Jean Ingmire: A Sterling Mother
“Holy Mother, where are you?
Tonight I feel broken in two”-Eric Clapton, Holy Mother
March 12, 2018: My Mother Jean Ingmire, dies after a long battle with congestive heart failure. Even when one knows that the end of a loved one is near; one is never truly prepared. Before the actual death one hopes that a miracle will happen. I was saying a lot of silent, bargaining prayers in the weeks preceding her death. But God needed another Mother in his ranks. What follows here is a broad tribute to my Mother. Jean Ingmire was a truly remarkable woman and I was incredibly fortunate to have been born her son.
Jean Ingmire was born on April 7, 1929 in Allentown, Pennsylvania to Helen and Harry Fritchman. She was the third of the oldest children of a family that eventually boasted 14 children. The Fritchman family included 12 girls and two boys.
My Grandfather was an ace mechanic and drove a truck for many years for the Lehigh Structural Steel Company. He was also a real life hero. My Grandfather once saved a seven year old kid from drowning in the Lehigh creek behind their house on Lehigh Street in Allentown on February 9, 1965. A bigger than life character, to me, Grandpa Harry was. He pursued life with a passion and was loved by the neighborhood that surrounded him. Helen was a homemaker with a broad range of talents. She was also a great listener and nurturer, a perfect Grandmother to me. They were not a rich family, but they made up for it with a lot of love. But it was tough love, all the kids had to pitch in. Many of the kids left school early to work and contribute to the family’s income. Hard to imagine in today’s pampered society. Easy to realize when you consider post-depression America.
My grandparents lived in Allentown and, for a time, in Albertus Pennsylvania. During their short tenure in Albertus, my Mother worked for a Dr. Mohr. At the time, she was 15 and made five dollars a week of which she gave my grandmother half. She saved her remaining money and eventually, at the age of 16, ran away from home. My grandparents thought she had ran away to join a carnival and they actually hired a detective to investigate my mother’s disappearance. I think my Mother was tired of being almost a workhorse to my grandparents and her siblings and was seeking her own independence in the world.
My Mother ran away to a city that represents part of our freedom, Philadelphia, and got a job as a counter girl in a drug store.
There she met my Father, George, when she was 17 and he was 20. It was post-World War II America and their love was framed in the background of a new world and a new America. They met at a dance. The theme song of my parent’s blossoming romance was Frank Sinatra’s, “Five Minutes More.” They were married in the same year that they met, in August 1946. My oldest brother, Jeff, was born on
May 31, 1947. My late brother George was born two years afterwards on January 13, 1949.
I was the surprise baby. I was born on April 28, 1957 and Elvis Presley’s tune, “All Shook Up,” was the number one song in the nation on my birthday.
The theme of my Mother’s life, to which we will return, is of a woman with many passions backed with a thirst for knowledge. My Mother always craved independence and was a liberated woman before the term became overused rhetoric. My father served active military duty in the Navy, eventually rising to the rank of Chief.
My Father was only 17 when he joined the Navy and no doubt was somewhat scarred by his experiences in the Pacific. He liked the Korean War even less. I also have determined that my Father and Mother were disappointed by the their lack of an extensive formal education, especially my dad. My Mother always said to me, “School or not, education is forever.”
The first great gift my Mother gave me,with active support from my Father, was a library card. At the age of six, for reasons partially unknown, I became fascinated by true history crime stories and classic horror stories. Maybe it had to do with the scary movies I would stay up and watch with my Father on weekends. The late night “Creature Feature or Shock Theater” movies.
I remember that a bookmobile would come to a parking lot of a grocery store near where I grew up in Norfolk, VA. You could request books. One time, I came to pick up a book that I had ordered that was a historical study of the murderer, Jack the Ripper. The title escapes me now. I was seven at the time. The somewhat straight laced bookmobile matron thought it her moral duty to call my Mother on the phone and ask her opinion of the propriety of my choice. Hey, at least the bookmobile librarian was paying attention.
My Mother asked to speak to me. She asked what the book was about. I told her, “It is is about the English murderer, Jack the Ripper.”. She asked, “Why do you want to read this book?” I replied, “I want to know why he was never caught.” She asked me to put the librarian back on the line and advised her, “Let him read the book, he knows what it is about.” I always loved my Mother for respecting my choices even if she did not always totally agree with them.
My Father struggled with his wartime shadows, but spoiled me just short of rotten. By 1961, he had done 20 years in the Navy. He decided to become a Game Warden. I think he found his niche with this job and he taught me a life long abiding love for animals, the joys they give us and the eternal mysteries of their presence.
On December 27, 1965, my Father was murdered by a man in an intentional, head on auto collision as Dad was on his way to work. I used to go to work with my Father. I would play with the various animals he had in various, non-kill enclosures at his work place and my two German Shepherd bodyguards, Lady and Bozo, would always be close by. I would also swing from the top of his jeep on a makeshift rope swing. On the day of his death, my parents decided to keep me home because I had a slight cold.
My father was killed by a tow truck driver who had a fight with his girlfriend and had left a suicide note. The first time I read the term, “Murder/Suicide” was in the newspaper account of the accident a few days later. My Mother had always been a kind, thoughtful woman. She never held a grudge towards any insult or slight. But my Mother demonstrated to me the full range of her capacity for forgiveness in the aftermath of the death of my Father.
My Mother forgave my Father’s murderer. She was 36, I was eight, my brother’s were sixteen and eighteen. She never spoke ill of the man that took my Father from us. I am now 61 and I am just starting to be able to forgive this “man.”
Ultimately, the greatest aspects of my heart, compassion, personality and talent come from my Mother Jean Ingmire. This was because of her instruction, her emphasis on a natural set of manners, her displays of kindness towards strangers, her lifelong loyalty to her friends, her support for my creative principles. We must also consider her boundless love, her guidance, and her practical example that continues to instruct me. The lesson of that first library card still has me reading two to six books a month. After my Father’s death, my Mother and I became even closer.
Music was an active principle in our household as I was growing up. The music of Ray Charles and Hank Williams were a steadier influence than the vegetables my Mother frustratingly tried to get me to eat. My Mother and Father were huge music fans. As a couple they had been lucky enough to see American icons such as Louis Armstrong, Hank Williams (Senior) and Elvis Presley, among others. A few years after my Father’s passing, I had to have a real guitar. Something other than the toy I was diddling with. My Mother, for my 12th birthday, April 28, 1969, brought me a nylon string acoustic and lessons to go with it. Her second greatest gift to me. A few weeks after my birthday, late May 1969, I cashed in a savings bond and brought my first electric guitar, a black & white Sears Silvertone with an amplifier built into the guitar case. I brought that guitar from a neighborhood kid named Gary and I wish I still had it.
I think that my Mother Jean realized that music had become my private sanctuary. A place to heal from the horror of my Father’s murder. Before my mid-teens, while being influenced by a chance meeting with guitarist Duane Allman, I started leaning towards playing the Blues. With this choice of music, my Mother and I saw eye to eye. After all, she had her own share of the Blues in her life. Without a doubt, she supported my life long pursuit of this music. She came to more shows than you would think. She also purchased, or helped me purchase many guitars and brought me my first real good amplifier that I used for almost two decades.
I was born in Hutchinson, Kansas and when we moved to Norfolk VA, my Mother trained and got a job as a Nurse’s Aide at De Paul Hospital. I think that medical service bug had been in her consciousness since those early days in Dr. Mohr’s office. By the accounts of her many Nurse and Hospital Administrative friends, she was a great Nurse’s Aide. She trained many a RN in practical and compassionate care.
My Mother never remarried, my Father was her first real and only love. She occasionally dated, but nothing serious. This was unheard of mid-1960’s America, widows generally remarried in my neighborhood. My Mother’s desire to further her education came when, a couple of years after my Father’s death, she trained to be a Unit Secretary at De Paul Hospital. Again, she demonstrated her formidable abilities and ran the floors fairly and accurately. She made many close friends in her 35 year tenure at the hospital.
My Mother taught me that loyalty to friends surpassed loyalty to self. That women were to be respected. That one should never be afraid to love, but that love should be embraced with an open set of eyes. That one can survive the suicide of a son(my brother George) and come out intact. She made sure that I went to church and taught me to maintain an open channel of communication with God.
I am grateful that I spent a week with my Mother in October 2017. Just me and my Mother talking till the early morning. My Mother had her own private room and bath in my brother’s home. It was always a pleasure to spend time alone with my Mother when my brother Jeff and my Sister-in-Law Terry, who took great care of my Mother in their home for almost 14 years, went on vacation.
That week was incredible. I would bring her a cup of coffee in the morning and we would talk about everything under the sun, of God, man and mortality.
These conversations contributed to an article I had started writing for Politichicks when I got on the train, at the start of my journey, titled, “Contemplating America from the Window of a Train.”
As the article included my remembrances about growing up in Norfolk, my Mother helped me clarify a lot of my memories. I gave her credit, along with my wife, Sharon, in the closing section of the article. We also talked about life, love, politics and my talents that she always supported. My Mother did not always understand my demanding of accountability for the Benghazi attack. This time she listened to an on-line interview with me on the “Operation Freedom Show With Dr. Dave Janda.” She turned to me and said “Now I understand exactly why you have been doing what you have been doing.” She realized that all I wanted for our nephew Sean Smith was justice.
More profoundly, my Mother talked about her pending mortality. She also asked me if I would sing at her funeral, when it happened. I advised her, “Only if I can pick the song.” I played her Jimmy Cliff’s, “ Many Rivers to Cross,” which opens with lines:
“Many rivers to cross, but I can’t seem to find my way over.”
My Mother approved of the song, thought it hymn-like. During this visit, I found my mother’s struggle to breathe 24 hours a day, with an oxygen tank, to be heartbreaking. This woman who had given so much her family and friends was reduced by this life’s circumstances. When I think how good she had been to me, I realize that the only repayment I could ever give her was by doing my best to be a better human being. That is a constant struggle. At the end of my visit, my Mother gave me a card that she said to open when I pulled into the Charlotte train station. It was a thank you card that thanked me for coming up to Virginia to take care of her. She stated, in essence, that I had become very professional at playing music, but that “the writing it seems like it just flows forth.” My best friend and supporter. Jean Ingmire was a sterling Mother. I will always treasure this hand written note from her. Thanking me for coming to visit. She was an angel and is still watching over us.
My Mother never forgot anyone’s special life event, big or small. She was the Queen of Consideration in her interactions with family and friends.
March 19, 2018: The day of my Mother’s funeral at Trinity Lutheran Church in Norfolk. Like a lot of her life, she planned all of the details down to the hymns that included, “Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.” The Pastor that officiated at her funeral, Pastor Meraz, recalled the conversations they had about Heaven. My Mother was looking forward to Heaven. My Brother Jeff spoke from the scriptures. Two of her Nurse friends spoke in a soulful manner about their friendship with my Mother, Jean. I spoke a written tribute to her and sang “Many Rivers to Cross,” standing beside her coffin.
The lessons of my Mother will never be forgotten. As I stated in the closing of my written tribute to her, “I love you Mom, save me a good seat.” The first Mother’s Day approaches without you.