The Eulogy for Katherine Schreiner


The Eulogy for Katherine Schreiner

Katherine Schreiner was born on September 1st, 1913 in Newark, the youngest of five sisters.  (There were two brothers who died very early on.)  The family home was at  94 Stuyvesant Avenue.  The family didn’t have much money, so things like piano lessons were out of the question; nonetheless, Katherine, innately bright, taught herself how to play the piano.  She graduated from Westside High School in 1932, and afterwards worked for a time in a bakery.


At a church dance, Katherine met Hans.   Katherine was looking stunning that night in a beautiful red dress, and Hans could not resist her charms.  Hans and Katherine were married on February 2, 1935 (exactly  72 years ago this past Friday).


Before long Kenny was born.  Kenny remembers fondly as a small child taking long walks with his Mom from their home to the White Castle in Irvington, where his Mom would buy six hamburgers for 3 cents a piece, which over the course of their walk back home, his Mom would eat four and Kenny would eat the other two.   Katherine always had a good appetite.


Robert was born in 1941, followed by Karen in 45, which was also the year the family moved to the house in Irvington.   Paul would come next in 1948, followed by Roger in 51 and finally Craig, the baby of the family, was born in 53.


The family wasn’t well off, but they made do.  A bicycle would be handed down over the years from brother to brother, and the same was true of clothes as well,  but they got by with enough money available for the essentials, which for Katherine always meant food — she loved food.  She loved making appetizers and desserts, the whole shebang.  She said she would rather spend money on food than on medicine.


Hans got involved in his sons’ scouting programs, serving as scoutmaster, with Katherine at his side lending a supportive hand.  Karen was found to have a gift for singing, and singing lessons were arranged.  Katherine would play the piano for Karen as she practiced her singing.  Listening to his daughter and mother performing together was one of Hans’ most favorite things in the world.


Thanksgivings, Christmas and New Years rotated between Katherine’s home,  and the homes of her sisters Alma and Eleanor, instilling in the children a strong appreciation of family that led to reunions for years to come.   Whenever family and friends gathered, Katherine loved to play games:  board games, card games, scrabble, “upwards”, pokino — any kind of game.  As far as she was concerned, dirty dishes could wait when there were games to be played; she would rather stay up alone until 2 a.m. doing the dishes than waste time that could be spent playing games.


For a period of time every weekend either the family would go to Hans’ brother Uncle Joe’s house in Union, or his family would come to their house, always for more game playing.   (Uncle Joe had a great pin ball machine in his basement.)


Katherine’s house in Irvington was the place where all the children’s neighborhood friends would gather to play.   “Mom, can they stay for supper?”  “Sure!” was always the answer, and there would always be enough to go around.


Living in the middle of a block of perhaps a hundred houses, Katherine made it a point to know everybody:  decades later she could still name everybody who lived in each house on that street.  She had always wanted to be a nurse, and so whenever a neighbor child got sick, it was Katherine whom the mothers would consult.


The back yard was the setting for countless picnics with many friends and extended family on hand.  There was a pool there that in the summertime was always filled with kids.  Curiously, Katherine herself couldn’t swim, but  from time to time she would order the kids out of the pool so she could get in; their splashing would have messed up her hair.   She would paddle about, leisurely picking up the leaves that had fallen into the water, one by one, as the kids waited impatiently for her to be done.


Together, Hans and Katherine were a great team; Hans would be the tough guy, Katherine the softer one, but tough enough when necessary, and when necessary, capable of keeping Hans in check.  Hans earned the money, while Katherine managed the money and paid the bills.  She was always good with numbers and extremely organized: her children remember the envelopes with money allotted to every need, stored in the black pocket book that was kept above the refrigerator.


Hans and Katherine shared a lot of laughter together, and the children’s friends enjoyed coming by the house in large part for the pure entertainment value of watching Katherine and Hans interact together.  They loved one another with a good bit of passion too; Hans would sign his cards to his wife with the abbreviation H.L.H., which was short for Katherine’s pet nick name for her husband:  “Hot Lips Hans”.


The Methodist Church in Irvington became a center of the family’s life, where many close friends were made.  In addition to being active in the Women’s Society and a social group of women known as the Always Ready Club, Katherine taught Sunday School for the kindergarten and 1st graders.  Each Sunday morning Katherine made sure all the children were dressed to the tee — their shoes polished; ties and jackets for the boys, a pretty dress for Karen, and together they would walk the mile to church.   Following church, the day would be  devoted to family, with Sunday Dinner and visits with family and friends.


There is a memory of the family arriving to a church picnic at a house at the Jersey shore, where the women, delighted to see the Schreiners arrive, declared, “Katherine’s here — now the fun begins.”


Hans operated a small printing business out of the house, which was, at times, very much a family business.   On occasion every child would be called upon to help out to meet a deadline — gotten out of bed, if needed, to help collate.  Robert, the second oldest, was Mr. Fixit in the household; one time a new printing press was delivered to the house in pieces, and it fell to Robert with his mechanical acumen to assemble the press for his father.


The family that worked together also vacationed together, surviving long, summertime car rides packed like sardines, traveling to places like Michigan or Chicago.   But the ultimate destination would become Maine, where beginning in the early 1960s the family would travel together every summer to a place called Small Point Beach, and then later to Bonnie Eagle Pond.  “Maine or Bust” it would say on the back of the car packed full of people and anything else they could fit in.


Katherine never learned to drive, though Kenny and Robert both took turns trying to teach her.   She didn’t really have her heart in it, and after a couple of minor mishaps in her sons’ driving ed classes, Katherine gave up trying to learn for good.   With her outgoing personality and her many friends, it didn’t really matter much; Katherine always managed to find ways to get to where she wanted to go.


Seventeen years separated the birth of Kenny the oldest child from the birth of Craig, the youngest.   By my estimation, Katherine had children home under her roof for nearly 40 years.  When her teenage children would go out at night, Katherine would never go to sleep until each one was safely home and accounted for, and her children knew it.


Her children enjoyed living at home so much that none of them moved out until the day they were married.   (In fact, Karen and her husband Bob spent their first week of vacation as working adults at Katherine and Hans’ house, relaxing in the backyard by the pool.)   Katherine remained a homemaker until the age of 55, at which point she went back into the workforce until she was 70 to help pay for the kids’ college education, taking the bus each day to Irvington General, where she worked first in the kitchen, and then later as a receptionist.


After Hans’ death on April 23, 1980,  Katherine remained in Irvington where so was so deeply rooted, spending much time babysitting her grandchildren.  Finally in1987, Katherine left Irvington to move to Brookside Apartments in  Parsippany in order to be nearer to her kids, her thirteen grandchildren and the great grandchildren she loved so.


It didn’t take long for Katherine to make an abundance of friends in her new community, becoming buddies with all sorts of people, including the Mayor Mimi Letts.  She joined our church and came to worship every Sunday and to United Methodist Women every month.  Year after year Katherine would win the prize for selling the most tickets to our church dinners to dozens of friends, while filling a table herself with family members.


The summer trips to Maine continued through the years, where Katherine would ride in her beloved motor boat, and play board games with her grandchildren at picnic table on the beach.  She loved to play cards with Bob, her favorite son in law.   Even though she was certain he cheated, she loved him just the same.


Every Easter Eve was spent at Karen and Bob’s house dying Easter Eggs with the generations.  She always enjoyed the little things in life.  Whatever she did, she had fun doing it.


Having shown such devotion to her family throughout her life, Katherine’s family showed great devotion to Katherine over the years as her remarkable vitality and mobility began to gradually decline.


Through it all she loved to eat; her favorite was her beloved “clams in a half shell.”   Once when Roger sent his mother into ecstasy by bringing her eighteen “clams in a half shell” to feast upon, she made it a point of calling up all his siblings to revel in the culinary delight she had just experienced, hoping perhaps, to lay down a not too subtle challenge to see if they might be inspired to outdo their brother in his devotion to his Mom.


In the last year of Katherine’s life as her energy began to falter and her attention wandered, her children exhibited their mother’s organizational ability in looking out for their needs.   Monday was Karen’s day to look out for her, which involved a trip to the beauty parlor every other week.  Tuesday was Roger’s day, and his visit  included a trip to the grocery store with his mother,  where Katherine would always take her time to carefully read labels before buying food, making sure it was made of good things.  Wednesday was Craig’s day, Thursday was Paul’s, and Friday was Robert’s.  Although housebound himself with health concerns of his own, Kenny, also known as “the Great Pouba”, would call his mother several times every day to remind her to have her meals, and catch her favorite t.v. shows.


Katherine enjoyed her life to the end, always ready for a joke or a smile, always ready for a drive in her son’s convertible with the top down, ready for a good dish of Taramasu, or a good long bath, always ready with a birthday card to drop in the mail to celebrate the life of all the people who had touched her life.   The last time I heard Katherine’s voice was about ten days ago on a message she left late at night on my answering machine, asking me to please send her a copy of the church directory so she could write cards to people for whom she didn’t have addresses.    As always, her voice sounded cheerful and warm.


I remember Katherine’s visit to our Church dinner this past October, so delighted to be back with so many people she enjoyed.  After the dinner Karen suggested a trip into the sanctuary, and Katherine suddenly was full of energy once more, dropping her handbag in the chair she had always sat in, abandoning her walker, and walking swiftly to the front of the church to gaze once more at the cross she had donated in loving memory of Hans.


This past Christmas Katherine made it to Karen’s for one more family party.  Full of adrenalin, and imploring Roger to give her a push from behind, she made it up the front steps, determined to be once more among the people she loved so.


She loved life, and she taught us all invaluable lessons that we would do well to remember as we bid Katherine farewell,  untill we all meet again on that far shore.


At Brookside, people would stop Katherine on the elevator and ask her,  “How come you’re always smiling?“  She would answer,  “Why not?  It doesn’t cost anything.”


There is a simple but profound piece of wisdom here that Katherine modeled throughout her life.  Happiness is, to a large extent, a choice.   We can focus on the negative or we can focus on the positive, and to a large extent, the choice is ours.  Katherine consistently chose to focus on the positive, and from such choices came a remarkably happy life.


When we meet people, we can choose to focus on their faults or we can focus on that within them that is lovable; Katherine consistently chose the latter.  She was remarkably open and accepting of people — all kinds of people, consistently refusing to align herself with exclusive cliques.  Here at our church we like to say, “There’s always room in the circle”; Katherine lived this.  There was always room in Katherine’s heart —  the circle of her love  She taught her family — she taught us all — how to love.