And I Knew Before I Answered

In this excerpt from Wunnerful, Wunnerful! the Autobiography of Lawrence Welk, © 1971, Welk discusses the grief and disorientation he felt when he lost his mother:

It was in Pittsburgh that I got the telegram. “Come home at once. Mother is dying.” I stood holding the telegram in my hands, sick at heart, remembering a thousand things all at once. How gentle she was, how kind, the way her hair curled around her face when she was flushed from dancing, the way she sat so straight in church holding her prayer book, the soft way she called me “Lawrencell.” I felt so guilty, because I knew she had been ill with diabetes for some time, and even though I had tried to get home and see her as often as I could, I knew I hadn’t gotten there often enough. The last time I had talked to my sister Agatha she had said, “Mama wants to see you, Lawrence. Come home as soon as you can.”

And now it was too late. But I felt I had to try and see her. We were playing on tour at the Kennywood Amusement Park at the time and I went in to the manager and explained the situation to him. He was sympathetic. “Go ahead, Lawrence. You can fly in and see her and probably be back for the show tomorrow night.”

I threw some things in a bag and drove quickly out to the airport. The weather was bad and the fog blowing in from the Ohio River grew progressively heavier as I drove. When I arrived, the man at the ticket desk said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Welk. All the planes have been grounded for a while. There’ll be an indefinite delay.”

I sat down to wait, and in spite of myself my eyes filled with tears. I longed to see my mother one more time and tell her how much she meant to me. None of us in our family had ever been very good at expressing ourselves verbally; instead, we had shown by our actions how felt about each other. My mother had shown us more love than any human being could rightfully expect. I loved her, and I wanted to tell her so.

I paced the floor of the airport for a while, watching the fog grow thicker and thicker, clustering around the dim lights on the runway until they were blacked out entirely. Finally the manager came over to me and said, “There’s no use staying, Mr. Welk. All the planes are grounded for the night. You can’t possibly get out of here now.”

I got into my car and drove slowly back to town, much of the time with the door open so I could see more clearly where I was going. I had just gotten into bed in my hotel room when I heard the phone shrill. And I new before I answered, what it was.

It was my brother John. “Mother just slept away very peacefully,” he told me. “We were all here with her.”

I couldn’t answer him. “Are you there?” he asked me finally.

“Yes. Yes I am, John. I tried to come home, but all the planes are grounded here.”

“Yes, I know,” he said. “We heard about the weather. Don’t try to come home, Lawrence. It’s too dangerous. I’ll keep in touch with you.”

He hung up, and I felt like a small boy again. Both my parents were gone, and even though I hadn’t seen either of them very often in the past few years, I felt as if a whole piece of my life had died with them. My childhood, all the things they had spent so many years teaching me, all the kindness and goodness they had shown me, was all gone now. My mind was full of memories that night and I was very lonely.

I was unable to get home for the funeral services. I knew they would be held at St. Peter and Paul’s Church, which had been such a big part of my mother’s life. I knew that my brothers and sisters and all the grandchildren would be there, and the priest who knew her so well would speak the words of the Faith she loved so much. I could not truly weep for my mother, whose whole life was a living testimony to the faith she believed in, but I did weep– I guess for myself– for the next three days. I stood on the bandstand at the amusement park and smiled and played the accordion while the tears just rolled down my face. I couldn’t seem to stop them. I could not help remembering that if it hadn’t been for my mother I would never have gotten an accordion in the first place. I would never have been able to realize so many of the youthful dreams which had seemed so unattainable to everyone else but her.

I owed so much to her, and I hadn’t been able to tell her at the end how much I loved her. And now I never would.

He lamented several times in his book that his mother wasn’t there to share his successes with him.

I don’t think he ever really got over the loss.

2 Comments

  1. do any of us ? hell no. we never get over loss. Having faith and hope that we will be reunited is what helps us , hopefully, get up each morning, somehow.

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  2. Libby

    Ah yes, we always know before we answer, don’t we? Losing someone you love is such a life altering experience that it’s impossible to ever “get over it”. We just slowly move forward in faith that we will one day love and laugh together again.

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