Thursday, April 26, 2012

Joey's Mom: Lois

Joey's Mom introduces us to a wide cast of characters in her photographs and stories on Flickr. Some pop up in one photograph and others prove their lasting legacy through multiple photos over the years.

What I love about Joey's Mom's friendship with Lois is that it was borne out of something dark and scary, but grew into such sweet friendship, the kind of friendship that says, "You're having a baby? I will have one too!" Such dedication and loyalty is hard to come by.

Lois appeared in my life through misfortune. Hers. For me, meeting Lois was a lucky break.

"Why don't you ask Mrs. M. out to lunch soon?" my employer asked when Lois left after her medical appointment. "She's a nice woman and is quite ill. She's going to need surgery, but I can't schedule it yet. She has problems at home too. She needs cheering up."

I noticed she trembled alarmingly when filling out forms and she seemed extremely nervous.

We met at Hattem's for lunch, a popular restaurant on, or just off from Grand Rapids' South Division Avenue in 1949. The waitress asked "Cocktail? Tuesday special for 49 cents!" We sipped Manhattans while awaiting our food. It would become a hallowed ritual to meet on Tuesdays for lunch and have a Manhattan, whether on South Division Avenue or Hattem's successor on the eastern fringe of the city in later years. Or in other cities and days as our lives changed over the years. What was most constant over time was our friendship.

Conversation came easily from our first meeting, though neither of us is a chatterbox. We discussed anything we chose without fear. Soon we were meeting in each others' apartments on weekends or evenings to exchange hair coloring or perms. Clothing purchases were never final until the other had approved. We traded recipes. She read her correspondence to me and we discussed personal matters freely. Our harmless crushes; hers on a handsome Resident at the hospital who paid her special attention, mine on a photographer I knew. We were privy to each others' secrets and nothing went further than our lips.

I visited her in Butterworth Hospital after she had her toxic thyroid gland removed. I wore a royal blue velvet car coat. When Lois admired it I said casually "Yeah, it's very comfortable; I've had it forever." She asked me why it had a white label stapled to the hem in the back. Blushing, caught in in my lie, we both laughed loudly, she as loudly as her stitches allowed.

I'm wondering now if the pearl choker she's wearing in this beach photo covers her surgical scar.

Dr. Pott's diagnosis and surgery brought calm and health to Lois. I showed her the work ritual on my job; soon she filled in for me when I vacationed or was ill, with the doctor's complete approval. Liking to have some money of her own, she began selling Avon products and confided funny or sweet stories of her customers to me. When I entertained, she would suggest she personally go over my apartment that afternoon while I was at work. She wasn't above wielding a dust-cloth or Windex bottle if needed.

Me too!

I told Lois first about my coming motherhood. In a rare and touching act of friendship she announced, "If you're going to have a baby, then I will too!" And she said she would give me a baby shower.

By the time of the shower she was able to announce her own due-date, three months after mine. How about that?!

Ottawa Beach family outing

It was inevitable that our families would enter our world. As I explained before, many Grand Rapids residents streamed to Holland's Ottawa Beach on weekends.

I soon introduced Lois to the smorgasbord of enjoyable summer activities in Chicago too, just a few hours' ride away on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.

Hubby slows down

Lois' husband, Jim, was more of a power-boat guy, but here he enjoyed an
afternoon on the sand with us.

Beaches by the mile

Lois and I decided on a late summer vacation together before our heavier responsibilities set in. We hopped a morning Chesapeake and Ohio train from Grand Rapids to Chicago, arriving early enough to get settled in at the New Lawrence Hotel on the near north side, where we had stayed before. We had dinner in a neighborhood deli, then saw a play -- unmemorable, apparently!

In the morning we headed for the nearest beach, where I took this photo of Lois. We never tired of being in the sun, and neither of us worried about our skin. We hadn't heard of sunblock, although some people smoothed on Coppertone or other oils said to enhance their suntans. We didn't.

The Chicago beaches were lovely and uncrowded in the 1950s, as my photo of Lois depicts. They stretched for miles along Lake Michigan, almost continuously, for close to 30 miles. City-owned and maintained, with parking and restrooms, each had its own character. One is near the Lincoln Park Zoo, one near the Adler Planetarium, another is near the Shedd Aquarium. I heard that one has a dog park now, and that smoking isn't allowed anywhere. That would have given Lois pause, with her ever-ready pack of Marlboros. We frittered away the day there happily, sharing stories and soaking up the sun. She gave me advice on baby formulas, told me how to sterilize bottles and shared some exercises to restore the body post-birth.

The next day, feeling a little guilty about our prior frivolity, we headed for the Art Institute. Nearby shopping in the Loop beckoned next. Since Marshall Field's had everything, we went there, heading to the top floor where we looked over the atrium railing at the shoppers on on street level. In the Walnut Room, we ordered one chicken potpie and one Marshall Field's sandwich, trading tastes back and forth. I doubt that Macy's continued that menu option after the buyout in 2005!

After lunch we set out with purses in hand, sans plastic (how did we ever manage?), and, following a long-time Loop tradition, agreed to meet "under the clock" should we lose one another. The massive and ornate timepiece mounted on the building's State and Washington corner is more than a clock to Chicagoans.

Weighing the baby

Lois came through with her promise, and Mike was born three months after Joey, in early 1954.

Here, she visits Dr. Pott’s office for a baby checkup and weighing. I trotted upstairs to my apartment to get Joey from Bernadette, his sitter, and snapped this photo. I think Joey would have broken the new-baby scale by that time. Little Mike soon outstripped Joey in size though. Their lives took different routes, as Mike became interested in extreme sports. Joey was bookish and thoughtful.


It was lunchtime, so we asked Dr. Pott to take our photos with the babies in Mrs. Pott's garden outside.

I did some Internet sleuthing and learned that Lois' “baby," Mike, had died suddenly, only 49 years after this photo was taken, in apparent good health, of a massive heart attack. His adored mother was already gone, and his father died shortly after.

The good daughter

Lois enlisted her little daughter's help in serving the desserts. Here she takes the coffee pot to the living room. Cheryl later became a teacher, and retired recently as high school principal.

While teaching, Cheryl became a specialist in smoking cessation and prevention. She traveled from school to school, her primary target from the beginning actually being her mother, a lifetime smoker who could, and did, do anything in the world for her family except stop smoking.

During a visit to her Hospice room in Lois' last days, she seemed asleep. So I sat at the little table with her husband, who talked about his fast cars, speedboats, football prowess, etc., in such a loud voice it made me ill. I wanted desperately to tell him to SHUT UP. I didn't comment or ask questions, still he persisted in his flat, booming voice. I went to Lois' bedside`and put my hand on her forehead. That's when she opened her eyes and said to me soundlessly, "Help me."

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