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Published: Saturday, 8/31/2002

A gentle soul, a life well-lived

It was to have been a routine consultation.

I was asked to see an elderly lady in one of the local hospitals for insertion of a heart pacemaker.

I explained the details of the operation and answered the inevitable question of its advisability in an elderly person. She understood that the operation would not necessarily add years to her life, but would prevent the attacks of passing out that might result in falling down and injuring herself. “You see doctor,” she said in a determined voice, “I have lived a full and happy life and at this time I would rather not look for means to prolong my life. I am 96 years old, as you know.”

I did not know.

Frieda Teems did not look her age and certainly did not act it. I was impressed by her lucid understanding of life and comfortable acceptance of her place in the world around her.

I listened to her story as if we were sitting in a caravan sarai on some crossroads where travelers stop to relate tales of their lives. Her story is perhaps not too different than others of her generation, but it is worth relating. This story underscores the determination of a young woman who overcame all odds to survive and prosper and now at the twilight of her life can look back at her life radiant with confidence and satisfaction.

She said she was born in Holland. And as my mind raced to the land of tulips and windmills she hastened to add that it was Holland, Ohio, the village west of Toledo. She was born on a farm on Holloway Road near the Chicago Pike. She explained that the pike is now called Airport Highway.

Her father was a German immigrant who was always chasing the elusive pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. His restlessness took him from Holland to east of the river where he farmed near Otter Creek and Cedar Point Road. She attended Grant Middle School in that neighborhood but was prevented by her father from attending Waite High School. A few boys at the school had been caught swimming in the nude in the school's new pool and Frieda's stern father was not about to allow his young daughter to be exposed to such vulgarity. Somehow she got admission to the Tri-State Business College in downtown Toledo and rode the trolley from Curtice for her daily classes. After graduation she was hired by Willys Overland (later Willys Jeep) as a stenographer and typist. Soon her mother died of tuberculosis and the 18-year-old found herself responsible for her six younger siblings.

At about the same time, in or about 1924, her father sold his farm and took the family to Fresno, Calif., in search of fame and fortune. He found none growing grapes and lettuce and was forced to return to Ohio within a year. Soon thereafter she was married in the Lutheran Church at the corner of Wheeling and Seaman streets to a young man from her neighborhood. They settled down to a happy and content life. But not for long.

In 1937 at age 31 she was stricken with tuberculosis and was committed to a sanitarium in Mount Vernon near Columbus. Many members of her family had died of the disease and she had resigned herself to that fate as well. But somehow she beat the odds and went on to become a homemaker, an expert seamstress, a poet, and an avid photographer. Just last May she gave a slide presentation to the local Topics Camera Club on Western Parks and Mountains. She is also the focus of much adulation from her eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

The pacemaker operation was but a small bump in her long and fascinating journey through life. On a recent visit to my office she gave me a homemade copy of her small book of devotional poems. Here is a passage from “Take Time To See”:

The song of birds so gay and clear

That fill the morning air with cheer,

And fragrant flowers of every hue,

That stand erect bedecked with dew,

All these and more belong to me, If I but use my eyes to see.



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