Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Mysteries of the dead

My family and I knew that my recently deceased mother, Mollie Wochner (nee Dickert), seemed to have had two birthdates, September 10, 1925 and September 11, 1925.

Here are her birth certificate, issued on September 27, 1925 and stating her birthdate as September 10, and here is her record of confirmation, issued May 21, 1939, and listing her birthdate as September 11. If there’s another, more official birth certificate, I don’t know about it.

But that isn’t the biggest discrepancy.

We always knew that “Mollie Wochner” was a nickname, that her real name was, as my father often said, “Amalia Emilia Wochner.” Except in studying these, we’ve learned that her birth name was “Amalie Emilia Dickert” — unless it was “Amalie Emilie Dickert.” Note the differing middle name in the documents.

My brother tried to clear this up last week when we survivors gathered to rummage through hundreds of old photos and documents and write identifying names and probable dates while we ourselves were still alive. He said that not everyone is a good speller.

Except:  This means that even my father, who was married to my mother for about 45 years, didn’t know his wife’s name. Because, again, he said it was “Amalia,” which appears nowhere.

Meanwhile, to write her eulogy, I confirmed with my sister how many siblings our mother had.  I knew it was either 10 or 11, and I believe I met all of them except my Uncle George, who in the 1940s long before I was born died from the flu at age 16. (Yes, young people used to die from the flu.) My sister informed me that Mom was one of 10. Given her proximity to my brother, who wrote the family tree, I figured that was right.

This week, my older cousin related to me stories of my mother’s 10 siblings — which would mean she had 11. When I recounted my memory of Uncle Gus, the eldest, born in Germany, she corrected me:  That was Uncle Gust, with a “t” at the end.

At the funeral service, a man I hadn’t seen we were boys came to pay his respects. We grew up across the street from each other, and we fought a lot — fistfights — as boys of that era and locale were likely to do. In the mid-1970s, we were evenly matched in size and age, with only two days between us. Although we were generally friends, we’d physically mix it up practically every weekend, rolling around in the grass and throwing punches, mostly for reasons I can’t remember except, maybe, young male energy.

I had shared that reminiscence with my girlfriend who, upon meeting this long-ago friend at the service, mentioned to him the fisticuffs of our youth. He told her something like, “Whaat? That didn’t happen. We were friends!”

Sometime after the service, when my family and I were hanging around my sister’s house and swapping stories, someone bemoaned the college nickname that my beloved friend K. still carries. Is it nice that she’s still called this? I think so, because our whole group loved her in college, and still does. Why did they think it was mean? 

It turns out that, for 40 years, everyone has completely misunderstood where the nickname came from. No, I assured them, it’s not about her physical size at the time — she got it from having too much to drink at one party almost 40 years ago and rolling around on the floor.

When no two stories even among close friends, relatives, siblings, institutions or even married couples jibe, and even when you write it down, what can we truly know about the past?

5 Responses to “Mysteries of the dead”

  1. Uncle Rich Says:

    Somebody on my mom’s side did a family history, that she had in her recreation room for years. When I cleaned out her home, prior to selling it for her, the document was nowhere to be found. I thought she might have given it to my brother Ron, but after he passed and I had to empty his apartment, it wasn’t there either. And so, it goes.

  2. Joe Stafford Says:

    I think I learned the origins of the K’s nickname at the cabin on my first visit there. Where is no malice, there should be no malice-and I believe that to be the case here. The truth always outs. Affection surpasses- when it’s real.

    Mollie’s truth is terrific, in that it rests in the woman herself. She’s substantial, and even though the period documents mix it up a bit she is more powerful than any iteration. She was, is, and will be more than words or names or documents. ♥️✔️

  3. Dan Says:

    Speaking for myself, I believe that reminiscence is more vivid when mixed with a certain amount of creativity. The trick is to take a lump of truth, refine it, enrich it, and transform it into a shiny, nugget-sized anecdote without succumbing to the temptations of exaggeration and vanity.

  4. Frank Says:

    I remember fist fights with Bob R. and Kevin W. but none between us. Hmmm….

  5. Lee Wochner Says:

    It’s funny how memory works; I remember us frequently going at it — especially the time I pointed my rubber-band machine gun at you and you said, “You better not shoot that at me” — which sounded like a dare, and as we both know, you couldn’t be a boy and reject a dare — and so I did shoot it at you, all six or eight rubber bands at once, and then you lunged at me and we rolled around in grass to the right of my parents’ driveway for a good ten minutes throwing punches.

    And then later that day we were back to playing together.

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