I had the good fortune to know many of the persons mentioned in this work, even a few as long as years. Not unexpectedly, in writing this memoir there was the occasional sense of surprise upon discovery of new material or satisfaction upon rediscovery of long unseen items. Despite the numerous items reviewed, some ‘facts’ remain controversial or unanswerable.
What comes through the years, though, are stories of remarkable strength and courage as well as times of almost unbearable tragedy. While I think this applies to both Kenneth and Zita, the latter almost becomes a heroine in part because she lived to be 97 and was able to tell her story in her autobiography.
I only knew Kenneth for about 10 years before his death in 1974. I never appreciated him for the many challenges that life had thrown his way from the hard scrabble life growing up amidst the coal mines of Illinois, Iowa, and North Dakota, to the illnesses he suffered (both mental and physical), and to the backbreaking work in a foundry. The success his children enjoyed and his enlarging, extended family must have provided some positive feelings and sense of satisfaction at having survived all that life had thrown at him.
Zita always reminded me of the ‘Eyeore’ character from Winnie the Pooh, though I am not sure I can say exactly why. Although her early years may not have been as physically demanding as Kenneth’s were, I was struck by the words she wrote in 1996, “Something I never did do in my life was to play since there always seemed to be some chore for me to do. None of my friends ever came over to my house.” The near death of her new husband, the violent death of her father in her presence, the unknown fate of her son in World War II, and the deaths of her husband and all three of her children before her own must have placed an enormous emotional burden upon her.
Yet, Zita had an inner strength that responded to these challenges. She worked outside the home nearly all of her adult life, at a time when many women had the opportunity to stay home to raise their children. Zita put food on the table in more ways than one, and she continued to work even after the children were out of the house. She finally retired at age 75. I do not feel sorry that she worked for so many years, because she appeared to be happy and fulfilled in her work. Perhaps it kept her from ruminating on the sad events that had occurred in her life. Or maybe she had to work to afford to buy Christmas presents for all of her 3 children, her 12 grandchildren, and her 23 great grandchildren.
Zita was a strong, formidable, determined yet compassionate woman who would do anything necessary for her family. Those traits are visible in the early pictures of Zita.