Georgia Mark Heltzel Karr was a great mother-in-law. She was my second biggest fan and advocate, after her older daughter, and was not at all sure that Helen was a big enough fan. According to Georgia, I had overcome a lot to be on the way to a good career and she didn’t want Helen to be getting in the way.
That kind of achievement, the sort Georgia wished for me, was what she had always wanted for herself. But she grew up in a home that was typical for its day, which meant dysfunctional in a particular way. Her father ruled the roost, entirely, as a good Prussian father should. He made all the decisions. The pecking order in the family included Georgia’s two brothers first, ahead of her and her sister, Clara, even though they were younger. Georgia wanted to go to college, to achieve, but her father decreed that it was stupid to educate a girl.
In most dysfunctional families, even the ones that are normal for their time and place, there is one person who is an oasis. For Georgia, that was her sister, Clara, only 23 months different in age. But Clara died suddenly, when she was only twenty. Georgia never really recovered from that.
Being the only girl left in the family, she was the one who was expected to care for her aging parents, for a very long time, to do all the work necessary for them to stay in their own house. She loved having a husband and family, but that was the only thing she ever got to do for herself, and in one way, it was just more of the same—being a servant to all, the way it so often is with mothers. She did it all with great efficiency, for her parental family and for her own family, the way an achiever does, but it always wore on her soul as well as on her body.
She was a great Cubs fan, listening to Bob Elston describe every game on the radio, then listening to Jack Brickhouse do them when TV came along. One time that I saw her truly happy was when I took her to a game at Wrigley Field. At her funeral, I noted that her twin grandsons had said they expected that now she was playing with the Cubs in heaven. I said they were close but not quite accurate. She would be managing.
Helen has said that her mother thought the only stupid thing I ever did was marry her daughter. She was a great achiever, as a mother-in-law. Thank you, Georgia.
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Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. TODAY is publication day of her new book, What Goes Up. It’s published in paper, audio, and electronic, and available right now, from B&N, Amazon, Powell’s, etc.