In just over a month, my mom will turn ninety-two. She is mentally sharp and still cares for herself with some help from me with shopping and going to doctor appointments. Though she is slowing down some, the inner core of this amazing woman is as strong as ever.
Dorothy Schultz was born in Athens, Tennessee, in 1921, the youngest of four children. When she was only three years old, she was being chased by her brother through the kitchen and tripped over a boiling bucket of lye water that my grandmother was using to clean the floors. The lye ate into the skin of her legs , and the doctors said she would never walk again. Grandma wasn’t going to hear any of that nonsense, and worked tirelessly tending to Mom’s legs. While thick burn scars still remain to this day from the lye, she was able to walk and function normally. Mom had passed her first test of strength in life. Many more tests would follow.
The Schultz family struggled during the Depression, as many families did. Grandpa was a jack of all trades, building houses, working on a farm, running a boarding house, doing whatever he could to take care of his family. Grandma was a very strong woman, working right alongside her husband. She also proudly cancelled out her husband’s Republican vote at every election, made Grandpa destroy his still, and insisted he change to her Baptist religion. It seems all of the Schultz women carried the stubborn gene…and passed it down to their daughters.
The family worked hard, and even my mom went out as a young girl with her brother to sell their wagon full of vegetables that Grandma had grown in the garden. The family was close-knit and loving, and Mom was very much a daddy’s girl. The three sisters showed a talent for singing, and even recorded an album of ‘The Schultz Sisters’ singing hymns. Mom was the shyest of the group, and tells stories about my aunts being on either side of her on stage, elbowing her to get her to sing out.
Even though she was shy, Mom entered a talent competition singing solo as a teenager and won the first place ten dollar prize and was also offered her own radio show. She was engaged to my father at the time, and he made her decline, as he didn’t feel it was appropriate for women to work outside the home. She also went to beauty school, but that didn’t work out so well. One time, she was working on a woman’s hair and accidentally cut off an entire curler with the hair wrapped around it. Not the career for Dorothy.
Mom married her high school sweetheart, Paul Williams, in 1941. Dad joined the Army, in what would be a long career, filled with lots of travel for the family. Mom travelled with four small children to Germany for two tours of duty, quite a change of pace for a young woman from a very small Tennessee town. To this day, she prides herself on being able to count to one hundred in German…very Southern German, but German nonetheless.
When Mom was forty-one, doctors thought she had a tumor, but the tumor ended up being a different kind of surprise- a bouncing baby girl…me. My timing was not great, as my father had fallen for his Commanding Officer’s daughter (and Dad’s secretary). Dad asked for a divorce, and left my mom with the three youngest of five children still at home, the house, no work skills, and very, very little money.
Mom was destroyed for a while, feeling that her world was over. My dad had been everything to her, and she still loved him deeply. Her inner strength rose up again, though, and Mom carried on, making ends meet as best she could. Difficult times continued- my grandparents were killed instantly in a terrible car accident, my sister ran away from home, and money was always tight or non-existent.
Even though times were tough, Mom gave me a wonderful childhood. She was supportive, creative, and spent quality time with me. She told great bedtime stories, and made holidays fun. To this day I am still amazed at how she was able to make Christmas so special with no money. Christmases were so great that I believed in Santa until,way past when I should have known better. She let me bring an incredible array of animals into our home, and put up with the painful sounds of my early clarinet playing…true love.
Mom never remarried, always holding a torch for my dad, secretly dreaming that he would come back and court her, as he promised he would do when they divorced. . She experienced a lot of sadness over the following years; my oldest brother died of a heart attack, my oldest sister died of lung cancer, and my other brother has fought a five-year battle with cancer. She lost all of her siblings, and all of her closest friends. Through it all, Mom has only seemed to become stronger, more determined to survive. She always credits her longevity to humor, saying that “being silly” is what has kept her going.
On October fifth, we will take Mom out for a birthday dinner. No one loves celebrating birthdays like my mom, and I know that every birthday with Mom is to be cherished more than ever now. I only hope that when I am faced with challenges, that I have my mom’s genes, that strong inner core…and a good dose of that wonderful sense of humor. I can be silly with the best of them…I’m Dorothy Williams’ daughter.