Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years
by dave ammenheuser
Everything has fallen apart around here without you!
A little boy’s one-sentence note, preserved in an envelope, dated June 27, 1974, addressed to his mother at Frederick Memorial Hospital, where she had been admitted for emergency surgery.
Turn the clock ahead more than 46 years, and that little boy is now turning 59.
Sitting in my parents’ home near Creagerstown, I’m sorting through piles of documents. Reading through love letters that my parents sent to each other in 1959, when mom was in nursing school and dad was at Army reserve training. Thumbing through a great-grandmother’s Bible. Glancing through family holiday photos. Figuring out what to do with the 1,392 glass pigs my mom collected over her 79-year life.
Yet, it was this one-sentence note, in the yellowed envelope, with its 10-cent postage stamp, that caused the stream of tears on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of January 2021.
My mother, Elizabeth Irene Ammenheuser, is gone. She died on December 19, just a few days before Christmas and just three months after my father, John, died.
Muz was the nickname that I gave to my mother when I was a pre-teen. It was my quirky way of combining the words Mom and Liz together.
To Thurmontians, she was Liz. The friend. The bingo player. The volunteer. The friendly neighbor. The former Moore’s (now RR Donnelley) graveyard-shift worker. The nice lady who lived with the cranky guy with the vintage cars in the driveway along Creagerstown Road.
She was so much more. Few know that she gave up her desire to be a nurse to raise three young boys. For more than 40 years, she worked the midnight to 8:00 a.m. factory shift, so she could be home when those boys bounced off the school bus. She was there when they needed a ride to Little League games and Boy Scout meetings. She attended the school plays and beamed with pride at my Eagle Scout ceremony and my college graduation.
My mom’s life was never about her. It was all about helping others and running a seemingly endless list of errands for my father.
She wasn’t a very good cook. She didn’t keep a tidy house. But that didn’t matter. She was the best mother.
She stopped driving several years ago when doctors deemed her dementia made her a hazard on the road to herself and others. She battled cancer in 2020, first in her breasts, then in her spine. She was recovering from spine surgery at Frederick Health Hospital on the day my father died at home. She then spent a month rehabilitating at Homewood. Because the COVID-19 pandemic limited her number of family visits at Homewood, mom moved to Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, in October to live with my brother, Bob, and his wife, Emily. They took wonderful care of her and were with her when she died.
Due to the pandemic, our family chose not to hold a public memorial service for her after she died. We are hoping to hold an event for her in May if the pandemic’s constraints on the community weaken.
So, this month, a final note to my mother. Yet this time, a tad more public.
Everything has fallen apart without you! But, I am the man I am today because of the life lessons you taught me. Our community was blessed to have you as a member. Love you.
Dave Ammenheuser visiting his mother, Elizabeth, in late 2020. She died a few weeks later.
Dave Ammenheuser’s 1974 note (and envelope) to his mother when she was in the hospital recovering from surgery.