Aunt Gene

She was born at home in 1919 and named Alice. The doctors told my grandmother that she might not live because she was small and sickly. A priest was summoned immediately and she was baptized in anticipation of infant death. But God had other plans for baby Alice.

The smallest of thirteen children, she was never allowed to work in the fields with her siblings because of her mother’s concerns for her health. Instead she was relegated to indoor duties – cooking, cleaning, sewing, etc. Most kids would have been happy to avoid the grueling farm labor but she always carried a certain amount of guilt for not having carried her weight. But as she told me many times, “Mom said no! And that was the end of the discussion.”

At thirteen years old she left farm and family behind and joined her two older sisters to enter the community of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in O’Fallon, Missouri. When she made her final vows in 1940 she became Sister Eugene Marie and began a life of teaching that included nearly 40 years at her beloved St. John the Baptist Parish in St. Louis.

Growing up, I knew that our family was special because my Mom had three sisters who were nuns. My Grandpa wore it as a badge of honor that three of his thirteen had dedicated their lives to God. And after Vatican II, Sister Lucy, Sister Noel and Sister Gene could freely join our family gatherings. My Aunts were “way cooler” than the school Sisters that taught me. We could laugh and joke around and I knew that they had lives outside of their classrooms (and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews). My earliest memories of Aunt Gene are of her calling me “PeeWee” and me calling her “Shorty” – that would NEVER have happened with the Sisters at my school.

Perhaps Aunt Gene related to me because I was a scrawny kid like she must have been. Maybe I was drawn to her because she looked like my Mom in a habit. Regardless of the reason we have shared a bond that has lasted my entire life. As a child I loved the attention that she gave me. As an adult I saw how deeply she loved God and the children and families she served. Countless numbers of students were taught by Aunt Gene. And countless more were served in foreign missions through her tireless fundraising efforts. I often wonder if in her work for the missions she ever felt again like little Alice being told to stay indoors while others tended the fields? It doesn’t matter. She could do more with a few pennies than most of us could do with millions. And her gift was freely given.

My Mom and my Aunt Gene

My Mom and my Aunt Gene

This week Aunt Gene was carried home to God. She so desperately wanted to see her parents again. I imagine their reunion in heaven was quite a celebration. And those of us left behind will cherish our memories of her and celebrate, too. We honor the life of a humble servant, a great friend, a dear sister and a loving aunt.

I’d like to think she’s finally tending those fields right alongside her Mom and Dad and her siblings, Lucy, Ray, Edna, Art, Vernon, Noel, Frank, Everett and Bob.



P.S. Check out the article from the St. Louis Archdiocese Mission Office:

What Matters Most Is The Thanks

I’m a sucker for tradition. I love old movies. I love family folklore. I want to believe that “the way” we do things at Thanksgiving is the way generations before us celebrated as well. I love the fact that Deb shares the same need for traditional holiday gatherings (with some southern country flair compliments of her beloved Mimi). We’ve blended our family traditions and created some new ones of our own. So on Thanksgiving there will be turkey and dressing and candied sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts and cranberries and pumpkin pie – just like the Pilgrims (well at least in my revisionist history of the First Thanksgiving anyway).

But it has occurred to me that none of that really matters. How can you celebrate Thanksgiving WITHOUT turkey? Or Stuffing? Or Sweet Potatoes? Or Cranberries? Or God Forbid – Pumpkin Pie???

We have dear friends that have traveled east to visit family and celebrate an ‘Italian Thanksgiving’ complete with lasagna.  My cousin Colleen who lives in Thailand can’t get pumpkin for a pie this year. Our son Ty is stationed at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea and will likely be eating in a mess hall and missing Mom’s special recipes. And millions of folks will be having Thanksgiving pizza, sub sandwiches, burgers or God-knows-what. And they’re (we’re) the lucky ones. Millions more will be starving.

But those of us that can give thanks, should. We should be thankful for one another. Thankful for love. Thankful for a full belly. And a place to lay our heads. Thankful for a God that provides light even in our darkest hours.

There is certainly no shortage of pain or heartache or suffering in our world. And perhaps you’re suffering, too. For me Thanksgiving this year is a little bittersweet; feeling especially melancholy about the separation next year from family and friends (especially my grandkids). Yesterday I was feeling down and then I received a Thanksgiving card in the mail from my cousin Rose. Just a simple thing but it immediately lifted my spirits. And for that I am thankful – thankful to be loved and to be part of a family that remembers to share their love. Thanks Rose, you’ll never know how much I needed your note!

So tomorrow I will remember to give thanks for all my blessings. And I know that it won’t matter if Thanksgiving dinner isn’t perfect in every way (everywhere) because it’s the sharing that matters not the meal that is shared.



Big Girl Now

My granddaughter Anna is officially a “big girl” now. She’s in preschool two days a week. (She thinks) she’s in charge of baby brother Noah. She knows (better than I) how to use the DVR, iPad, and just about any other electric gadget placed in her hand. It used to be that our granddaughter Charlise was the “big girl” and Anna was the “little girl” but that has all changed – now they’re on pretty equal footing. Of course Charlise is 3-1/2 years older just don’t tell Anna that!

And it’s not just that her knowledge has grown – she’s physically grown, too. Her baby face is being transformed into a kid face before my very eyes. And she’s getting taller too (taller for her anyway). All of this growing up stuff is a little unsettling for me. But I will learn to cope. Time marches on. And babies become kids and kids become parents and parents become grandparents and on and on…

All the more reason to savor those precious moments of life. Sunday night Anna regaled us with songs that she’s learning at preschool – Jingle Bells and Joy to the World. And she really SINGS! Sings her little heart out. And even though this is big girl territory – learning songs at school – her innocence and pure delight in mastering something new made my heart leap for joy. Joy to the World indeed!

Not too big for Daddy's lap

So I’ve decided that this old Pawpaw will embrace the big girl who Anna needs to become. I’ll struggle at times when she asks to “do it myself” or not hold my hand on the sidewalk “because it’s safe here Pawpaw” but I will accept her need for more independence. And along the way we may learn some new things together.

But deep down she’ll ALWAYS be my baby girl. That’s just a grandfather’s prerogative. Maybe the part that’s scary for me is that as Anna grows older so do I. We’ll just have to help one another with the challenges of getting older.

God will take care of the rest.



Boys Will Be Boys…

Well maybe it’s true that “boys will be boys” but it’s also true that boys will become men. And as I prepare to celebrate my grandson Noah’s first birthday this weekend, I can’t help but wonder what kind of man he’ll be someday. Certainly he’ll be strong and kind and generous like his Daddy and smart and loving and faith-filled like his Mommy.

Noah already has a distinct personality. He’s happy. He’s curious. He’s affectionate. He’s fearless. And he is single-minded in his determination (he gets what he wants through sheer brut force, when flashing those big blue eyes fails – which is rare). He looks up to his big sister who will no doubt someday have to physically look up to him. But Anna is clearly in charge and Noah seeks her approval in all things. This will likely be a life-long goal.

"Do it again, Pawpaw!"

He’s a Momma’s boy but he’s Daddy shadow. He loves to hang on his Nana but Pawpaw can make him giggle the loudest. He likes to play “rough and tumble” but he still likes to cuddle. He’s just a sweet boy. And I suspect that he will be a sweetheart of a man one day, too.

He’s blessed with loving, caring parents, a sister that adores him, and doting grandparents. Some people might say he’s a lucky boy, but we’re the lucky ones. We get to take part in the life of this beautiful gift from God who fills our days with so much joy.

I pray that he always knows how much he is loved. And I hope that all his dreams come true.

Noah, Here’s a little video I made just for you. ~ Love, Pawpaw

Thirteen Children and then some…

When I tell people that my mom is the 12th of 13 children I usually get one of two responses. The first one (and most likely) is: Wow! Are you serious? The second response, which never ceases to amaze me, is often something along the lines of “my mom (or dad) was one of 14 (or 15 etc.)” or “I knew somebody that came from a family of fifteen (or twenty)”. You get the idea. Maybe it’s true but it always seems a little doubtful. I think some people like to ‘one-up’. I just smile and say, “Oh, that is a big family”. What I want to say is, “Well okay then you win” “Just for the record, it was never a contest!” “And besides, even if your family is bigger it’s not better than ours!”

Mom is now 82 and is one of the ‘little girls’ – her younger sister is 81. All six of her brothers have passed away and three of her sisters are gone now, too. She and my dad are the only couple left in her generation. Her surviving sisters are: two widows and a nun. She also has two widowed sisters-in-law. Being one of the youngest in a large family has many blessings but watching your siblings die one by one is extremely difficult. We have spent the last few years attending a succession of funerals. With each loss Mom confronts her own mortality again.

Yesterday was a happy family gathering: a reunion. The Moellering Family hadn’t had a reunion in 10 years (not counting aforementioned funerals) and Mom couldn’t have been happier. Seeing Mom with her sisters and nieces and nephews made me realize how much of a Moellering that I am, too. I love our family! I’m proud to be part of this clan. We of the 13 brothers and sisters! We of the produce farmer granddad! We of the three aunts that were nuns! We, this big messy Catholic family that sometimes drinks too much, cusses and fights but always forgives and loves one another deeply. We, this fiercely proud group of hardworking, hard-headed, half-French, half-German, Midwesterners.

We are family!

Families. It’s God way of ALWAYS reminding us who we are. We will touch the future through our children and grandchildren. We continue to honor the past with our memories of those that loved us into being. We possess a unique bond with our siblings and our cousins that no one else can share. We are family. We are loved. We are Moellering!



‘Old’ Was Not One Of The Things I Wanted To Be When I Grew Up

Like looking into a mirror

How does the saying go? Something like: “the only certainty in life is death and taxes”. Now I would add “and getting old”.

But I don’t really think of myself as old – I’m middle-aged. Which means at 55 years-old I am in my middle years, right? Only if I live to be 110! So maybe it’s time to face my mortality; something us baby boomers seem to be in great denial about. Oh, we have our “bucket lists” and our life insurance policies but do we ever really think that someday we’re going to run out of time? I know I don’t. I keep planning my next vacation, my next adventure, my next birthday party, etc. I don’t have an end-game. Not only do I not think about my life ending – I really haven’t given much thought to getting old(er). Because old was not one of the things I wanted to be when I grew up!

This week Elizabeth Taylor died. At work a group of YOUNG PEOPLE were talking about it and I commented, “Do you suppose that Debbie Reynolds is dancing on her grave?”. There was complete silence. Finally one of them asked, “Who’s Debbie Reynolds?”. Not only did they not get my HILARIOUS reference to the tawdry break-up of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds by the man-stealing Liz Taylor in the 1950’s, they didn’t even know who Debbie was! Really? “Tammy”? “Singing in The Rain”? Anyone? When I mentioned Carrie Fisher and “Star Wars”, I got a few nods of recogition – apparently one these brats had parents that were “Star Wars” fans. At that moment I felt like I should be driving a Studebaker, wearing “trousers” and hanging out at the Barbershop.

So I guess I am beginning to face my own mortality; I just don’t like it. I realize that, I am in fact, getting older each day (and maybe becoming a bit obsolete). I watch my parents now dealing with ‘old people stuff’: illness and aches and pains and hearing loss. And I realize when I see Dad struggling sometimes to be steady on his feet that I’m only 29 years younger than him. Twenty-nine years ago Tyson was 3 and Bess was about to turn 2 and that seems like only yesterday. So tomorrow it will be me (if God allows) who is 84 years old and wobbly on my feet.

Today I have decided that even though I may not have wanted to be old when I grew up, I will try to embrace aging with dignity. I want to be around to see my grandkids as adults. I’ll gladly be the ‘old man’ dancing with my granddaughters at their weddings. I will someday help “pack-up” Noah off to college. And if God truly blesses me with a long life I will continue to share my HILARIOUS stories and my PROFOUND WISDOM with another generation of Wilhelm/Kleckners and they will show their appreciation with their kindness and patience for this old man.

Until then, I think I need to go hug my Dad.