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Eulogy – Bertha Engleman | REnotated

Eulogy – Bertha Engleman

  • To many my grandmother was known as “Bertha”, to her sons and daughters-in-law she was “Mom”, to us grandkids and great-grandkids she was “Nana”; and when she was younger, a lot of people including my grandfather Earl used to call her “Bert”.  And long before there were great-grandchildren, grandchildren, and children; and even before they ever dated, my grandfather had given her the nickname “Dutchy”.  This was when they were teenagers and they worked together in a clothing factory down along the Lehigh River.

    It was appropriate that my grandparents got to know each other through work, because it was hard work that was the defining aspect of their lives.  Having to forego an education like many of their siblings and friends also had to do; they quit school and went to work to help support their families.  My grandmother was a seamstress in that factory, and being a seamstress would become her lifelong profession; and in that same factory my grandfather helped his father, who was a mechanic responsible for keeping the sewing machines running.  When the belts would break or come off their pulleys, my grandfather had to crawl under the tables where the women were sewing in order to fix their machines.  He especially liked it when my grandmother’s machine broke.  He’d yell out, so everyone around could hear, “Hey Dutchy, better close your legs!  I’m coming under!”

    No matter how many times my grandfather did this, my grandmother said it would always make her blush a bright red.  Although it may have been love at first sight for my grandfather, needless to say, it was not love at first sight for my grandmother.  She said she initially thought of my grandfather more as a friend or even a wise cracking brother then a potential boyfriend, which as many men know usually spells doom for a romantic relationship.

    But if my grandfather was one thing, he was persistent.  He’d always show up where my grandmother was, whether it was roller skating or at a dance.  He asked if he could buy her a Coke or simply walk with her on her way home – he was going that way anyway.  Over time he wore her down and eventually found his way into her heart.  When another man once had been pestering my grandmother for a date, she told him she already had a boyfriend.  When the man asked who it was, my grandmother turned around and happened to see my grandfather across the room.  “That’s him right there,” she said, pointing to the man who would become her future husband.  It was a lie at the time of course, but a lie that became the truth.

    It was a truth that would come to include a house on Fairview Street in Allentown, where my grandmother fed, clothed, cared for, and yes, tried to keep in line, five men – her husband and four sons.  Her life with my grandfather would later expand to include a growing family of daughters-in law, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren.

    It is hard to underestimate the influence my grandmother had on those of us around her.  As the matriarch of our family, the impact she had on our lives was practical, profound, and will endure.  She had such a large presence in our family and held that presence for so long, that at times it seemed she might actually be a force of nature – certainly she was a force that needed to be reckoned with.  She was tough and resilient, which allowed her to live a long and full life – celebrating triumphs, overcoming loss.

    Her strong will, which gave her the ability to survive hardships, could also make her at times stubborn.  If she believed something, it was as many of us know impossible to convince her otherwise.  All who knew her know what I’m talking about (and some came to know it more than others).  Right or wrong, she had strong opinions – and felt obligated to share them.  And if you weren’t listening the first twelve times, she’d repeat them two dozen more just in case.

    In addition to being hard-working, like many of her generation, she was also frugal and resourceful – instilling these qualities in her four sons.  She was a survivor, from a generation of survivors, always finding ways to get done what needed doing.  Her ability to cope with adversity was – and will remain – an inspiration.  Even as her legs failed and arthritis from years of labor made it challenging to do even normal things, she was simply thankful that she had very little pain.  Rather than focus on what she couldn’t do, my grandmother concentrated on what she could do.  She was forever finding clever new ways to continue to do the things she had always done.

    When visiting her, she would often say with the grin, “Do you know what I did today?”  And like the mischievous schoolgirl she once was, she would then tell you of all the things she had either made, repaired, painted, scrubbed, cleaned, washed, baked, and cooked that day.  She was proud of what she was still able to accomplish and the independence it gave her.  “I only do what I can,” she’d say, then add with a twinkle in her eye, “but I can do a lot!  It keeps me going!”

    Her cooking and baking were legendary – and legends they will now become.  Each one of us had a favorite cake or pie or meal that we especially liked – and no one will ever be able to make those things as well as Nana could.

    She loved Penn State Football; and I just want to add that she was one of the few people around who could still refer to Coach Joe Paterno as “that nice young man from State College”.

    There’s one final thing that I’d like to mention about my grandmother.  Although she was generally very frugal, and loved shopping at places like the Dollar Store, she would always set aside a little bit of money for gambling, whether it was for lottery tickets, scratch-off cards, bingo, or to visit the slot machines of Atlantic City.  When it came to the one arm bandit in particular, she had a myriad of intricately complicated “systems”, which she had devised to gain an advantage over the casinos.  These systems made perfect sense to her, of course, but they would leave all of our heads reeling whenever she tried explaining them to us.  The idea that the house was stacked against her, simply did not apply – and somehow, it didn’t.  Attacking the casino like an invading general, she executed her plan, like most things, with determination and precision.  I can’t say for sure that she won more than she lost, but it certainly seemed that way.  One thing I am sure of, however, is that my grandmother, in the end, came out ahead and definitely beat the house.

    Farewell Nana, we have only just begun to miss you.  Tell Pappy that we miss him too; and take good care of Scott.

    21 March 2011