Esther Cleona Holtzinger – Mom and Grandma Extraordinaire.
Many of you know and have heard of my grandfather, John Edward “Ted” Holtzinger. A successful Altoona businessman, publisher, writer, developer, farmer. The list goes on and on of his many accomplishments in life, but what about the woman who sat beside him?
Esther Cleona Holtzinger. Ted’s wife. Mom to Marge, Louise, Jack, Susan, and Al.
Unfortunately, I have few memories of Grandma Esther, because I was just eight years old when she passed. But, the memories I do have of this infectious, charming, and loving woman are some of my fondest.
Her warm apple pies coming hot out of the oven on a cool summer day. The junket that would be stored away in glass containers inside the refrigerator for when the grandchildren would visit. The placement of butter on just the right spot to stop the sting, and her soothing voice telling me “I would be better before I’m married”, while I sat sobbing on her lap suffering from a wasp sting while swinging in the backyard. Those are just a few of the rich memories I have of her.
Then there are the years of family gatherings at the Holtzinger homestead, the place I would later in life call my childhood home. Christmas was awesome. Figure five children, their spouses, twenty-four grandchildren, two great grandchildren all gathered around a real Christmas tree in the living room. The laughter that ensued from that home. Oh, how I love to hear those stories. Perhaps this is the reason why I love to cook and entertain so much. It seemed so effortless for Grandma, and she loved having everyone together. You didn’t have to be family to be welcomed to the party.
There are many other memories, some I and my sister have experienced. Others we’ve only heard, but make me wish I had the chance to know her more. Life has a funny way of changing things; and unfortunately for her three youngest grandchildren and two great grandchildren, we wouldn’t be given the same opportunity to know Grandma like the rest of our family.
May 24, 1976 – FORTY YEARS AGO! Wow, so hard to believe it has been that long ago. Why, it seems like only yesterday, Grandma Esther or Esther Cleona Holtzinger ~ loving wife, mother, grandmother and friend passed away at the Altoona Hospital after suffering a stroke in her home the evening before.
But what about that day before she passed? May 23, 1976. Long before my grandmother suffered a stroke, she would experience a much more joyous type of pain. Thirty-four years earlier, she was giving birth to her baby son, Albert Joseph Holtzinger II. Or, who is affectionately known to my sister and I as Dad.
Just as the many birthday celebrations before it, this one on May 23, 1976 was no different. We were gathered around the dining room table in our then Milesburg home having dinner and celebrating dad’s birthday. But our celebration was cut short when the phone rang. Everyone sat in angst, as dad listened to the person on other end of the phone. And when he hung up, he shared with mom, Liz and I what he had been told. Grandma Esther had suffered what was believed to be a stroke. He didn’t know the seriousness of it, but we were to come as soon as we could.
What happened next is but a blurred series of memories. At eight years old, you only understand so much. But how you feel, what resonates within you long after that part of your life has passed, molds your life for an eternity.
I recall praying so hard the entire ride from Milesburg to Altoona, begging God not to take Grandma. I was just getting to know and understand the power of God. In Sunday School, I was given this book and it had a bunch of prayers in it, and I remember reciting the same prayer over and over again the entire ride to Altoona. I don’t recall the prayer, and I so wish I could find that book, but I remember begging with God to keep Grandma alive, to make her better…at least until we got to Altoona.
And God answered my prayers, at least the one to keep her alive until we got to Altoona. To let my dad sit with his mom before she would pass.
Then that fateful day, the morning after – May 24, 1976. My sister and I were told Grandma had passed peacefully.
I was eight, my sister had turned four a few weeks prior, and you really don’t understand what death is at either of our ages. Especially considering this was really our first experience losing someone so close. My parents wanted to shield us from some of it. They shared a little, but knew that the loss was great, and my sister and I were probably not prepared or old enough yet to understand the power this loss would have on us.
I remember attending the viewing. Grandma lying there in the casket dressed in this blue silky-like robe. The satin blankets pulled to her chest covering her up and keeping her warm. What did I know? I had no clue at 8 that her body was cold. One could look around the room and feel the power of her presence. Some sharing their favorite memories, while others wept. But that’s about all I recall. Perhaps it was all my young mind would allow me to recall in hopes of protecting me, shielding me from the pain and heartache everyone else was experiencing at the time.
Monday marks my dad’s 74th birthday. My dad isn’t big on celebrating his birthday, never really has been as he’s a pretty humble man, not to mention the loss surrounding this day. But, birthday celebrations and family time is important to me. So just like all of his other birthdays before this one, we will celebrate his special day with dinner, cake, gifts and the receiving of the traditional watermelon. (My Aunt Marge used to get my dad a watermelon every year for his birthday. I know there is a story behind it, I just don’t recall it at the moment. But after her passing, I decided to keep the tradition going and buy him a watermelon for his birthday. He and I are the only ones who like watermelon in our family, so usually I split it with him.)
Traditions…Celebrations…Fond Memories – this is what my dad’s birthday means to me. Tuesday will mark forty years since we all said goodbye to Grandma, and I feel sure that while my dad doesn’t openly express it, he has to be thinking of her too. My dad doesn’t express much emotion, but I’ve seen and understand the love a mother has for a son, especially their baby son. And, I can’t help but to believe that while my dad has never broken down in front of us girls…I know that while we celebrate with him and celebrate the life of him, we also celebrate silently the life of a very special and influential woman in all of our lives, Grandma Esther.
Happy Birthday Dad…I love you with all my heart! And to Grandma Esther – I know you’re watching down on all of us on this day, and celebrating with us. Just wish we had a piece of your homemade apple pie! 😉