Mrs. Anna Snyder
June 23, 1916 – July 14, 2020
A Tribute to My Mother
Anna Ilg was born in her home, as were most babies back in 1916, on the 23rd of June. Home was 122 Bellevue Place, Yonkers, New York. She survived the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and did not succumb to Covid. She died July 14th as a result of old age. I speak today about her strength of character and disciplined mind, an inspiration to me and I hope to all of you.
She grew up in a world where farms surrounded the home. There were no refrigerators, no dishwashers, no supermarkets, no fast food. At best she had a phone with four parties sharing the same number. She and her mother Mae grew vegetables, canned, and pickled them for the winter, made jams and jellies, baked bread and made the family’s clothes.
She loved her older brother Henry – in recent years she recalled him as her best friend. As was characteristic of Anna throughout her 104 years, she cared for others. Henry had the newspaper route. Anna folded and delivered the papers with him. In 1929, when she was 13, the stock market crashed; her father, a rug designer, lost his job at the Alexander Smith Carpet Company. Times were hard. As a child of the depression, she learned frugality and the art of saving not just money, but everything that might have a potential use. In the 1930s, she Reduced Waste, Reused, Repaired and Recycled, before there was such a slogan! (This is why I have a garage full of 50+ year old tools, shovels, rakes and hundreds of Mason jars.)
Anna became known as Ann. She wanted to go to college but there was not enough money for both her and Henry who were close in age. He went to Stevens to study engineering and eventually after WWII, so did her much younger brother Bill. I believe she would have made a darn good engineer herself; she had no hesitation about fixing washing machines or other equipment. Despite no college, she took an extra year after graduating high school in 1934 to learn bookkeeping and secured her first job with the “lighting” company, which was what we called the electricity provider.
In or after1935, Ann took accounting courses at New York University, where she met my father, Lew Snyder, through her brother Henry who was his roommate. Lew was studying international finance, but he had to take an accounting course, one my mother was also taking. Guess who passed the exam -- Ann, not Lew. Later in life, Ann kept the budgets and the books and Lew never doubted her scrupulous balancing of the accounts. Mom and Dad were married on August 26, 1939, one week before Hitler marched into Poland, triggering the start of WWII.
The 1940s were not easy. Lew joined the Navy, brother Henry joined the Army, little brother Bill was drafted. Lew served on troop carriers in the North Atlantic, Henry had special and secret assignments, and Bill was shooting and being shot at in France. In 1943, Charlotte was born; while Mom cared for me (I hear I cried a lot), she also cared for her mom who was dying with cancer and her dad with heart problems. Ann carried on. Her mom died in 1945; her dad died in June 1948 and Henry in the fall that same year with leukemia, probably as a result of the war research he did. Ann continued to grow the vegetables, can and pickle them for the winter, make the jams and jellies and bake the bread. She was a fantastic seamstress – embroidered baby clothes, and then snowsuits and school clothes for me. Later on, she became proficient in needlepoint and upholstery. Call me if you need upholstery materials -- she saved them all.
In the early 1950’s, when brother Bill was at Stevens, Ann and Lew became honorary members of his fraternity and finally had fun -- dancing at the frat parties and throwing their own parties. Dad was the great dancer, but he always saved the waltz for Mom because she had the lovely long legs. Mom became a census taker for the 1950 census and then a bookkeeper for Johnston’s Florists in Dobbs Ferry, New York where they still are. We continued to live in the same house where Ann was born. It seemed a predictable, ordinary life. Great Auntie Beth hosted Thanksgiving, Great Aunt Emma did Christmas and Mom (in lieu of her Mom) did New Years. Mom and Dad played bridge with their friends. We hauled ice from the icehouse when needed, but we had a refrigerator; the milkman delivered the milk; we went to the A&P on Saturday mornings; I walked to the same public school as Ann and two of her teachers were mine too.
In the mid-50s, our lives changed, dramatically. Lew, tired of his long commute to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, began a new job with the Socony Vacuum Petroleum Maatschappij (that is company in Dutch) to establish a vocational training school for oil company workers in Sumatra, Indonesia, half way around the world from Yonkers. Dad moved first to the oil camp and company town in Pendopo; a few months later Mom and I followed. Before the move, Mom told me in an Otis elevator, these are made in Yonkers, so whenever you are in an elevator you are never far from home. Nowadays, there are other manufacturers of elevators, but every time I ride in an Otis elevator, I think of what Mom told me.
Our journey began by sailing out of NY Harbor bidding goodbye to the Statue of Liberty aboard on the SS. United States, first class courtesy of the oil company, to Southampton. We took our very first plane rides, over several days. BOAC from London to Rome, Beirut, Calcutta, and on to Singapore to the Raffles Hotel, a grand symbol of colonial luxury. Then a plane to Palembang and the oil company plane to Pendopo. Mom had a lovely house on stilts, so as not to flood with the tropical rains. There were bougainvillea everywhere and sometimes cobras. She now had a cook and a houseboy to follow her directions. She learned to play golf. She became an assistant to the only teacher at the one room schoolhouse. Mom visited the equator, saw Bali when there were very few tourists, and we cruised around the archipelago. Mom adored Indonesian food and had fond memories of our sojourn there. This experience changed all our lives and led to a hugely different lifestyle for Ann. Similar to helping her brother with his paper route, these days Mom carried the camera bag and the lenses, for Dad, the avid photographer. As always, she cared for others and remained ever frugal.
Mom and Dad left Sumatra in 1957 and returned to the family home in Yonkers. Dad joined the precursor to USAID in 1958 and Mom moved with him to Vientiane, Laos while I went to boarding school. Their time in Laos was more perilous than expected. As usual, Mom found a job, this time as a secretary with the US government. The first year they found time to travel, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Thailand and within Laos. During the second year, traveling became more difficult and by late1960, the Laotian civil war became more violent. Mom loved to tell the story of spending nights in the Embassy with a Marine to guard the documents and also help destroy them when the order came. By the time that came, she was in Bangkok, having a needed operation at the end of 1960. When the opposing forces missed their target, their house burned to the ground. Dad escaped Vientiane via bicycle, a boat across the Mekong River and a train to Bangkok, where he reunited with Mom in her hospital room.
It was in Vientiane that Mom and Dad met John and Daisy Withers with whom Mom shared a friendship for 60 years. John Jr speaking for the Withers family told me this week: We all held her in such high esteem as a person of unique dignity, intelligence, and grace. Even now, I recall with real appreciation that when I was a kid, she never spoke down to my brother or me in the way adults often did. Rather, she treated us with genuine interest and respect.
After Laos, they returned to the US in mid-1961, and moved to Anacostia in Washington, DC. Dad returned to civil service with the Navy. Mom landed a job at the Navy Finance Center and supervised the enlisted payroll. Determined to overcome the losses in Laos, Dad replaced all the special items of flatware and dishes for Mom. After a brief time in River Bend, Maryland, they moved to Fairfax, VA in 1966, where Mom has lived for the past fifty-four years.
Life continued with my marriage to Richard (Dick) in 1967. Mom and Dad came to visit us while Dick was studying in France and we organized the grand tour of France and Germany. Mom wanted to cruise down the Rhine. Dad reminded me then that because she rarely asked for anything, we should always pay attention, so the Rhine it was! Mom liked Dick from the start and as time passed, she loved him like a son.
In 1972, along came a granddaughter, Anne Marie, named after Mom. She agreed with one condition – “Okay, but you will NOT call me BIG Ann.” Mom made a Raggedy Ann for her granddaughter. When I asked how she decided to make Ann and not Andy, she said “I knew it would be a girl.” Later on, when her two great granddaughters were born, she had the skills at 89 and 90 years to make two more Raggedy Anns. We have all three.
Mom and Dad traveled and enjoyed life well, because Mom’s frugality and Lew’s wise investing along with Mom’s scrupulous records in the shoe box meant they had more than they needed. With Mom’s friend Vivian from the Navy Finance Center, they regularly visited St Michaels on the eastern shore and cracked crabs. They were active in the Little River Hills community association. Mom continued working until she realized Dad was dying, so she retired to take care of him. That was Mom.
After Lew’s death in 1989, her life took another striking turn. We agreed to travel every Christmas as that was a tough time for Mom, first to Morocco, then Indonesia and later Brazil, Argentina and Chile to use up all those Pan Am frequent flier miles. It was on this South American trip that she became Fofo to her granddaughter, meaning fluffy, in Portuguese and Spanish ― cuddly and loved. She kept that name for everyone in the family.
There was a new dimension to Mom. No longer quietly supporting her husband in the background, she took command of herself, the house, the finances, and her granddaughter whom we called Amy to avoid the “big Ann” issue. She and her friend Vivian regularly brought biscotti and cookies to Amy for all four years she was at Johns Hopkins. She adored Amy as only a grandmother can. Ann became more active in the church and every week helped cook the food to deliver to the homeless of Fairfax. She joined the Fairfax swimming club for seniors and swam once a week until she was in her early 90s. She went on cruises with the group at least once a year.
In the mid-90s I took a job with USAID’s regional office in Nairobi. Mom became an adventurous person; she came to visit me in Nairobi, going with me to Ethiopia on one of my assignment during one of her visits. When I went to work at the World Bank, Mom by now in her 80s made cookies every week for our team meetings. I am convinced the staff attended largely because of the cookies. She continued her help and kindness -- driving her neighbors to doctors’ appointments, taking care of her sister-in-law, and clearing out her apartment when she died and later that of her niece. Her neighbor Eileen recalls that Mrs. Snyder, as she was known to us, was very kind and tolerant. My girls reminded me that she was always their first port of call for trick or treating and the only house where full-sized candy bars were on offer. She was a brilliant person who was interesting and plainly independent and resourceful. Since 1980, we have celebrated her birthday every five years, with the special addition of 1999, because I did not want to tempt fate should she not make 100, but she did, her mind still sharp! As her hearing and eyesight declined, we gave Mom more help at home. Her feet knew every inch of her house and she did not need to see, so she and I never considered a nursing home, despite the opinions of others. Ann died peacefully in her home with the loving attention of her caregiver, Michelle Naas, her granddaughter, and me.
I asked her great granddaughters what they learned from Fofo. • Lily her second granddaughter said: Fofo was always so caring whenever she sensed something was wrong, she always tried to make things better. She was a happy person and I remember we found bunny ears and put them on her to make her day. She was so hard working always and even the little things showed me this, for example, doing the dishes despite her age.
• Charlotte her first great granddaughter said: I remember her trying to teach me and Lily how to put cases on pillows. We were not that interested, but it shows how she was always caring and wanted to teach us. I also recall her entertaining all my questions about when she was my age and how she would go home for lunch every day from school. Even at 100, she could not hear me very well, but when I brought her a doll, she would play with it with me.
In the past few days, Ann’s friends and relatives have shared their thoughts also. • A former neighbor wrote: She did not have an iron (or steel) spine, it must have been titanium. • Her cousin wrote: She had the indomitable Ilg spirit of "never give up". She was an inspiration. • My friend Wes wrote: I hear your voice crackling with acerbic affection at all our foibles, steadfast in your love for your daughter and family, sharing your precision of mind, sharply honed, like those who study quantum gravity or race cars. • A friend now 90 once asked her secret to a long life. Her answer: Keep moving. Just keep moving.
What has Ann taught us to guide us in the future? • Be kind, always, and help others whenever you can; • Reduce Waste, Reuse, Repair and Recycle; • Enjoy your life and share your talents with others; and • KEEP MOVING.
Sunday, July 19, 2020
Sunday, July 19, 2020