Her name was unique. Okle. Family legend has it that the name is Celtic, picked by her mother to go with Kathleen. Okle Kathleen Watts, the third child of William and Cora Watts, born in Augusta, Illinois on November 2, 1913.
Grandma Cora Watts was a feisty little Irish woman who wanted a better life for her children. The family moved to Galesburg, where Grandpa William became a steam-fitter for the Burlington Railroad. His wages were good enough for a house at 972 Mulberry which had two floors and a full basement. There were three bedrooms and a bathroom, a big side yard to play in, and a garden where they grew corn, tomatoes, potatoes, peas and beans. There were also three different kinds of apple trees as well as a cherry tree.
But Grandma wanted her children to have even more. Two of them were as driven as she was. Son Gale became a singer on national radio shows in Chicago and daughter Evelyn married a banker from Nebraska.
Okle felt she could not compete with them. She grew up shy and insecure about herself. She was smart, but everyone was sure shed be a spinster until a handsome young guy struck up a conversation at the water fountain outside study hall at GHS. Eventually, she fell in love with him despite Grandma Watts objections. It was the height of the Depression and Fritz Monson was only a butchers apprentice making $5 a week. They had to elope to get married secretly; and Okle spent her wedding night alone in her own bed afraid to tell her mother and father. Even when Fritz became a full-time meatcutter and could afford a house and family, there was still a chill between him and his mother-in-law.
Okles life became Fritz and the two children they had together. But Grandma Watts was still a big influence, and the two children bore her name and her husbands Cora Sue and William. Okle rarely got through a day without a telephone talk with Grandma. When little Billy showed signs of being left- handed, he was converted because his grandfather had had such trouble being left-handed in a right-handed world.
Mom was inconsolable when her father died; she cried for days. Eventually, Grandma was moved into an apartment next door on Blaine Avenue, living above Sue and her husband. Her influence did not diminish until Alzheimers disease forced her removal to the Old Folks Home in Knoxville. She lingered there until her 90s, not recognizing anyone, but faithfully visited by Okle.
Did Okle recognize her own fate?
Alzheimers came down on her in the mid1980s and slowly gnawed away her memory, then her speech, and finally, her life.
When Fritz died in 1998, worn out from tending her, she had to be institutionalized in the Quad Cities where she died on May 9th this year, three days before Mothers Day and four days after what wouldve been her 70th wedding anniversary.
The last time I saw her, she didnt know me from a bale of hay but eager for
companionship, she grabbed my hand and kissed it, then yammered gibberish at me until I could no longer stand it and turned away, my eyes filling.
This was not the Mom I wanted to remember the one who listened to the Metropolitan Opera Saturday afternoons with me and praised my drawings and writing and came to my plays at GHS and Knox. The woman who nearly melted with delight when I introduced her to Raymond Burr on the set of "Perry Mason" and he took her hand and spent ten minutes charming her. The mother who sat with us, darning socks over an old light bulb, as we listened as a family to Jack Benny or Bergan and McCarthy on the radio. She loved Highlanders pistachio and butter brickle ice cream. The woman who danced with Dad to Eddy Howard and Eddie Duchin on 78rpm records after Sis and I went to bed. Who was afraid of garter snakes under our rhubarb and got hysterical when she discovered a "dead" possum in the barrel of discarded cans behind the garage. The reader of Life, Liberty, Readers Digest, and countless books. The maker of mouth-watering Sunday noon pot roast and potatoes in a pressure cooker. Who went to church faithfully, donated more than she should have to televangelists, and collected close to 200 pounds of religious books and brochures.
She spoiled us badly and she drank too much high-test coffee and took too many aspirins for headaches and refused to exercise or watch her diet until her blood pressure went ballistic. Arthritis crippled her knees; but ironically, Alzheimers turned her into a house-wanderer, who with medication, conquered the one even as the other took her into a terminal twilight.
Mothers Day, 2002 was a sad day for me but one of relief and rejoicing, too. Now Okle and Fritz are together forever, their pain and suffering ended, their loving spirits united through all eternity.