Woman of Substance: The Strength of Theresia

No, it’s not a typo, I really did mean to write Theresia with an i, because the formidable woman who bore that name would have celebrated her 120th birthday today. Theresia F, was born in the Black Forest, Germany in 1897 to humble beginnings. Life in the countryside was anything but easy, especially during the harsh winters that tend to plague the area year in and year out. Farming was a way of life at a time when water mills and spinning wheels were still very much part of everyone’s daily lives. The stuff of fairy tales? Perhaps not, but definitely a tale worth telling.

When her sister passed away due to unfortunate circumstances and left her husband with two small children to raise, Theresia did not hesitate to take care of the boys and eventually marry their father to take them under her protective wing. Eight children of her own later, raising all with limited means and bearing witness to World Wars I and II, Theresia developed unfathomable strength and faith in life, the community and her family.

She survived her husband, lost a son to WWII, and outlived the daughter who lived with her. Loved by her children and adored by the grandchildren, Theresia was the family matriarch who did not rule but was ever present. Curious, witty, prayerful, frugal but oh so generous with her affection, she lived to be 101. Her emotional fortitude was one thing, but the physical strength was also humbling. In her 80s she could still be found out in the fields digging up potatoes and could still put in a good day’s work, telling her grown son over 60 years old to go back in the house because the work was too hard for his back.

I had the honor of meeting her in 1992 for the first time, when she was no longer as mobile and both her eyesight and hearing were failing, thinking that she was one of the most adorable looking grandmothers one could ever meet. How I wish my daughter could have met her to understand where she gets some of her genes from!

On the day she turned 100, Oma, as we all called her, was being particularly stubborn. Surrounded by all her daughters, she couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, refusing to dress up in her Sunday best when it wasn’t a Sunday. But when told that the mayor was coming to visit her in honor of her 100 years, her eyes lit up and she kicked into gear, retorting “Well in that case, what are you all standing around for? Let’s get moving!”

Theresia left behind a legacy of inner strength, unwavering faith, and perseverance in the face of adversity. War and the absence of affluence were never a hindrance to happiness, making the most of what was available. One is never too old to get dirty and dig in the fields, or too young to walk over ten kilometers through the snow to visit an ailing husband in the hospital. We can’t hug her anymore, but the memory is honored, and the eternal smile lives on.

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