My wife and I have just experienced one of the worst weekends of our married life.
We’re fine, she and I. However, my wife is seeking to recover from a profound loss of a loved one. Her mother passed away Sunday morning. She was 93 years of age. Her life was long, eventful, containing the full range of emotions over its span on this Earth.
I won’t wallow in the loss we have suffered. I want instead to honor the memory of Loretta Mae Bellstrom.
She was many things. She led a complicated life, but managed to soldier through with good spirits. However, she could be melancholy, owing to the death of her own mother when Loretta was a baby.
She didn’t have specific memories of her mother, but she missed her every day of her life. That’s not surprising, given that she and the oldest of her siblings were raised by their maternal grandparents in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. “Grandma” and “Grandpa” spoke often to Loretta about her mother, so she came to know of her mother through the expressions of her beloved grandparents. Two other siblings lived with their father in Kenosha, Wis.
Loretta went though many of the heartaches that others have endured. However, she found solace by keeping her mind alert.
She was a relentless reader of books. She was proud of her library. Indeed, she introduced her oldest grandsons — my own sons — to the joy of reading. The older of my sons has retained that love of reading to this very day.
Loretta also was an avid fan of the Green Bay Packers. I wouldn’t call her a student of the game of football. But, man, she loved the Packers. Growing up where she did, it was only natural that she would love to follow the Packers’ fortunes, especially their years of greatness during the era of Vince Lombardi, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor.
Ah, but Loretta’s greatest intellectual stimulus — in my mind — came from her worldwide network of pen pals. I don’t know how many of these “pals” she had at its peak. I’m not sure she quite knew, either. She would describe the pen-pal network as being “in the hundreds.”
It spanned the entire planet. She began building this network when she was a little girl.
But here’s the most fascinating aspect of it: Loretta was dedicated to writing original compositions to every one of her pen pals — and she demanded that they do the same in response. If she received one of those “Dear Friends” mass mailings, she would cut that person off — on the spot! She wouldn’t respond to them. She would toss their address into the trash can and stick just to those who would write her with the same detail that she would write to them.
Indeed, her letters were descriptive, heartfelt and — before she became accustomed to using a typewriter — written with impeccable penmanship.
Well, that was then. The end came quietly on Sunday. Her body gave out. And why shouldn’t it? She put 93 years worth of life on it.
Loretta was a big part of our life for many years. We will miss her.