Biography of Hanna Bertha Prusse
Sylvia Hasler Thatcher (51)
Springfield, Illinois, 1988
Sylvia Hasler Thatcher (51)
Springfield, Illinois, 1988
Figure 1: Hanna, New York City, 1954
Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler (75)
Lindon UT & Three Lakes WI 2016
A Synopsis of Hanna’s Life
Hanna Bertha Prusse was born May 22, 1908 in Hanover Prussia Germany, the first child of Wilhelm Heinrich Prusse (Baker) and Johanna Caroline Conradi. On April 24, 1913 she immigrated with her parents, two sisters and two brothers to America (Salt Lake City) arriving close to her 5th birthday in Galveston Texas. With in a year she was the eldest of 6 and by 1925 the eldest of 12 children. Hanna and her sister, second daughter Eveline, worked very hard to help their mother raise the large family. In grade school she played catcher on the sixth grade baseball team which won first place in the all city schools tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Hanna loved to sing and had a wonderful soprano voice. In high school she sang the leading roles in musicals of the day, one of which was Naughty Marietta by Victor Herbert. In high school, she fell in love with the doctor’s son, Arthur Davis Hasler. As is the custom of many Utah Mormon boys, Arthur left at the age of 19 on a 3-year proselyting mission to Dresden Germany in 1927. Hanna was a very devout Mormon and unlike most of the Mormon girls in 1928, at the age of 20 she also went on a mission for 2 ½ years to Wisconsin and nearby states. On September 6, 1932, shortly after Hanna and Art returned from their missions, they were married in the historic Salt Lake City Temple. They left immediately for graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin. As a young graduate student's wife in Madison, Wisconsin, for three years through 1935, she sang the soprano lead in light operas organized by the University Theater: Sweethearts, The Chocolate Soldier, and Blossom Time.
Arthur completed his PhD in Zoology at the University of Wisconsin in 1935 and took a post doctorate job with the Federal Government on the Chesapeake Bay where he took his young wife to live in Yorktown Virginia. Their first child, Sylvia, was born there on October 4th 1936. Hanna sang professionally in the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. Hanna and Art returned to Madison in 1939 where Art started as an Instructor in the Zoology department. Their first son, Fritz, was born August 21st 1940. Four more boys were to follow, Bruce June 3rd 1942, the twins, Galen & Mark January 24th 1945, and the baby, Karl, July 19th 1947. In 1944 they moved into the wonderful innovative house at 205 Lathrop street where Hanna would rule the family roost for the rest of her life. But parents, sisters, brothers, in-laws and Utah were never far from her mind as she organized the long family trek from Wisconsin and Virginia out west by train or car every year.
Hanna sang on a professional level throughout her childbearing and mothering years, taking a lesson every week, with Susan Heffner, a New England Conservatory of Music graduate. In addition to personal performing, she sang in civic opera productions and directed the Mormon Congregation church choir for many years, coaching promising young voices and encouraging them to take lessons, practice and develop their talents. Hanna taught all of her children to sing and strongly encouraged them to play the piano and other musical instruments. As Arthur was promoted to Assistant Professor, Full Professor and became the renown member of the National Academy of Sciences specializing in Limnology and Ecology, Hanna was his helpmate, caretaker of his children, and social chairman: entertaining his students, their wives, and visiting scientists from around the world. Hanna, the baker’s daughter, thrilled family and guests alike with her food, but especially homemade bread, dinner rolls, and German specialties including Zwetschgenkuchen, and Christmas Stollen as well as a holiday cranberry pudding that was to die for.
In 1954, Arthur took a year long sabbatical to the University of Munich in Germany with the whole family of eight in tow. Hanna spoke fluent German from her childhood in Germany and with her family in America. Arthur had learned excellent German on his mission in Dresden East Germany. Now it was time for all the children to be enrolled in German schools and learn German as well. Before long the whole family was speaking fluent German and singing German folk and Christmas songs, informally: the von Hasler Family Singers.
Arthur also took Hanna and the youngest three children on Sabbatical to Helsinki, Finland for 6 months in 1960??. Hanna accompanied him on many trips in the US and extensive European travel on the sabbaticals.
Hanna lived to see Sylvia and Fritz marry and she got to know four grand children. Sylvia’s Laurel, Blaine and Sabina were 7, 5, and 3 while Fritz’s Anneliese was 18 months old when she died. She traveled France in ???? to see Laurel be blessed in Nancy where Gilbert was stationed in the service
Hanna died from cancer in Madison at the age of 61 on June 2nd 1969 after a grim six-month battle with the disease. She had touched many lives, over 500 people attended her funeral.
Of the many images of Mother, I choose this one. Leaping from the car in the pine forest over-looking Trout Lake in northern Wisconsin, she inhales the invigorating smell of the pine needles warmed by the sun releasing their true fragrance and bursts out, "Doesn't that smell wonderful! I love it up here in the north woods." Her slim figure, the result of much vigorous, energetic and athletic activity, rises on its toes. Arms rise in ecstasy. "Isn't it gorgeous? Look at this beautiful wintergreen blossom. Smell this leaf." (She breaks the tiny leaf, releasing the wintergreen fragrance.)
Firm hands bear evidence of many kinds of work: baking plum cake and stollen, braiding hair, making beds, scrubbing floors, sewing ballet costumes, directing the singing of many choirs, writing letters and packing boxes to send to her loved ones who have flown far away.
The sun falls on her short, wavy blonde hair and brushes her beautiful even profile. Always a handsome woman, she glows with the bloom of maturity in having lovingly raised a family, in having helped launch her husband in his scientific and professorial profession, and in having sung many songs joyfully and exquisitely.
Here stands Hanna, the beloved, ready for another day. This picture of her does not explain her, just as perhaps many other vignettes also do not, but her beginnings at least must be told.
Her family sprang from sturdy, hardworking, independent German stock. Her maternal grandfather was a postman, her paternal grandfather a carpenter in Hannover, Germany. The postman kept canaries in numerous, immaculate, well-tended cages in his home, singing songs his little granddaughter would later lift with joy to audiences six thousand miles from her birthplace. The carpenter died young in a building accident, leaving his infant son to be raised in hardship. This strong child fought, survived, flourished and as an adult had the wisdom to take his first born daughter Hanna to a land where they could worship in freedom, forsaking all their loved ones for God and liberty.
Wilhelm Heinrich Prusse
Wilhelm Heinrich Prusse (1881-1964) went to visit his brother in the hospital in Germany about 1908. Finding a printed tract left in the hospital room by the Mormon missionaries (this paper told about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), he took it home, read it and believed it. Searching out the Mormon missionaries, he asked them to teach him and his wife about this new religion, as he was not satisfied with the Lutheran Church and its teachings.
He was baptized on October 8, 1908. His wife, Johanna Caroline Conradi, was baptized ten days later. Their tiny five-month-old daughter was my mother, Hanna Bertha Prusse. Grandfather had served two years in the German army and did not want to fight in a war. He was intuitively a clever, resourceful, hard-working man, and he could feel that war was brewing. He saved his money. His plan was that if war broke out before he had enough money saved for them all to emigrate, he would send his family to England and go alone to America until he had enough money to bring them over. As it worked out, he was able to sell his bakery and sail for America with his wife and five children. Baby Irmgard was six weeks old.
Grosspapa told me that when the ship sailed out of the harbor at Bremerhaven, Germany, he felt as though an enormous load fell from his shoulders (as when backpackers drop their packs and actually have the sensation of flying). He knew he was taking his little family away from danger. The ship docked at Galveston, Texas, six weeks later. A year later the First World War broke out.
Salt Lake City welcomed the little group of immigrants. Wilhelm had saved enough money to buy a small house and acreage. They started a new life in a free country. His first job was as a baker for the Hotel Utah. He and his wife worked extremely hard. He spaded an acre garden by hand, butchered his own pigs and kept a cow in addition to his job as a baker. Eventually he bought a bakery in Provo, Utah. Johanna bore thirteen children in seventeen years. They prospered, eventually buying a large home in Provo, Utah, and acquiring a motorcar and providing well for their large family. Grosspapa was very strong. He used to run up and down the bakery stairs with two 100-pound sacks of flour on his shoulders.
Two of their children went on two-year proselyting missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--Hanna, the eldest to Wisconsin, and Ralph, the youngest to Minnesota. Each missionary and (or) his/her family earns the money for the two year stay before he departs into the mission field. Grosspapa and his wife Johanna Conradi Prusse had forty-six grandchildren. Twenty-five of these grandchildren filled missions for the Church from Korea to Germany. My son Blaine, who served in Alabama, was the first of the great-grandchildren to fill a full-time mission for the church. On my father's side, Blaine is the sixth generation to fill a mission for the L.D.S. (Mormon) Church.
When I returned from my year abroad in Germany at age 18, I came to visit my grandfather Prusse in Utah. I was the first grandchild to be able to converse with him in German. He spoke the heavily accented broken English he had learned at 25 years of age. We used to joke that he had ruined both languages, English and German. From his lips they intertwined, so that to comprehend him, you had to understand both languages.
I listened to his stories, and I recounted to him my visit to his older brother, Gustav, and to his wife's brother and sisters in Germany. He unfolded to me the tragic tale of his lost childhood. His father had died when he was an infant, leaving his mother to raise four sons alone. The frail tuberculin Anna Wilhelmine Buhs Prusse struggled to feed four growing boys by working as a seamstress. When Grosspapa was six years old the older brothers were apprenticed, and this left my grandfather home alone to care for his bedridden mother. Grosspapa told me how he had to change his mother's bed linen and try to treat her terrible bedsores.
Their home consisted of one meager room. When he was eight they had to move to another house. Grandfather described how he had to wrap his mother in a blanket, carry her down the stairs and pull her in a wagon to go to their new humble abode. "They were not kind in Germany in those days - no one helped a little boy. There was no social security or widow's pension. Society was not kind to the poor," he said. Wilhelmine died when he was ten, whereupon he went to live with an aunt who was mean to him. "She made me change the younger children's diapers," he commented.
At twelve, angry, lonely and dissatisfied, he put his meager possessions on his back, climbed out the window, and walked from town to town until he found a baker who was clean and needed an apprentice. Hearing this story from his lips, I could understand better what had made him such a stern, embittered, unhappy man. He never returned to Germany in his lifetime and had no desire to do so, though he sent his wife and daughter on a visit to visit family there in 1928.
Wilhelm would not allow his sons to go to college. The work ethic was his Bible. They had to steal away from home to go to Brigham Young University, but this they did, sneaking home at night to bring their laundry to Granny. My mother was allowed take one course per semester while she worked diligently beside her father in the bakery.
My grandparents' humble circumstances in Germany were their gift. Had they been landed aristocracy they might never have yearned to leave the Old World. The relatives who remained in Hannover, Germany, suffered the ravages of two world wars while Grandfather's descendants have multiplied and prospered in a land of freedom and opportunity.
I remember Mother's eyes searching out a worn middle-aged woman on the street when we lived in Germany as she said to me, "There but for the church go I." Had it not been for her father's conversion and resultant emigration to America, they might have remained in Germany. Mother could have been that tired, grey-haired woman.
Johanna Caroline Conradi Prusse
My grandmother, Johanna Caroline Conradi Prusse (Hanna's mother), was a city girl. She was born in Hannover, Germany, on 29 March 1884, and died in Provo, Utah, in January, 1962. A housekeeper by trade, she clerked in a bakery where she met Grosspapa. She kept house at the parsonage of the minister of the Lutheran Church where she was a member. She was an excellent cook, expert seamstress and extremely efficient homemaker.
When she worked for the Lutheran minister one of her duties was to wash the clothing of the daughter who was away at boarding school. The daughter also sent home her blood caked knitted wool menstrual pads to be washed. This was an unappetizing task to say the least. I remember my mother telling me about this nasty job when I was engaged in the interesting teenage job of learning how to get menstrual blood spots out of my underpants. "First soak in cold water," advised Mother. It seemed I always had a little potty pan of water in my closet soaking the needed item. Mama said in irritation, "I'm almost sorry I taught you to soak blood spots in cold water, Sylvia."
We remember Mother saying that when her parents first came to the U.S.A. with five children, they (her parents) did not go out on a date for seven years, by which time they had nine children. These people worked very hard. I, Sylvia, feel persecuted if I don't see the entire artist series at the Sangamon State Auditorium in Springfield, Illinois, each year.
Annual visits to Grannie Prusse's home have left indelible scent imprinting from her gourmet delicacies: breaded pork chops, bing cherry soup, and baked German yeast breads, butter cake, apple cake, Stollen, Bienenstich, and Lebkuchen filled the large cheerful, sunny kitchen with mouth watering aromas and fond memories.
I remember my grandmother saying in later years when Grosspapa became embittered and wanted to leave the L.D.S. (Mormon) church, "I've changed my religion once for him. I'm not going to do it again." She loved to do fine embroidery work and crocheted countless items, even bedroom slippers for my eldest daughter Laurel, the first great-grandchild.
We took a picture of Granny, Mother, myself and Laurel--four generations of first-born daughters. All of us were Americans, but I was the only one born in the United States of America. I had given birth to Laurel in France during my husband's Army service from 1957 to 1959.
Hanna Comes to America
Hanna Bertha Prusse was the first daughter, eldest child and true heir of the prodigious energy and business sense of her father Wilhelm Heinrich Prusse. Wilhelm had had the foresight to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age twenty-one (strongly urging his young wife to be baptized also). He planned to take his family to the United States of America from Germany.
Her mother was the housekeeper at the pastor's home and rose to organize and mastermind her own large household. Mother, the baker's daughter who had worked in her father's bakery from age eleven, married the doctor's son and became the professor's wife, raising six children, five of whom graduated from college, four
with higher degrees. Sylvia, B.A. in Liberal Arts from Sangamon State University, Springfield, Illinois, is a proficient homemaker and freelance choreographer. Fritz, Ph.D. in meteorology, works for NASA in Washington, D.C. Bruce has an M.S. in Water Resources Management and is on the Board of the Sustainable Farming World Land Organization in the state of Washington. Galen, M.D., is a practicing Oncologist and Hematologist in Springfield, Missouri. Mark has an M.A. in Investment Real Estate and works for the Duvall Real Estate Group in Madison, Wisconsin. Karl has a personality disorder, which ruled out a college degree, but is a faithful employee in a sheltered workshop, a conscientious member of the church, plays the clarinet well, and sings in the Ward Choir. Moreover, his excellent musicianship qualifies him as a tenor in the Madison Civic Chorus. In addition to nurturing her family and encouraging them to reach their potential, Hanna gained recognition for her own talents and abilities, especially for her beautiful singing voice.
How the little four-year-old, honey-blonde, curly-haired German immigrant girl sailed across the ocean with her look-alike sister Evaline, two twin-like younger brothers (Erich and Alfred), dimpled six-week old baby, Irmgard, and their parents, and came to stand beside a cherry wood Steinway grand piano vocalizing in her living room with an Oriental rug carpeting the floor is the classic story of an American girl. She rose from the working class to grace her professor husband's table--set with beautiful china, silver and crystal--and entertained their internationally
known friends with excellent food and scintillating conversation.
Bright blue eyes lit her expressive, frequently-smiling face. Naturally curly short hair framed a lively face which topped an amazingly supple body capable of enormous charm, initiative, good deeds and unfathomable acts of energetic vigor. Two weeks before she died of cancer at sixty-one, she put her foot up on the sink to wash her toes.
Courtship, Missions and Early Married Life of
Arthur Davis Hasler and Hanna Bertha Prusse
Arthur Davis Hasler and Hanna Bertha Prusse
My father's sister, Ada, describes Daddy's courtship with Mother thus. "Hanna and my brother, Art, went together in High School. They spent a lot of time together. In fact, we used to say the old Franklin (car) didn't need to be driven, it could find its way to Hanna's house by itself."
"They truly loved each other, I'm certain of that--as evidenced by this one experience I remember. Missionaries left for their missions by train in those days. (Airplanes were just not). When our family went to Salt Lake to put Arthur on the train for Germany, Hanna, of course, was invited to go along. We had all said our goodbyes, and the train pulled out of the station. Hanna could not bear the parting--she ran after the train as if to pull Art to her and not let him go away."
It was such a touching, loving, moving scene, Ada made a pantomime out of the incident for her drama class. I love thinking about the tender pathos of this vignette. Ada said, "My pantomime was made to order--I felt it."
Ada invited my mother to be in her own wedding party before Mother married my father and became an official member of the family. These two were close friends (like sisters) all their lives. My daughter Barbara feels very close to Ada, and is drawn to visit her frequently in Salt Lake City, where she now resides.
In 1928, Hanna accepted a call to the Northern States mission as a missionary for two and a half years. Arthur had already left for his three-year mission to Germany/Austria. Many young nineteen-year-old men went on missions, but the girls went less frequently. Hanna was very enterprising and spiritual, and truly wanted to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. She was always accompanied by another lady missionary. They rented an apartment together and worked under the direction of the mission president, who gave them assignments to several different cities. She worked in Milwaukee and Lacrosse, Wisconsin, and also Sioux City, Iowa. Coincidentally she later returned to live in Wisconsin the rest of her life. I remember her saying, "Why wasn't I sent to Hawaii on my mission? I've lived all my life in Wisconsin."
Her cheerfulness and ability to work had endeared her to missionary companions
and the members of the L.D.S. (Mormon) church in the cities where she worked. Forty years after her mission, when she had passed away, I happened by chance to mention my Mother's maiden name to an older member of the church in Milwaukee, where I was living at the time. This lady perked right up and said, "Prusse? Prusse? Why I remember a lady missionary by that name who was here many years ago." It could have been none other. I was flabbergasted. She was truly beloved and remembered.
Hanna and Arthur were married September 6, 1932, in the Salt Lake Temple and they left immediately for graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin.
Arthur tells this story. "In 1933 Hanna and I planned our summer vacation in Provo. We had saved the equivalent of bus fare from my meager research assistantship and her part-time jobs. A friend of Hanna's from her missionary days in Milwaukee urged us to buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle with side car which could be obtained second-hand, or used, for the same price as bus fare. He arranged for the purchase of a 1927 model which he and his advisors considered a fair buy.
We set out for the three-week trip, stopping at night in "Rooms for Tourists"
and making our own meals from groceries. Not accustomed to this form of travel, I had to stop periodically to stretch out and have my back rubbed. I don't know why Hanna did not learn to drive - women just didn't do it at that time, I suppose. In a heavy rain in Iowa it was miserable, but we fought on through the pelting rain storm. In Nebraska and through Wyoming it was the winds that inhibited our progress and increased the stress.
Advanced notification alerted Mother and Dad, who drove up Provo Canyon to meet us, the modern day pioneers. It had been a five-day trip--1400 miles over Route U.S. 30, and, except for a few detours, over a two-lane concrete or blacktop road.
We visited both families during the week in Provo, and set out for the return journey with home-canned (bottled) fruit tucked in every nook and cranny of the sidecar so that Hanna could barely move. I protested the extra loading, but the generous givers were respected and off we went.
By now my muscles were well conditioned to the jostling and wind stresses, hence the memories of fatigue are associated more with the trip to Utah. It was now late June, and the hot wind scorched the corn in central Nebraska. This is characteristic of a continental climate. It was an intolerable heat. Even so, all went well for the first two days through Wyoming and western Nebraska, but in early afternoon the overheated air-cooled motorcycle engine developed other symptoms: a clanking in the cylinders signaled alarm. Hence I pushed in the clutch and we rolled right into town and in front of a garage.
A sympathetic mechanic could not give us encouragement, as parts would have to be ordered. As negotiations proceeded, the owner of the garage offered to take the motorcycle on trade for a used Chrysler coupe with a jump seat, but the additional money was the problem. The owner suggested we deposit Hanna's diamond (engagement) ring as security for a loan of $1500, and the village banker agreed. The next morning we signed the sale and loan documents, confident we could pay the loan and retrieve the ring before the summer was over.
The automobile was more expensive to run, but it was in good mechanical condition and provided comfort and security. We had no difficulty in rationalizing this upgrading of our mode of travel. The helpfulness and courtesy of our garage owner and banker reassured us of the basic integrity of rural Midwesterners.
We arrived in Wisconsin without mishap. After dropping Hanna off in Baileys Harbor, Door County, where she was to operate an inn on a golf course for a large hotel, I motored to Trout Lake (Vilas Co.)"
Music with Hanna
Hanna sang in a children's Primary program at church at age seven. Her sister Evaline, eighteen months younger, wrote many years later that this was very important to both of them. "We never missed a practice," she said "and we really liked it." Hanna, the performer, was born--a natural flair and ready smile were her special qualities. Ingenuity and energy to bring off a performance were innate to her nature.
Mother's five-tone vocal exercises echoing through the house were beautiful to our ears. Today, when my singer friends come to visit and I hear their vocalese, I feel as though I have gone home to the spacious, well-furnished, three-story white frame house on Lathrop Street in Madison, Wisconsin, with sparkling clean windows, where Hanna presided for twenty-seven years. Clean window panes were very important to her inbred sense of German cleanliness. Galen and Mark both recalled with delight Mother's irresistible invitation, "First one here gets to choose which window he wants to wash."
Hanna offered singing lessons to her second son Bruce, who jumped at the chance. Three years ago, when he came to visit me and we sang together, he described his feelings. "It was as though Mother were standing beside me as I sang the Dvorak duet with you." This baritone son and his soprano mother had sung that same duet together twenty years earlier. Bruce sobbed in my arms for five minutes, overcome with the emotions wrought by his tender memories of singing with Mother. Mother's and Bruce's vocal blend was special. They sang together in several recitals and frequent church performances. On several occasions Karl played clarinet obligato with Mother singing soprano, presenting charming mother-son duets at church, where they were accompanied by Mrs. Marion Crownhart.
More than music and skills is communicated by giving children music lessons. Unspoken precepts Hanna communicated were:
I love you enough to find a teacher for you
I love you enough to sacrifice to buy an instrument.
I love you enough to drive you to lessons.
I care about you enough to sit with you during your lessons.
I am willing to sacrifice buying new clothes for myself to pay for your lessons.
I love you enough to sit with you while you practice.
I love you enough to make sure you practice.
I remember Hanna adoring and revering opera singers, Lily Pons and Eleanor
Steber. The Metropolitan Theater of the Air broadcasts were a Saturday afternoon fixture in our home. What classics ingrained themselves naturally in our brains, enthusiastically encouraged and narrated by Mother, who was always attentivelylistening for her arias and soprano alto duets. She had rehearsed and sung many. What a rich musical education we received. None of us finds opera boring. Daddy played French horn in the Madison Civic Orchestra and University Opera Productions for twenty—five years. We attended his concerts and the annual Messiah productions. Classical records and radio programs were constantly in our ears when live music
wasn't being played or practiced in several rooms in the house.
A beautiful clear soprano voice of operatic caliber in tone and quality was the special gift Hanna received from the Lord in her early teens. We heard an opera singer in the Vienna Opera House sing one of her arias less well than Mother could have and did. We were so proud of her talents. Her love of music and tirelessness in rehearsing herself, small groups and choirs were phenomenal, moving. I was touched to hear that Dr. Jim Marshall, a tenor at church whom Hanna had taught and rehearsed, took his whole family to her grave after her passing to honor her. She gave much to many singers from her heart as well as through her musical talents.
The beautiful eldest daughter, Hanna took voice lessons from Mrs. Hannah Packard in Provo, Utah. She also had some piano training. The music—loving Germanic household sported a fine upright player piano, and several children took piano and violin lessons--no small feat in a household where thirteen children were born in a span of seventeen years. Of all these offspring Hanna was the one who magnified her talents and sang on a professional level throughout her childbearing and mothering years, taking a lesson every week when she lived in Madison, Wisconsin, with Susan Daniels Heffner, New England Conservatory of Music graduate.
Hanna sang professionally in the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she and Arthur lived for two years after finishing graduate school. A stunning soloist, she was always sought after by surrounding churches. In later years she was a frequent soloist at the First Congregational Church in Madison, Wisconsin.
Mother was the chorister at our church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter—day Saints) for as long as any of us can remember. All of us were trained to lead the singing. She said, "You can lead the congregation with your voice as well as your arms." With her lovely voice this was really true. Leading the choir was a special calling she took seriously. Getting people to attend choir practice in a lay church is always a challenge. In addition to courting especially talented voices—wishing they, the vocally gifted, did not have so many other responsibilities in the church--she would hostess choir dinners for members and their spouses. I remember a homemade (and Hanna's cooking was superb) pizza party for forty people which yielded a wonderful rehearsal and subsequently the Easter program.
Many years after Mother's death, I met a talented soprano in whom Hanna had taken an interest, Karen Quass, at our church in South Dakota. Karen said, "I have music of your mother's from Madison. I will return it to you." She subsequently brought it to me, and I accompanied her and her husband in its performance at our church in South Dakota.
Music is an emotionally gripping experience. When I hear Calm as the Night by Adolf Bohm sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I am moved to tears. It was her song. Her favorite hymn was James D. Burns's Hushed was the Evening Hymn, a story about Samuel, the miracle son of Hanna of the Old Testament. To attend any classical music concert, symphonic or vocal, is to be with Mother again. Attendance at live musical performances is the heritage Arthur and Hanna imbued in their offspring. We cherish this legacy.
Karl recalled how faithfully Mother wrote to him during his lonely, negative Navy days. Bruce recalls, "Those wonderful letters, coming with regularity, words of support and warmth from mother at home, at her writing desk, were oh, so appreciated. Blue ink on onion skin, clear and strong handwriting. Packages came too, battered, torn, and flattened, opened by me with delight."
Galen recalled how while in Finland for Daddy's six—month Exchange Professorial in 1962, Mother and Dad rented a piano and had it hauled up five flights of stairs to their apartment so Galen could practice. They found a fine teacher at the Sibelius Academy of Music. Mark took violin lessons and Karl studied clarinet. At the close of their sojourn in Helsinki, our parents rented a concert hall, rehearsed, organized and publicized a farewell concert, and invited scientific and church friends to be their guests. Mother sang several vocal solos and the entire family performed. As Finnish is reputed to be the fourth most difficult Indo—European language, Mother used music, the international language, to bridge the gap between the American family and their Finnish friends.
We whose breath sprang from her and whose lives hinged around her are bound to her with bands of love and wings of song. We loved her. We were molded by her. Hanna set us free to see where we would fly. Hanna's God-given operatic quality soprano voice was a delight to us all.
In high school she sang the leading roles in two musicals of the day, one of which was Naughty Marietta by Victor Herbert, and as a young graduate student's wife in Madison, Wisconsin, for three years from 1932-1935 she sang the soprano lead in light operas organized by the University Theater, Sweethearts and The Chocolate Soldier by Victor Herbert, and Blossomtime opposite a fine tenor, Don Brotherson, who went on to star on Broadway. I remember how excited she would be when he came to Madison for a visit, and they would all go out to a big dinner together, celebrating his success in New York.
My brother, Bruce, recalls Mother saying once in anger, "If it weren't for you, I'd be singing in the Metropolitan Opera." No doubt this could have been true; she had the talent and drive. She loved her family, however, and devoted her life to raising us in the most loving and industrious way possible. She stayed up at night long after Arthur retired to iron shirts and linen tablecloths and sew doll clothes for Christmas presents. Mother remarked once, "I've averaged two hours less sleep a night than Arthur all our married life." Their genuine physical affection for each other was touching, however, and he was intensely proud of her singing, social and child-rearing skills.
Throughout her heavy child-bearing and -rearing years, Hanna took a weekly lesson with mezzo-soprano Susan Daniels Heffner and sang an annual recital which was always climaxed with an operatic mezzo-soprano duet by Hanna and Susan Heffner.
Euterpe Club (a well organized performing music club named for Euterpe, the Greek Goddess of Music) met monthly in the homes of Madison women musicians. Our lives were enriched and our musical ears honed by hearing her rehearse and perform with these fine singers and instrumentalists. They were extremely devoted and well-organized. The program was arranged, designed and printed a year in advance. I remember her practicing with a flautist friend, Jane Dikard, for Schubert's Shepherd on the Rock. These were ambitious programs, well rehearsed and beautifully performed.
Susan Heffner, Mother's vocal teacher, had heard her sing when Hanna came to Madison as a young graduate student's wife at the University of Wisconsin. Susan recognized my mother's tremendous talent and realized their voices would blend well. She approached Hanna and invited her to perform with her. The resulting duo was to last throughout their adult lives. For thirty-two years, Hanna and Susan sang duets together and Mother performed solos under Susan's tutelage. Childless Susan shared the grieves and joys of Hanna's family. Mother went every week to her vocal lesson with Susan. I am sure some weeks it was more of a psychology session with much mutual sharing. A music professor told me after Mother's passing that he knew of no other major vocal talent who carried such a heavy physical and family load while managing to keep up her performing as well as Mother did. She was a unique blend
of talent, energy, charm and generosity.
of talent, energy, charm and generosity.
In addition to personal performing, she sang in civic opera productions and directed our church choir for many years, coaching promising young voices and encouraging them to take lessons, practice and develop their talents.
I remember the morning after Daddy had taken Mother to hear the von Trapp family singers (of Sound of Music fame). Mother was ecstatic. I can still see her joyfully telling me in the kitchen the next morning about her delightful evening at the concert. Here was a musical family singing the songs of her heritage. Rehearsals began at once. We sang and performed together a great deal as a family. We endeavored to "out-Trapp" the von Trapps for years. We all sang parts, and I accompanied the German Christmas carols on the piano. Mother and I also sang soprano-alto duets for many occasions, and were asked to perform programs of German folk songs in our mother-daughter German folk costumes, dirndl, at many clubs and for special occasions. Kay Tanner asked us to prepare a special program of French and German folk songs after I returned from France in 1959. Singing with Mother was a delight from which I learned how to rehearse.
My mother Hanna was a woman of great physical strength and unusual energy, will power and independence.
Our education commenced at the feet of a musically gifted mother who sang on a professional level while raising our large family with her intellectual husband, a professor of zoology--specifically limnology and fishery biology--at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and internationally known scientist.
Six surviving children and one premature infant daughter born between Fritz and me who died at birth, whom I want to name Claudia Conradi Prusse Hasler, were born in a space of ten years. We were all in two-year stair steps. I, Sylvia, was the eldest child and only surviving daughter, followed by Claudia and then five younger brothers. Books, hundreds of books, collections of literary classics and encyclopedias were always available on the shelves of our library at home.
I can still see Mother sitting by the fireplace in the living room darning Daddy's socks. "Make it over, make do, or do without." This old pioneer adage was preached and practiced. We tried never to waste a thing. Mother saved the wax paper from inside cereal boxes to wrap sandwiches in. This was 1948 before plastic bags became widely used and inexpensive. We spoofed Mother about these efforts to save money. "The time to save is all the time." We seldom ate in restaurants. This money saved could be used for other things. The pennies saved were used to pay for ballet and music lessons, college away from home, sorority and fraternity memberships, theater tickets, and ski trips which would otherwise have been impossible with six children on a professor's salary.
As an adult I watched Mother chop up chicken fat to add calories to the delicious chicken gravy she was making for chicken a la king--destined to fill the "hollow legs" (huge appetites) of my five hungry brothers--Fritz, Bruce, Galen, Mark and Karl. When I recoiled in horror at the fat content, she recalled that it was a trick she learned from her mother. My Weight Watcher lecturer would be appalled at the calorie count of that sauce, and indeed for adults it is unnecessary, but these calories gave growing teenage boys the energy to stay on the football field.
Mother was very well coordinated. As a girl, she always played on the winning baseball team. In grade school she played catcher on the sixth grade baseball team which won first place in the all city schools tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Snow skiing began as a family sport when we were in Bavaria as a family in 1954-55. Mother was forty-eight. Later the boys, now experts, induced Mother and Dad to participate.
She learned to water-ski at age fifty-five, getting up the first time she tried, and skiing around the bay at Trout Lake in northern Wisconsin. When she finished her triumphant tour, everyone applauded. My brother Mark recalled that afterwards she came in and marched up to the cabin to start dinner saying, "It's not very hard. I don't know why everyone makes such a fuss over it."
Her zest for cleanliness was absorbing. The last year of her life at age sixty, before she became ill, I remember her polishing every window in a large cabin before she would come to the beach to relax. We were there for two weeks. The first nine days Mother spent cleaning the cabin. Only then did she feel she could relax and enjoy the sun and sand. She was a doer. If she had a fault, it was this incredible drive to work, work, work.
Mother was not a reader. Mark recalls she would prop herself up in bed to read and be asleep before she turned the page. She had to be in motion. The same was true for watching slides, of which my father took thousands. When the lights went out, so did Mother. Also, when riding in the car, Mother would immediately fall asleep. She had that wonderful ability to catnap and awoke refreshed and recharged, able to work on indefinitely. Uncle Mel (Ada's husband) used to joke good-naturedly, "If Hanna could see through her mouth, she'd see a lot of scenery," as Mother would usually fall asleep with her mouth open. We loved to read, and all of us excelled in school and sports. We were fortunate enough to be encouraged to pursue our interests and talents. On an instructor's salary (my father's beginning wage at the University of Wisconsin in 1937 was $1,500 for ten months), our parents managed to give us all piano lessons. In addition, I took ballet lessons; Mark, violin; Bruce, French horn; and Karl, the clarinet. A piano was always part of our home. Mother and Daddy made great sacrifices to buy a grand piano to replace the upright we had had for many years. That Steinway was always the pride and joy of our family. We made music, and music came to us.
Mother's and Daddy's friends were often concertizing in the living room. When I began dating my future husband Gilbert, Mother was ecstatic. Here was an excellent pianist who could sight read anything she put in front of him. Mother would say "Oh, Gilbert's here, he'll accompany us," and pull out the music, and Gilbert would good-naturedly comply with her wishes. Few could resist her smiles, charms and encouragement. Gilbert jokes today about his feelings of terror when he came courting. "I didn't know anyone entertained that much," he said. "I never knew what famous scientist I'd be playing in front of next."
I remember sitting on my Daddy's lap and having him read to me from beautifully illustrated books. When we asked about sex, it was Daddy who sat down with scientific books containing anatomical drawings of the human body, and who told us the facts of procreation. I am grateful to this day for the openness that existed in our home. We were able to ask any question and know that we would receive a correct and honest answer.
Our bodies were regarded as beautiful things, and sex was portrayed to us as
something wondrous. With openness unusual for a woman of her day, Mother was honest with us and verbally projected her opinion that her and Daddy's sexual relationship was wonderful and fulfilling. I was given menstrual information early enough and in a natural way. Successful breast-feeding is largely due to a woman's imprinting from her own mother. Although our mother was not successful in breastfeeding her own babies, Fritz and I remember her asking the wife of one of my father's young graduate students if she would let us watch her nurse her baby, and Mother standing there, saying all the time how wonderful this was, and wasn't it beautiful, and how good this was for the baby.
This general aura of openness about sex, knowledge and music created an
environment conducive to the encouragement of curiosity and learning in my brothers and me. To this day at family reunions any subject including sex may be discussed with frankness and sincerity, and without any hint of secrecy or distaste. We are grateful for the honesty and generosity of our parents in considering us their equals and not children to be talked down to or deferred to like servants. We worked hard but were always included when the many and frequent scientific guests sat down to dinner at our bounteous table.
A walk in the woods was always a botanical discourse. "How does this pine tree
tell you its name?" Daddy would pick a sprig of needles off the white pine and spell "W"-"H"-"I"-"T"-"E" into my hand. Five needles, five letters, W,H,I,T,E. Mother too was a remarkable botanist. Spring drives were punctuated with "Look at that gorgeous flowering plum." Leaping out of the car, she would rush to the tree and inhale its fragrance. She loved to visit her botanist friends John and Olive Thomson's farm, and learned thousands of botanical terms from them.
Accidents were prevented through careful recounting of rules. Both parents
swam well. Daddy was adamant about water safety. Water rules were: no one swims alone; no babies in boats; no children in boats without life preservers. Other lessons were stressed. Wear shoes when riding a bicycle. Cut away from yourself when using a sharp knife; sit when eating; don't walk around carrying food (crumbs in Mother's clean living room are unacceptable). Dress for the weather (wear layers to keep warm); if you are going to walk ten feet in below zero weather, wear as warm an outfit as you would if you were going to walk a mile. "Cover the top of your head, Sylvia. Ninety percent of your body heat goes out the top of your head," I can still hear her saying as I angled my scarf way to the back of my head as a teenager, intent on looking fashionable. There was also a stern lecture when my younger brother Mark caught his heel in the spokes of his bicycle. "You broke the rules. You know better than to ride your bike without your shoes on. This accident could have been prevented."
There was a correct way to do everything. Galen comments that today he feels this strong imprinting, and finds himself trying to teach unwilling others how to do it the way Hanna would have wanted it done. He cheerfully spent much time in the kitchen with her after I had left home for college at eighteen. The boys were all taught to cook and clean as Daddy was busy becoming famous.
We were taught with love to learn from experience, and listen to advice and follow it. Good learning experiences were recounted lovingly as bedtime stories. We loved to hear Daddy tell about his going camping as a boy while shepherding in the mountains of Southern Utah. He and his cousins got rained out, and tracked the yellow mud into their sleeping bags when the tent blew down and they had to put it back up. I still love to tell this story to my sons.
Everything was a learning experience. There was a right way to tie a shoe, hold a pencil, make flash cards for German vocabulary words, tie up a boat and hang a broom. We always stepped into a bucket of water before getting into the car at a sandy beach. This helped save Mother work by preventing sand from getting into the car. Mother and Daddy had a system for making things work. They worked hard but it was done with love. Fun and laughter were part of every day.
Driving 1500 miles across the United States from Wisconsin to Utah to visit our four grandparents each summer, we heard fascinating lectures on geology, ecology, architecture and history. As an adult and parent struggling with finances and cars, I used to wonder how my parents managed to have four good tires on the car and enough money for gasoline and a motel to make that annual trip. Now I understand. Mama and Daddy were going home to see their parents. Family was a priority. We remember Mother saying, "We don't know how much longer your grandparents will be alive." We drove west every summer, staying in the mountains for two weeks. Mother inhaled the sunsets and the mountains of her youth. My parents and five brothers went to Utah during three winter vacations to ski after I had left home.
Mother taught us all how to be good in-laws. She was a master at pleasing people. Flowers, specific praise, gifts, letters, words, menus and special foods flowed from her being. Her considerable personal charm, skills and energy were plied toward the worthy goal of endearing herself to her new family members. She genuinely loved her son-in-law and daughters-in-law. When she died, they wept from the heart, truly bereaved.
A marvelous cook, Mother entertained numerous people in our home--poor souls, church members, visiting friends and scientists. Mountains of food fed these armies of men, women and children whom she invited into our home. Fine cuisine was also her way of showing her love to her family. A beautiful table with a centerpiece, candles and a clean butter plate was one of her ways of expressing love. We children learned how to converse with these people, and learned much from visiting foreign and North American scientists.
The dinner table was the conversational center of our home and Mother and Dad's choice of site for family interaction. Organizational skills are necessary to be able to spontaneously invite a new family of eight home from church for dinner without having planned it in advance. Mother was superb at this sort of trick, and we learned from her example to do for others. "Rise to the occasion" was a phrase which came frequently from her lips. Sulking was not permitted. Cheerfulness was prized and rewarded. It seemed easy for her to be gracious and loving, and we have all tried to follow what we learned from her example. She was a master at giving. It seemed easy for her to think of the thoughtful gift, the loaf of bread that perfect little something for the recipient. At Christmas she would bake fifty loaves of German Stollen (fruited yeast bread), ice them, and Daddy would deliver them to friends and neighbors.
Daddy too had remarkable physical stamina and would always rise to the occasion to support Mama in her endeavors. They were perfect foils for each other. Teamwork was their game. It was practically as though they invented it.
Arthur often confided to Hanna his concerns over one or another of his ultimately fifty-two doctoral candidates. Quick to sympathize, Hanna would be a soft shoulder for the marital problems or the unplanned pregnancy of more than one young bride. Galen recalls that Dad would invite the troubled couple over for one of Hanna's fabulous meals and do a little marriage counseling.
Hanna ultimately organized a spouses' group, aptly named Fish Wives. Arthur was a limnologist and oceanographer, and dealt largely in fish-oriented problems. This women's group proved to be enormously popular and successful, reaping much acclaim years after Mother's death, when our father was honored by his now famous former students upon his retirement from the University of Wisconsin in 1978. The "Fish Wives" who accompanied their spouses to this event talked of little else but Hanna Hasler and the activities of her little group.
Not only did we learn from our parents' deeds and industry, we witnessed the results. Everyone adored them. With these kinds of examples, learning from their experiences has been easy for us. Following the ingrained habits of fine and gracious parents as children is easier than transfusing these qualities at the adult level. Daughters and sons tend to be like their parents. We were blessed with superb role models.
Northern Wisconsin summers delighted Mama. She gloried in the beauty of the great pine trees and shimmering blue lakes. She would leap out of the car and inhale the scent of the pine trees. We followed suit and enjoyed the aroma with her. As the sun touched the pine boughs, the scent was more readily discernible. She loved to count the number of birch trees in a clump. I recall her announcing one day that she had seen a nine-clump birch.
The western mountains of Utah, where she had been raised, were to her an arena of great beauty. To us, the Wisconsin-bred children used to the beauties of the lush green rolling hills and dairy land, the western foothills looked barren and brown. We needed tutoring in their beauties.
She reveled in the luscious blue-grey shadows of these barren mountain foothills. We listened to her describe those dry hills which looked so arid and learned to see them through her eyes.
Mother loved beautiful things--a piece of fine china, a lovely silver-edged butler's tray. When she found out how much Daddy had spent for a Browning shotgun, she went right down to the china store and put her sterling pattern on lay-away. She would sacrifice and deny herself no longer.
Hanna made delightful Easter picnics in the Arboretum (garden woods). Egg hunts became great adventures. Older siblings were encouraged to leave the more easily visible eggs for the younger ones. Sharing was an important concept well taught in our large, efficiently run family.
Food was her specialty. Hot cross buns emerged from her oven as an event staged for us, the waiting crowd. Breakfast featured Vitamin C. Even a bowl of sliced canned peaches had a fresh lemon squeezed into it. Oatmeal wore a crown of raisins. Sliced fresh stollen, streussel coffee cake and plum cake (Zwetschgenkuchen) were frequent fare at Hanna's bounteous table.
Observing the snow falling through the glistening bay window of the dining room during the Easter Sunday meal, all the guests were moaning, "Oh, look at this dreadful cold weather. We thought it was spring." Hanna volunteered brightly, "Just think how much longer the tulips will last." Everyone laughed at her incredible cheerful optimism.
I recall her inviting to dinner a struggling, young, single mother convert to our church, Nancy Ray, and her rambunctious brood of seven wild children. Hanna had great compassion for other mothers. She also had compassion on Arthur and invited them when he was out of town. He was not into this type of entertaining.
With the callousness of children, we took it all for granted till she was no more. We left home and realized others were not so generous with their time and energy. To be so loved by our mother was the greatest gift of all. As each of us grows into parenthood, we draw on the gift of our own fine parenting from Hanna and Arthur.
Germany With Hanna
Germanic organizational skills were Hanna's metier. Preparations for a year's sabbatical in Germany with her Fulbright professor husband, Arthur, was an exhausting undertaking. I was too busy necking in the car with a young medical student named Gilbert, concentrating on the sweet pain of parting sweethearts, to be of much help to Mother. Hanna slept most of the way to New York from Madison, Wisconsin, a twenty-four-hour drive in those pre-freeway days. We stayed several days with Daddy's sister, Ada Hasler Miller. Hanna had stayed up all night preparing to leave her home for renters and readying her family of eight for a year abroad. I can imagine what her lists looked like. She was an inveterate list maker. Mother said she had packed fifty-six pairs of socks for the five boys and Daddy. The forethought, planning and hard work involved in readying a family of eight for a year in Europe was impressive. (Two other colleagues' families from Madison, Wisconsin, spent the same year also on European Sabbaticals with considerably smaller families. They both returned home in debt. This did not happen to Hanna and Arthur's family. We economized as we traveled.)
Mother greatly buffered the trauma of living abroad in a foreign land for her family. What a gift Daddy had given her! Her sisters' husbands were ashamed of their Germanic heritage. Daddy had served a mission in Germany as a young man, and had learned to love the German people, their language, music and culture. He adored Mother and made her feel proud of being German even though as an immigrant child other school children had cruelly taunted her about being a "dirty traitor German" during the First World War. She exulted in greeting her native land. Her mother tongue, carefully cultivated, flowed from her lips. Her mother's sisters greeted us all with open arms. Anxiously they had awaited our visit. In their one-room apartment the two maidenly sisters (their fiancés and brother had been killed in World War I) had made a beautiful yeast bread coffee cake, then walked down the street to the baker and had him bake it for us--German ingenuity and resourcefulness. They owned no oven but did not let that daunt them. They wanted to be hospitable to their American niece, her six children and husband.
Oh, the letters which had traveled across the ocean for forty-five years to bridge the gap between the American Mormon sister and her German siblings. Two world wars had ravaged the savings and possessions of these two little old ladies.
Hanna subsequently brought them to Munich, Germany, (where we lived for a year) for a month as our houseguests. Tante (aunt) Minna and Tante Bertha took up residence in a large bedroom in our palatial rented home in Munich. Mother's cousin Gerti also came for a two-week stay. The blood bonds were renewed, and we exchange letters to this day.
A drive through the then still dangerous Berlin corridor reunited us with Onkel (uncle) Willi and Tante Gertrude. In Stuttgart Hanna visited other relatives. She had corresponded with many relations to whom she had mailed CARE packages after World War II.
We dined out rarely, even while traveling, but ate well on bread and cheese from excellent bakeries Mother sleuthed out. We peeled oranges throughout Italy. The baker's daughter delighted in sniffing around the Backerei (bakeries) and Konditorei (pastry shops) in each town where we stopped. This, together with the fruit and vegetable stands, comprised our always nutritionally balanced menus. Wurst (sausage), cheese and Brot (bread) were magically sliced, buttered, and served up with German folk songs. Hanna bought little books of verses and encouraged us to harmonize to new and old melodies. We now learned seven and eight verses of favorites as we drove through Europe on vacations, excursions and trips. I call Daddy every year on the first of May and sing “Der Mai ist gekommen” (May has Come) in memory of this lovely year, 1954-55. Native-born Germans are always astounded to meet Americans who sing eight verses of this beloved spring song.
Hanna spoke German fluently with a pleasing "high German" (Hannover) accent she had learned at home. Because she had not learned it in school, she occasionally made grammatical errors. When we were in Munich in 1955, Arthur would correct her grammar periodically, which would embarrass her, even though he meant well and understood she had no background in grammar. What did she do? On returning to Madison, she joined her son Karl in beginning college German. The payoff came in 1962, in Helsinki, where German is spoken more commonly as a second language than English. Here Hanna excelled, and Arthur retreated to a "second seat." Although he spoke fluently, his unmistakable American accent relegated him to a lower category because Hanna now spoke beautiful "high German" with impeccable grammar. Arthur did not need to correct her anymore--she excelled.
Our German Christmas was the delight of our lives. Mother was in her element. We had a tree with real candles on it that year in Munich, and a real St. Nicholas came to our home and recounted our failings, admonishing us to be better before December 25. Mother discovered Advent's wreaths. We burned dozens of red candles, attended Christmas oratorios, and enjoyed the beautiful many-colored Christmas decorations and marzipan (figures made of almond paste). The Christmases of Mama's childhood, as portrayed valiantly by her immigrant parents, were resurrected by a delighted Hanna and truly celebrated at Kunigundenstrasse 55. It was also the last Christmas I was to spend at home before going away to college and marriage, so it was a happy, happy holiday.
My oldest brother, Fritz, said he felt the first real grief for Mother's passing when he was in Germany at Christmastime five years later. At the time of Mother's death he felt only relief that her suffering was ended, as had the pressure of her strong personality on him, the eldest son, who had not yet completed his Ph.D. Five years later, when he was in Germany in December and saw the Advent wreaths, molded marzipan pigs and fruit, "Stollen" (fruited sweet coffee cake), and familiar festivities, the memories melted into tears as German customs and Weinachts Lieder (Christmas songs) we had all sung together assaulted his senses.
St. Nicholas time started at our home at least two weeks before Christmas. We would put out pretty glass plates on the window ledge in the dining room, and place salt on them for Santa's reindeer. In the morning the salt would be gone and a piece of candy left in its place. Sometimes the boys would get coal. One time even I got a piece of coal. I was shattered. Heaven knows what I had done, but I was thoroughly humbled. What a disgrace!
Hanna, the Beloved
My mother did many things for me in the thirty-two years I was able to share with her on this earth, bnd perhaps the final precious gift was dying young -- she was sixty-one -- leaving me to find out, on my own, my strengths and weaknesses. We had abdicated the struggle (competition) two strong women might have for Daddy's attention several years earlier. Fortunately we had risen above the power struggle which eats alive the relationship of so many mothers and daughters when the daughters are teenagers. We had a close relationship when I came back from France to Madison, Wisconsin, as a young mother. We lived in the same town for seven years and spent one day a week together, in excursions with my children: to Gays Mill to see the apple blossoms, to the cheese factory, to the farm to see new lambs.
I've always been interested in things that work. Mother was too. It was from her I learned to strike a bargain with a friend, make a contract with a teenager. Everybody stands to gain from these arrangements. What child is going to rake leaves cheerfully or vacuum the living room unless Mother can make it fun or rewarding?
Mother showed her love through food and song and good cheer. Incredible dishes appeared on snowy-ironed tablecloths. Picking up sticks in the yard became an irrefutable if not quite irresistible adventure when accompanied by Mother's good cheer with her buoyant energy and enthusiasm.
Children returning from school received a "Hi" or a "Hello," but Daddy received a kiss and a hug. Open affection was always generously given in our home.
In 1945, Mother had four sons under four years of age: Fritz, four; Bruce, two; and infant twins, Galen and Mark. As an eight year old I remember having to fold two bushel baskets of diapers every morning before I could go out to play, however I'm sure I wasn't much real help. Daddy was away in Germany for the last nine months of World War II. He had volunteered for the Strategic Bombing Survey, and was valued for his German language ability as well as the rigor of the scientific method he insisted upon in evaluating the data. He conducted interviews with German civilians as to the effectiveness of the Allied bombing techniques. Mama was a single parent.
My baby brothers wore small, hand-knit woolen soakers (short pants) which were placed over diapers to keep the wet from soaking through. This was before rubber and plastic pants became available to cover cloth diapers.
Today's mothers can raise a child without ever touching a cloth diaper -- the new paper ones are marvelous--but to us mothers of the '50's good plastic or rubber pants were a wonder and a big step up from woolen "soakers". Waterproofed silk ones were the luxury.
Mother fought very successfully to keep her weight under control. Willpower to control her appetite was an amazing ingredient in her personality. In her Germanic family who baked and cooked luscious, calorie laden menus, many were overweight. Mother fought off those pounds, yet fed her family well. When I diet, I can rarely handle baking luscious bread and cakes. Mother knew baking was the cheapest way to fill up hungry teenage boys, so she plied her baking talents diligently. With such a menu few are able to stay thin. She wanted to look svelte for her Arthur.
Mark remembers these admonitions, "Let's pick up the neighbor's yard." "The first one here gets to choose which window they get to wash." "Here, help me pass out the words to these songs we're going to sing for the dinner guests." These phrases frequently fell from Mother's lips.
In the arms of my father I learned the graceful Viennese waltz (Wiener Waltzer), the ultimate in ballroom dancing. My father had learned social dancing as a teenager in the basement of the Mormon Church where he grew up in Provo, Utah. The Mormons, who had literally danced and sung their way across the plains to Utah to keep their spirits up when they were driven out of Nauvoo, Illinois, in mid-winter 1846, loved to dance. They have always taught and encouraged their children to dance and enjoy life.
My father and mother were always going to dances -- church dances, supper clubs, and governor's balls. Mother always had several full-length ball gowns in her closet. Daddy had a tuxedo that he wore regularly. I thought they looked so elegant and romantic when they went dancing together. As church dances were a family affair, my Daddy taught me ballroom dancing and then polished my dance training with special lessons in waltzing. Today, at 80 years of age, he can still spin me around the ballroom in a very respectable Viennese waltz. He walks like a young man with erect posture and energetic pace.
I always buy pink carnations if I can. I love their aroma. It reminds me of Mother's Day in the Mormon Church, a very important occasion. Each mother is presented with a carnation. The young girls were always asked to help pass them out, thus imprinting me with the fragrance of carnations and their association with Mother's Day.
Mother and Dad came to France to visit us in 1958 and see their first grandchild, our daughter, Laurel. My father blessed her in the small L.D.S. (Mormon) Branch that met in the Hotel Excelsior in Nancy, France.
Mother's delight when we subsequently returned from France the next year with one-year-old Laurel was unbounded. She painted my original baby crib and dresser, borrowed a high chair from friends for Gilbert's mother to use, and brought up the family high chair from the "goat cellar", a store room so named because it had a ledge which someone pronounced exactly the right height to milk goats on. It had always been our job as children to fetch home-canned fruits and vegetables and other often needed items from the "goat cellar" for Mama.
Death of Hanna
During Mother's illness I strove to be with her as much as possible. I traveled the eighty miles by bus from Milwaukee to Madison, at first pregnant with two-year old Barbara in hand, then with infant Bradley in a basket. These were difficult days for all of us. My obstetrician had gently told me, "Once the cancer is in the lymph glands, it is only a matter of time." My heart hit bottom. Still Daddy seemed optimistic so I bravely pretended to have hope. When my father said to me, "Only a miracle can save her now," I felt truly decimated. To have my Daddy give up hope was more than I could bear. The sting of death is a bitter pill to swallow.
As she lay dying, her church choir taped a performance and sent it to her hospital bed. She commented, "They haven't forgotten me?" When the entire congregation fasted and prayed for her recovery, she was touched that they cared. She who had labored so selflessly wondered at the love which poured out to us all. Daddy would bring her spring flowers every day.
So searing was the grief I felt when my mother's cancer was diagnosed that I remember thinking of the tale in Greek mythology where King Admetus fell ill and the God of the Underworld was begged to release Admetus from death's grip. "Yes," said Pluto, "if someone else will die in his place." They searched throughout the kingdom. Everyone was sad but none willing to lay down his life. Finally Alcestis, his beloved wife, heard of the bargain and said "I will gladly die for him." Life flowed back into the body of King Admetus as Alcestis faded away. Admetus clutched her and tried to wrench her from death's grip but the bargain had been struck. Alcestis died. Admetus mourned, as did we.
I would have gladly laid down my own life or the lives of my small children if it had been in my power to barter with God for her life. I could bear more children. I had only one mother. Remembering this story, I wished futilely that somehow I could bargain for her life. So illogical is the all-encompassing pain of grief.
My darling female obstetrician, Dr. Delfs, also said to me when I confided in her my sorrow of my mother's cancer, "It's a wonderful gift not to outlive one's usefulness. Your mother will be spared the agony of extreme old age." Gradually with years I have come to appreciate the wisdom of this advice.
June 1969 brought death. Our mother died on June 2, after an eight-month illness with a rare cancer (a lymphosarcoma attached to the stomach). My world stopped.
It was a time when the blackness folded in over me. My mother who had been like a sister to me was dead at sixty-one. I had lost both my mother and the sister I had never known. At thirty-two, I, Sylvia, mother of five children, realized that I had to come to grips with my belief in a life after death. Certainly I had always believed I would see her again one resurrection day, but that seemed so far away. I prayed for comfort and assurance, and received sufficient strength to go on. Go on, yes I had to go on, nurse my four month old baby, Bradley, and juggle all the food that had poured into my parents' home. So, that's why people send food when someone dies. It is because you are so decimated by grief, you can hardly complete normal daily functions. It truly is a help. I was grateful. My brothers and I comforted each other.
My father was rendered childlike by his grief. He experienced uncontrollable emotions, weeping almost constantly for weeks. It's tough to lose a gem of a mate who has slept by your side for forty years. He needed me, but so did all the people who came to express their sympathy -- friends, church members, family. The lives she had touched were many. A humble migrant worker, a Mexican lady in our church, Rosa Reyes, later said to me, "She was the only great lady I ever felt at ease with." Hanna had charisma.
Five hundred people came to her memorial service at our L.D.S. Chapel. The funeral director said it was an amazing showing for a woman who had never worked outside the home or held public office. She had indeed worked inside and outside the home, though never for wages. Tribute was paid from every period of her life and from people in all walks of life. The church choir rehearsed three times the week that she died to prepare the numbers we requested. They loved her. She had been their choir director. The bishop's children were set to work pulling the yellow heads of dandelions off the lawn so the premises would look neat. It was a summer whose warmth I never felt. Too grief-stricken to read prose, I found poetry comforting as were the beautiful letters of condolence which poured in. Now I knew how much it meant to have someone write a letter, and not just send a card. My father invited me to go to northern Wisconsin with my children. We went together three weeks later, and grieved and comforted each other.
Daddy said, "This is one of the blessings of having a large family. At sixty-one I still have three sons at home to keep me company and smooth the adjustment." Galen was in medical school, Mark in graduate school and Karl had just returned from the Navy. Fritz, Bruce and I had already married and were no longer living at home.
Twice I remember Mother wanting to talk about dying. I could not bear it. In the sunny kitchen on Lathrop Street she said to me when we were alone, "Here we had planned our lives till eighty and now I get cancer at sixty." I gulped and murmured falsely, "Oh, Mama, you're going to be all right." Later, during that last spring in her hospital room, Mother, having just returned from a tender and lovely drive in the Arboretum (nature preserve) with her beloved Arthur, said to me, "Oh, it's so hard to leave this beautiful world." I turned my head in despair.
She murmured, "Let the dog in, let the dog out," as she lay dying. At that point as she reflected upon her life she may have felt as if her whole existence could be summed up in such a statement of mundane servitude. This was the only time I had ever heard her express a negative opinion of the usefulness of her life. To those whose privilege it was to inhabit her aura what cheery joyful sounds we heard. She had given of herself so totally, and taught us to live with joy.
A friend, Rose Kindt, who had lost both parents to cancer's grip, warned me, "Sylvia, you must prepare yourself for your mother to become totally selfish." Even though her flesh literally rotted from over-radiation and her pain medication was grossly inadequate, Hanna never lost control. She fed visitors from her hospital tray, still playing the hostess, feeding her "boys". When it came time for me to leave, she always said, "Sylvia, go home to your family."
She fed the hungry, she visited the sick, she cherished the downtrodden. Of her it can be said as Paul said in Second Timothy 4:7: I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.