Mom & Dad
My parents met at some sort of dinner party when, as mom liked to tell
it, my father lost his bid for a seat next to a cute blonde and ďgot stuckĒ
sitting instead next to her. Dad
popped the question at The Firemanís
Ball, and Mom responded that sheíd
think about it. She didnít make
him wait too long, however,
and her answer
They were quite an odd pair, Iíd say. My mother was born Mary Lou
Schlesinger in Goodyear, Arizona to a hard drinking laborer named
Albert John ďDutchĒ Schlesinger, and a good Missouri girl named Ofe
Hensley. A theory of some in the family is that my grandmotherís
people were against the marriage because she had been weakened
by rheumatic fever in her youth and would likely not survive childbirth.
The family had, in fact, moved to Arizona specifically for my
grandmotherís health, because the clean air and dry climate would
supposedly be good for her. (That was back when Phoenix actually
had clean air).
As sadly predicted, however, Ofe didnít live long after giving birth to
her only child, my mother. I donít know if Mom had any true memories
of her mother, but throughout her life, she often had dreams where her
mother returned home after taking a cure in a sanitarium. There arenít
too many pictures of Ofe in the family archives and in those pictures
taken at the end of her life, she looks older than her 26 years. Being
only about 2 at the time, my mother of course didnít understand that
her mother was dying and, like so many did, dying at home.
Mom loved her father fiercely and I think he truly doted on her, but I
can't imagine he was equipped to raise a little girl, so he basically left it
to my great-grandmother to bring Mary Lou up.
My father, Frits van der Steur, was born in Hillegom, Holland. He
came from a long line of artists, architects and musicians; I believe
we're also descendants of "Pa" van der Steur, well known by the Dutch
for running an orphanage in Indonesia for mixed blood children. My
paternal grandfather, Johan Jacob Willem van der Steur and his wife,
Petronella Boeree, moved their daughter and son to America in 1927,
unfortunately, in time for the crash and Great Depression. They
settled in New York.
Dad was a study in contrasts to me: he could fix anything from radios
and clocks to toilets and broken windows; he soldered stuff and
refinished furniture and tinkered with the car. He drank like a fish and
smoked like a fiend and when we were little, he could call us into the house with a
piercing whistle that could cut through steel, aurally speaking. But he
had a musicianís gentle, thoughtful soul, and he could write melodies
as light and lovely and sentimental as anything. He worked in music
his whole life and by the time I was old enough to know what was
going on around me, Dad had been a music teacher and orchestra
conductor at Phoenix College for a number of years.
My father was 43 when I was born yet he was old for that age, as he
made poor lifestyle choices, plus he had a very rough time of it in
WWII. He had deafness in one ear before I was born and was in the
hospital for cataract surgery while I was being born, and he also had a
bad back that he once re-injured hoisting me up to see into a robinís
nest when we were visiting family in New York. I think he worried a lot,
and having an unplanned-for child probably didn't help. (Mom called
me "a happy accident.") Dad knew the risks of having a child later in
life - Mom was 40 - and was afraid Iíd be retarded, and when I reached
the age when I began throwing temper tantrums on the floor, he was
convinced I was autistic. As I said: he worried.
These two individuals came together and made it work. Theirs was
not a quiet pairing, but I think they loved each other very much.
They certainly loved their children.