Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ode to Grammy Jo

Mary Josephine Lutz - April 24,1939 to February 15, 2010

I was lucky enough to have two moms in my life - breathe easy, Mary Jo

On behalf of Bruce, Brenda, Brett, Brooke and their families we wish to than you for gather her to honor the life and memory of their beloved mother, Mary Jo Bowers.

Mary Jo was born May Josephine Lutz on April 24, 1939, the second  of eight childen to alcoholic parents. Because of their parents’ inability to properly care for them, Mary Jo and her siblings were sent to St. Anthony’s Orphanage in Toledo, Ohio. She always said that she was treated well, that her needs were taken care of and the staff and the charity of the townspeople saw that they got presents for Christmas. Of course, the basics were taken care of but not much else . When she would go to mass on Sundays, she would sit in the back of the church because she was ashamed of her appearance and felt unworthy to sit with the rest of the congregation. But she still went. And that tells you something about her strength of spirit. I don’t know if it was these early experiences or something in her nature, or a combination of both that molded  such a generous and loving soul but I know the rest of us were very lucky and maybe a little unworthy to have her in our lives.

Well, no child of Mary Jo’s was ever going to be embarrassed by their clothes, although sometimes this could have unintended consequences. Brenda tells about being sent off to school dressed to the nines in  matching sunsuits and panties from Tobey’s here in town.       which wasn’t quite the style for kindergarteners in Fort Loudon at that time. A lot of things with Mary Jo had unintended consequences. But that’s what made it fun or at least good for laugh after the fact.  It was a running joke between her and I about Bowers’ family vacations. I begged her not to include me in  any of them.  While I like to plan everything down to the last rest and gas stop, Brenda and Mary Jo would grab Brooke and the boys and hightail it off to the Jersey coast. Or what they thought was the Jersey coast. But it didn’t really matter because they would hadn’t arranged a place to stay, wherever it ended up being,  Getting lost was a given and breaking down all but a certainty.  And these were not the usual breakdowns, they had to be visually spectacular and catastrophic to the vehicle. Once they overheated and rolled to a stop beside a prison fence, during a prison break. Brenda called me late one night and told me she had a little trouble with Mom’s car. I hear Mary Jo giggling like a schoolgirl in the background.  Turns a “little trouble” included fleeing for their lives with a couple of bags of Wildwood souvenirs while the Estate Wagon burned to the ground.  The last trip I made with involved being chased by tornados across the Delmarva Peninsula.

Mary Jo lived in the Orphanage until she was fifteen, then moved to a foster home for a couple of years, until, at the age of 17 she moved to a trailer park with her brother and his wife. There was a handsome young man living a couple of trailers down, and liking what she saw, Mary Jo went over to borrow a cup of sugar. Two weeks later Mary Jo Lutz and Robert Bowers were married. So this woman, barely more than a girl really, bought herself a Betty Crocker cookbook, taught herself how to cook between having babies and keeping a household,  while moving all around the country where Bob’s work took him. Baking is not easy, baking well is even harder, but baking at the level of a Mary Jo Bowers is rare indeed. I’m sure most of you sitting out there have been the beneficiaries of her skills. And I’m pretty sure it’s not just Betty Crocker and a stove or we’d all be able to do it.

Mary Jo had an uncanny ability to connect to people and make friends. Before she got too sick to travel she would come down and spend a week at the shore with us. We would go to the same place every year and by the end of the week, not only would she know the names of everyone staying in the hotel, she would know their kid’s names, where they were from, what they did for a living, how they were feeling and probably what they had for breakfast. It’s been maybe a year or two since she’s made the trip but even now I have people I barely recognize coming up to me and asking about Mary Jo.

Now you can see that, given her early upbringing, family would become the most important thing in the world to Mary Jo. The difference between Mary Jo and most of us is family expanded enough to include everyone in the room. But Mary Jo was nobody’s fool. She was well aware of the weakness, selfishness and pettiness that we are all heir to. But she would look past those weaknesses and bring out the better nature in people. I know in some of my darkest times she was a source of hope and encouragement to me.

So, although our family has lost the person who has tied it all together for so many years, I like to believe that Grammy Jo has gone on ahead, and she’s breathing easy as she get things ready for when we come home.

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