Friday, December 23, 2016

Josephine Marceline DeBuysscher DeYonker

My mother, Josephine Marceline DeBuysscher DeYonker was born December 25, 1931 in Denderhoutem, BE and died October 14, 2016 in Clinton Township, MI.

My mother was many things to many different people. She was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister-in-law, a friend, a business woman running a bar so her children could have food on the table, she was an inspector for the shopping news, a saleswoman at Jacobsons; she had us deliver telephone books to earn more money; she sold real estate; she was a Girl Scout leader, Cookie Manager, Auction presenter, a Cub Scout leader, a bowler, a golfer. She was the head of her MS Caregivers Support Group. She served on the board of her Condo, was an usher at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts; she did Pet a Pet with her puppy, Tootsie. She was a Belgian meeter upperer, a caretaker and the Queen of the Deal. 

For me, she was a profuse story teller and a prolific letter writer and full of pithy sayings.  Around the time I was 11, we used to sit on the porch of our house on Alter Rd late into the night where she would tell me about her life, her family and her friends. Starting from the first time I went away, which was to camp in 1967, she wrote me copious amounts of letters. I still have most of them. After the advent of the computer and less expensive telephone communications and perhaps her busy life as a caretaker of my dad, the letters dropped off, except for birthday and holiday greetings. Those old letters and stories bring her alive for me so as a tribute to her, through a series of stories and reminisces and later when I have more time, her letters, I am going to tell you what I remember about mom and her life. 


As I said in the beginning, my mother was many things to many people. She loved selling real estate. She loved being part of the MS Caregivers group and there was the place that she found the most meaning and the most support and recognition and perhaps her closest friends. She always tried to be fair with us kids and she tried to be part of as many of our activities as she could. She tried to teach us responsibility by finding us jobs and by lending us money (and getting it back) from the National Bank of Josie.  She clipped coupons and got deals and she shared that whenever she could. My mother could be very generous; when I had cancer she sent me money every month for two years even though she and my father lived on their own limited income. She tried to stay current in so many ways by doing online banking and using her DVR to record shows and being on Facebook. She had one of the first Kindles to come out and was an avid reader. There are so many more things I still want to say and to tell you. 

Her mother died on the eve of her 24th birthday, a young mother and a young wife and it was Christmas eve, as well. My mother was an only child and most of her relatives lived in Belgium. My father and her father were not helpful that night. Somehow my mother pulled it together and took care of everything. In so many ways she always took care of everything She was truly the strongest person I have ever known. 

I leave you with her favorite Mother Goose Rhyme. "There was a little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very, very good. And when she was bad, she was horrid."

The Girl Scouts

My mother was a Brownie Leader and a Cadet and Senior Girl Scout Leader, the cookie mother, the fund raiser mother, you name it, she did it.  I think they told her that in order for her child to be in the Girl Scouts, she had to be a leader.  And so she did. 

We made ashtrays with stamps as the design and felt backing; we also made a water blotter for stamps out of a pill bottle with a sponge sewn to the cap, and everything imaginable out of a bleach bottle; another time she had us crocheting rugs.  I remember when she was the cookie mom, we had a garage full of cookies.
But, the thing that stands out the most in my mind was when I was on the Senior Planning Board and we were planning a camping event and I couldn’t get enough chaperones. My mother hates camping and sleeping on the ground.  But she had become troop camp certified along the way and volunteered to go along on the trip. Even though it was pouring rain and cold all weekend and she was sick as a dog, she came and she stayed in a tent and slept on the ground and we couldn’t have done it without her.  These limited words really don't do justice to the love she gave me and this gift of belonging to something greater than myself. 
My mother gave me the Girl Scouts and being a part of the Girl Scouts saved my young life

The Bar Years

My father was always looking for a business to own.  During lunch and after work he’d scout around for different businesses to buy.  Then he found the Au Sable Lounge on Warren Ave in Detroit.  And, my mother being a woman of her era went along for the ride…and she allowed my dad to use their savings to buy this business.  My parents originally had another partner, but my mother didn’t like the other woman, something about a dispute over the curtains, and she told my father to buy them out.  And so he did.

 I remember her hauling cartons of booze in and out of the back, managing the bar by day and being hostess with the mostest in the evenings.  This was the era of beehive hairdos and jackie o clothing styles.  Sometimes on special occasions like the bar’s anniversary, Mom would dress us up and we got to sit in the front and listen to the Peter Paar trio.  One time I remember a friend and I stopped by the bar after school and my mom let us sit at the bar and drink cokes and eat pistachios.  She told this friend not to tell her mother she was there.

My parents used to allow their customers to run bar tabs.  I clearly remember mom taking us kids to someone’s house and having us stand on the porch while she rang the bell. When the lady came to the door she told this woman that her husband owed the Au Sable money and her children (us kids) needed shoes. To this day in my own business I have only gotten stiffed once and I think it is because I saw that it’s ok to go and get the money people owe you. 

My mother ran the bar. She was the backbone and the brains of the operation. While they were successful bar owners, raising children and running a bar don’t always mix well, and so the bar years came to an end.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mom and Dad

My parents met by accident while cruising down the street. You could say they picked each other up!  My mother and her friend Lois Hilgendorf had just finished playing tennis at Chandler Park and were riding their bikes home along Chandler Park Drive. My father and his buddy Bob Patrick were cruising along in my father’s ’39 Mercury convertible.  Lois recognized Bob, a friend of her cousin Joe Hannah, from a gathering with the Argonauts (the name my father’s group called themselves).  They struck up a brief conversation and the boys followed the girls to my mom’s house on Alter Rd.

They were 19 and 20 years old when they got married. Before they got married, he had a bunch of traffic tickets in the glove compartment box of his car; and, you know my mother, she made sure the tickets were paid before they were married. And that set up a pattern of care taking she took on for the rest of her life. She always had someone to take care of until the last several years of her life…….

Right after they got married, my father was drafted into the Korean conflict. Luckily, he went to Germany. She lived with her parents while he was in Europe and I am sure her parents were still cutting her steak and taking the seeds out of her watermelon while he was gone. She didn’t know how to cook when they got married and all he knew how to cook were hamburgers. Early on they lived with her parents and grandma cooked.  Mom eventually became a very good cook and baker and loved to experiment—like the time she cooked smelt.  That did not go over very well with her meat and potatoes with mushy vegetables out of a can family, but she kept forging ahead with new recipes anyway.

My parents were the quintessential partiers. They worked hard and partied harder.  There was always something going on—the Belgian club they belonged to –“the Wiener Roast” had parties with costume and food prep that went along with it—mom sewing away in the basement, her and her friends making their themed costumes-one year Cannibals, another year Sheiks and Belly Dancers, Flamingo Dancers and Bull fighters. There was dancing, games, holiday parties, anniversary parties at the bar, bbq’s; my mom was very creative.  In the neighborhood where we grew up, they had a tradition of giving ice cream cones out to all the kids on your birthday.  One year mom decided to try some ice cream shakes she had seen in a magazine.  One of the neighbor ladies was a little jealous, I think.  But it was very cool……

My father, always full of energy and ideas, looking for something new and exciting to do, bought a cottage on Pratt Lake in Gladwin, MI.  My mother being a woman of her era went along for the ride—and what a ride it was. They used to put us in the car early, early in the morning still in our pj’s, some of us would sleep on the floor of the car.  Those were the days before the expressway and they took the back roads.  And my father never stopped for anything, so my brothers’ used to pee in a plastic bag and as I recall, my mom threw the bags out the window!

I clearly remember the pin worm epidemic.  I’m not saying who brought them in, but whenever we were scratching our itchy butts mom was there with a flashlight.  And late one night on Pratt Lake she found them.  And then after reacting she figured out a solution and everyone at the cottage took pinworm medicine.  The amount you took was determined by your weight; Max Schmiglitz who was a pretty heavy guy took alot. 

Mom and Aunt Pat took us kids up there during the week and the men would join us on the weekends.  One time in the four door Buick, Mom and Aunt Pat brought me, Timmy, Linda, Bobbi, Terry, Marty, Randy Paul Patrick and little baby Raymie.  There were kids all over the car….and then there was the ringer washing machine.  ….eventually the mice won out and Mom and Dad sold the cottage.  Two houses are not necessarily better than one.

Mom as Mother

When I was a little girl, the sun rose and set on my mother.  She was so beautiful.  I remember watching her get dressed, put on her makeup, the girdle, the nylons, the tight dresses and the high heel shoes.  I clearly remember the beehive hairdo and the pink dress with the neru collar.  She was always stylin’ that Josie DeYonker—always looking good in the latest fashion and a new hair color and hair style for every season….we must have gone to Udell’s beauty shop every Saturday for most of our young lives and sat there reading magazines and running around and pretending we were getting our hair dry sitting under the hair dryers while Mom got her hair done.

In the summertime when we were very young and it was hot outside, she’d give us a bath in the concrete tub in the basement, dry us off, comb our hair and then put our pj’s on and let us sit on the front porch watching the cars go by, taking in the scenery and the other kids playing.  We were in bed by 7pm.  We would say, “But the Marchioni’s are still playing”, and Mom would say, “Well you’re not a Marchioni”.  Indeed we are not.  Later as we got a little older she’d send us outside to play and tell us not to come back until the street lights were on!

Mom couldn't carry a tune, but she always sang with us anyway, the Itsy Bitsy Spider, This Old Man, I’m a Little Tea Pot, When You Wish Upon A Star ....Just before bed, Mom would read us a story, Mother Goose, the Little Golden Books and Dr Suess….., and then we would say our prayers-“Oh angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits thee here, ever this day be at my side to light, to love, to help and guide.”  And then we would ask God to bless our mother and our father, our sisters and our brothers, our grandmas and grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, God bless everybody in the whole wide world and God bless us (me).  Then she would cross our foreheads-God bless you and God keep you (in Flemish, of course, which sounds like, but isn’t necessarily spelled- het zey-ende and het pawoulda).

Our house was always clean and well organized in my memory.  Every Spring or was it Summer, my mother would take the dining room table out into the backyard and hose it down and take a toothpick to get the dirt out of the grooves.  She is Belgian, after all, and in the old country not only do they wash their sidewalks, the women iron underwear, too.  Phew that is some cultural mandate to live up to…..good thing she got over that ;-)!
Mom used to take us grocery shopping one at a time.  To avoid the other kids, she would sneak one of us out of the house by taking our pj’s with us down toward the basement and pretend she was just going to get us ready for bed.  And then we would sneak out and just be with Mom. 

Jacobsen’s was my mother’s favorite department store and after the shopping, we’d go get something to eat, usually a Sanders hot fudge ice cream sundae.  


Her father, Alphonse Raymond DeBuysscher, first came to America in 1912 through Ellis Island. He left Belgium over a dispute with his brother about milking the cows (or so the story goes) and decided to find adventure and opportunity in this land whose streets were paved with gold.  When he left Belgium he was making $5 a day, but when he got to America he only made $5 a week.  A son of a farmer, he was a lumberjack and then a brick layer. He traveled to and from Belgium several times. 

At some point he returned to Belgium to find a good Belgian woman to marry, Clementine Delphine Peleman.  They migrated to the US together this time via Canada, walking over the frozen lake between Sarnia and Port Huron. It was the Detroit area where Raymond still had property and they both had relatives.  When Clementine became pregnant with my mother, Josie, they returned once again to Belgium so my grandmother could be surrounded by her sisters and family.  My grandmother worked for the Doctor as his house keeper and my grandfather was driving a delivery truck between Holland and France. 

Most likely my grandparents would have stayed in Belgium, but, grandpa heard along his route that Hitler was heading toward Belgium….and so they prepared to take their family to the US.  My grandfather still had property here in the United States and he knew someone who could get them passage on the boat and so they returned here once again. My mother was sad to leave her relatives in Belgium. She especially missed sitting on her grandfather’s lap at the cafĂ© and the candy he gave her.

Some of her earliest recollections are of the gypsies, the kernel of corn in her nose and the booma man. One day when her mother was working her cleaning job for the doctor, my then 2 and a half year old mother stuck a kernel of corn up her nose and  had to be rushed to the doctor to pull it out. Another story she liked to tell was of the gypsies. The older girls would walk my mother to school and they would always warn her that the gypsies liked to steal little, blonde haired girls, like her, no doubt. One day the gypsies with their tents and wagons came to town and the girls, looking through the fence showed my mother one of the women holding a blonde haired baby. Then there is the coming over on the boat story and seeing her first African American and thinking he was the Booma Man.  The only black men in Belgium were from England and apparently sold a particular candy and naturally her five year old mind associated this man in this country with those men in that country.

Early Life State Side

Life was not so easy in the beginning for my 5 year old mother. No one at school spoke her language and many children made fun of her, “Speak English, Josie” her parents said.   Even her cousins who lived here teased her because of her language.  She told me she felt awkward, uncomfortable and out of place. As so many immigrant children do, she eventually learned the language and adjusted to life in America. But she always longed for her family so far away in Belgium…..because she was so young, she didn’t understand the danger in Europe and that coming here was a gift her parents gave her.

My mother loved the movies.  There was usually a newsreel, a double feature and prizes. As mom became more and more Americanized she loved the movie stars, too. She had a collection of autographed pictures of movie stars she kept in a scrap book.  In fact, she wanted to be a movie star.  So much so, that when she was in high school one of the nuns used to practice public speaking, primarily elocution, with her in the cafeteria, trying to get her to speak more loudly and clearly. Mom would stand on one side of the cafeteria and the nun would stand on the other side. “Speak out, Josie.” Alas, the life of a movie star was not in the cards for Josie.

When she was in high school she wanted to work and her mother didn’t want her to work. They argued and finally, her father convinced her mother that it was a good thing to work and so she was allowed to get a job.  Unfortunately, the only work related story I recall is that she was working at a Dry Cleaners and she got fired because her and her friend were drinking beer at the store. Of course, it was not a crime in the Belgian community for young people to drink beer…..but drinking on the job, in America, not such a good idea.

Her life as an avid coupon cutter and discount seeker also started in High School when a nun handed her a magazine that had discount coupons in the back. With those coupons you could get free things, what, she couldn’t recall when I asked her about it recently. She graduated to S&S Green Stamps and eventually became the queen of the deal.

Just like so many American girls of the time she was boy crazy and thought of herself as being a “pussy cat” (her words, not mine!). One of my friends, back in the early 70’s, and I found a diary of hers in the attic and one of the entries was, “I met a new boy at the movies today, Hubba, Hubba.”  She loved going to the Belgian American Club with her parents to go dancing with all the Belgian boys.  Sometimes at night she would sneak out the window to go meet up with her friends, when her mom specifically told her she had to stay in. I think it was between her Junior year and Senior year in High School that they went back to Belgium for three months and you can bet she had Belgian boyfriend(s) then. Her mother wanted her to marry a nice Belgian boy. When she met my father, Eugene Frank DeYonker, her mom was very unhappy to discover that he wasn’t really Belgian. But, my mother married him anyway—at the ripe young age of 19!