Monday, May 14, 2018

The Outlaw Josie Marek

Folks who follow my writing sometimes comment that while I often tell stories about my father, I rarely mention my mother. The simple reason is that by nature of his outsized personality, stories about my father tend to be more interesting. Mom was quieter, more introspective and less prone to the sorts of grand gestures that make for good anecdotes. In honor of Mothers' Day, though, I thought I would share a few stories about "The Outlaw," which is what my high school buddy Jeff St. Clair called her because, although her name was Josephine, everyone called her Josie, and the movie, "The Outlaw Josie Wales" was popular at the time.

My mother was born in Lakeside, Ohio in 1921, the youngest (10th) child of Peter and Mary Kokinda. She grew up on a small homestead just outside of town during the Depression. Although times were tough, the family had a cow and chickens and were able to eek out a moderate existence on their small plot of land. She married my father in 1940 and my oldest sister, Marilyn, was born in 1941. I came along a full 21 years later, when she was 42 (surprise!). In between, my sister Bonnie and my brother Jerry came along.

Mother was a cook at Portage Elementary for 20+ years, including all of my school days. However, I attended a Catholic school in Port Clinton, so I was only in the same building as her for kindergarten. Well, with one exception. During the winter "energy crisis" of 1977-78, our schools went to split schedules to conserve energy, and Mom worked at the high school cafeteria for a few weeks. One day, she came out and sat with me and my friends for an uncomfortable 10 minutes or so. To her credit, she got the drift and didn't try that again.

Portage Elementary was about a half mile from our house and Mom usually walked to work. Although she wasn't much of a driver, she did have a license and would occasionally make the 10 minute trip into Port Clinton for groceries or to visit family. I only recall riding with her once. She picked me up after work one summer afternoon in 1979 and drove me home, both hands clenching the wheel as we zipped along at a dizzying 30 MPH clip.

If my father was known as the "lawnmower whisperer," my mother's claim to fame was her baking. She was a mediocre cook, overall, but she could bake like nobody's business. Her specialties were nut and poppy seed rolls and pineapple horns. These were highly prized items at holidays and family functions like weddings and funerals. Her baking was done in what might be called the Eastern European tradition; heavy, doughy and sweet. My personal favorite was her coconut creme cake. This was a sponge cake cut in two and filled with a layer of coconut creme pie filling, then topped with a meringue-like icing and flake coconut.

Until her arthritis began acting up in the late 70's, she was a dedicated crocheter, making dozens of afghans, hats, gloves and footies. Although she didn't read much, she enjoyed circle-the-word puzzles and her "stories," afternoon soap operas like The Guiding Light, The Secret Storm and The Edge of Night.

She was also a big sports fan, and liked to listen to Cleveland Indians games on the radio in the summer, and watch Browns and Cavaliers games on TV on the fall and winter. My knowledge of and interest in sports comes almost entirely from her, but her choice of teams...

Mom had multiple health problems in the latter years of her life and passed away at age 87 in 2009. The picture that leads this article was taken at Easter of that year, a few months before her death.

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