time is a fun break from the nearly inevitable white Christmases we have here. Mom and Dad, around 90 years old then, were still quite mobile, and I think they enjoyed us all being together a lot. Especially Mom.
The past few months have been rough. When you are in your nineties, little things add up and your body just can’t deal with problems like it once did. The hospital visits suddenly became frequent, and recovery less successful. When I saw Mom in July, she looked okay but was using the walker regularly. In August, we had to move them to be closer to one of us. Mom had never before lived outside of Columbus.
Her health continued to suffer, but her strength – perhaps stubbornness – prevailed again and again. I think she amazed many of the caregivers who provided assistance. In the end, she waited until she was doing better, done being in a hospital, to leave us. It had to be on her own terms.
My mother was not a saint, not without faults. She was human like all of us. But she was passionate about life and family. She was determined and knew how things should be – were supposed to be – and tried to control those things as best she could. But she adapted in spite of herself, in surprising ways, and, when things seemed out of control, she let love guide her. She did her best, she gave what she could and more. She lived and prospered through the Great Depression and WWII, and 71 years of marriage to the same man. And she made the best pies I’ve ever tasted. How many of us can say as much.
I’ll miss you, Mom…