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Published Wednesday, June 01, 2022 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Jun 01 2022

(Grandma and Edie, 1972)

My paternal grandmother, Esther Schotting, passed away on this date in 1979. She and my grandfather were my de facto parents. They and the late Earle Wittpenn were my role models and mentors.

Grandma had the most influence over me, and she took her responsibility seriously. She made certain to watch for me as I walked home from elementary school in the afternoon, or crossed Eighth Avenue to go to Isaly's or McCrory's for her. She was always at a window, always looking for me. When I lost track of time while reading at the library, she'd call to confirm I was there and ask the librarian to tell me to head home when I finished whatever I was reading.

In her later years, when I would change buses on my way to my night shift job in Pittsburgh, she would be there in the window of the apartment on Ann Street. I probably looked like an idiot, waving in the dark at a 45° angle into the night sky. But I knew she was there and even though I was all grown up, in my mid-20s with two kids of my own, her presence gave me comfort.

My grandmother claimed to be an "old-time Baptist", although the only time I ever saw her attend church was for my wedding. She kept her faith in her own unique way, and she did it, no pun intended, religiously. She had several Mahalia Jackson and Tennessee Ernie Ford albums she liked to play, and she watched all the televised Billy Graham campaigns (as long as they didn't conflict with Joe Pyne or Studio Wrestling).

She had a big, heavy, brown leather-bound Bible prominently positioned in the living room, but it served primarily as a storage location for important papers, not as a source of spiritual inspiration. She had porcelain statues of Jesus scattered in various locations who, unbeknownst to her, also served as stern military commanders who would give details of upcoming missions to my G.I. Joes and who whacked the troops with their shepherd crooks when they failed to deliver.

She also had a Jesus statue in a wooden boxlike thing that, frankly, reminded me of a cuckoo clock (but, of course, I never told her that). The only picture allowed on the shelves with any of the assorted Jesuses was a white plastic framed picture of the then recently departed President Kennedy, but many of my friends' houses in Homestead in the early 60s had those as well, as all faithful FDR Democrats would.

It may seem that I'm disparaging my grandmother's religious beliefs: far from it. What she lacked in attendance was more than offset by her actions. While she didn't go to church, she made certain I went to Sunday School. I alternated between attending Lutheran and Presbyterian churches and summer camps, which provided indelible memories. (♪ On the hills of Lutherlyn, we'll slip in the dip and roll the ball along... ♪)

If you were a friend and down on your luck, Grandma would let you and your kid crash on the couch for a couple days and even give you two or three bucks if she had hit the numbers for a penny that day.

We had a full table every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and half the people there were older acquaintances from the neighborhood who lived alone and either had no family or weren't welcome.

When I told her we couldn't go to a local diner because my school friend was black and the owner told us to leave, she put on her good black orthopedic shoes, hobbled down the steps of our third floor apartment and ripped into the proprietor with a righteous fury rivaling the intense monologues Jack Webb would give on her favorite police show, Dragnet.

When she passed, I asked the local Baptist minister I knew from my time at the Homestead Messenger if he would conduct her service. He graciously agreed and appeared wearing his trademark attire, a loud patterned sports jacket that Bill Currie would have envied.

He talked to me and several attendees I didn't know, folks Grandma had helped in the distant past who recalled her kindness and willingness to help and came to offer their respects. I guess it's an acquired skill the clergy develop over the years, but his service was surprisingly accurate and sincere- informed, no doubt, by the acquaintances to whom he had spoken.

I held up pretty well until he ended his eulogy to a woman he never met with a poem by Margaret Widdemer that precisely described her:

She always leaned to watch for us,
Anxious if we were late,
In winter by the window,
In summer by the gate.

And though we mocked her tenderly,
Who had such foolish care,
The long way home would seem more safe
Because she waited there.

Her thoughts were all so full of us,
She never could forget!
And so I think that where she is
She must be watching yet.

Waiting till we come home to her,
Anxious if we are late,
Watching from Heaven’s window,
Leaning on Heaven’s gate.

Categories: KGB Family, Margaret Widdemer


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