Thursday, July 5, 2012


photo by John Thomas Grant, cemetery photographer
 Once upon a time, my father was leveled by grief at my mother's sudden death. Really, it seemed impossible that we (he, my two sisters, and I) would be able to accommodate the idea that this had really happened. For him, especially, however, the question of how to go on, to find a path through life without her, loomed. My sisters and I lived scattered across the country from him, and he did a pretty good job of feigning adjustment and recovery in addition to (gradually) actually adjusting and recovering, as widows and widowers have done since time immemorial.This was more than 25 years ago.
     One day, as my father become more lively, he began to speak of meeting new women. My mother had often joked that he would not be at a loss for women if she was no longer around. And I believe that he did meet several, but then suddenly, there was Trudi. Full name: Gertrude Haftka. They met at an anti-war march, and she lived in the same town as he did, not far away, and they seemed to have a lot in common in addition to political activism and hopes for peace.
     They both liked to walk, be active, think, read, discuss, travel. Book groups. Study groups. Soon, he introduced Trudi to his family, as she introduced him to hers--her daughter, Judy. Her son, Harold. Their spouses and children. And then they were talking about moving in together, and then they broke up, and then they got back together, and then she moved into his house, and then they got married. And she was Trudi Messer. We (meaning his daughters) had many complicated feelings about this, as we tend toward complicated feelings in our family, but overall, we could see how happy Trudi made our father, how she helped him come out of his shell, with the same extroverted spirit our mother had.
     One thing about Trudi: She was very good with her hands, with the fine-motor skills--sewing and knitting and so forth. She had long, graceful fingers, and even now I can remember how they looked when they were working and when they were still. As a charitable project for her temple, she used to launder and press  other people's fancy table cloths (she had a way with fabric). She did one for me once, and it was so beautiful (every stain gone; crisp and perfect) that it brought me to tears. Here she is, with my father and my daughter and her knitting--about 15 years ago.

     It is not an easy thing to sum a person up, to do them justice with a brief description, and I will not claim to even be trying to do that here. The point is that my father died in 1998, and this was difficult for her, of course, to lose her true love, and it was also difficult for us, his daughters, to lose our second parent.
Trudi continued to be part of our family's life after that. She came to Chicago when one of my stories was "performed" at the Museum of Contemporary Art. And she also came for my daughter's Bat Mitzvah, where she drank a lot of wine at the party and appeared to have a wonderful time.
     Then, she became ill, and her slow withdrawal from life began. And this morning her daughter called me to tell me that Trudi had died. I told her daughter that my sister and I often quote Trudi--one memorable quote in particular. Whenever we were feeling discouraged or downhearted and hoping for change and revival, Trudi would say, "Look. I don't know when it's going to happen. I don't know how it's going to happen. I don't know where it's going to happen. But I KNOW it's going to happen."
     Why, just last week, when I was talking to my sister (neither of us having any inkling that Trudi was in decline), she used the Trudi quote on me, and I think we both felt better. 


rose sigman said...

You wrote a lovely testament to your step-mother.We know isn't often that second marriages bring the two families together in a positive way.

Hopefully a change for the better will come in our lifetime. But we can still live with hope, compassion and dignity in the meantime.

My condolences to you and yours.

Rose D. Sigman

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, Rose. I never really thought of her as my step-mother, as I was a total grown up when she and my father married. And I didn't live close by, so I didn't ever get to know her family very well. But well enough, I am glad to say, that Judy called me to tell me when Trudi died.

Elaine your sister said...

Glad I checked in to read this. That photo of Trudi demonstrating her hand-work to Dad and Selena was taken at my 50th birthday celebration in Cherry Hill, NJ (17 years ago next week). May we live all live and thrive.

Susan Messer said...

Yes, I remember it well . . .that reunion/party. And yes to living and thriving. Thanks, dear.

Jim Poznak said...

The slogan for peace march where Martin met Trudi was "Legs Against Arms". Trudi had a vivid personality, which suited Martin very well.

Susan Messer said...

Right! Legs against Arms. I love that. Thanks for reminding me.