This past weekend marked the anniversary of my mother’s birth 100 years ago. Although I have written about her in a past blog called, Women of Distinction, I decided since this milestone date has arrived that she deserves to have her story told.
My mom, Dorothy Tomich Nothum, died in 1995, and had been ill for quite some time. I think I knew we would not have her around for long, and I did not want to lose the stories she had told us of her life. In 1994, I interviewed my mom for four evening, asking questions about her life. I put together a book written in first person (her telling her story), and I had her read it, make corrections to anything, especially the spelling of the foreign names.
Dorothy was born on November 17, 1918 in St. Louis, Missouri. She was name Darinka Tomich. Her nationality was Serbian, and later “Americanized” her name to Dorothy. She had no middle name. She was born at home, although shortly after birth, her mother began to hemorrhage, so they both were taken to City Hospital. Dorothy was named after her paternal grandmother, whose name was Darinka Paunov Tomich. Although she was a very loving grandmother, she was the matriarch of the family, was very domineering and directed everything in the family. I actually have stories from Dorothy’s mom (my grandmother) about the domineering character of this matriarch. Such stories may make an interesting future blog. Dorothy was the second child of four children, Angie, Dorothy, Gus, and Mary.
At six years old, Dorothy’s family moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to Granite City, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River. My grandfather was not a good business man and he struggled for years, and even losing their home during the depression. Dorothy said they were never in want of food, because of the huge garden they had, and canned food for the coming year. After the depression, my grandfather started working as a salesman for Hobart Corporation selling scales and meat slicers to butchers. He seemed to make an adequate living doing this.
Dorothy and her siblings went to public school. She talked about how she was shy and felt really poor around children who were talking about their family vacations. What opened up the world for my mom was discovering the local library. She loved to read and write poetry. She attended one day of high school. The students were required to purchase their books. Dorothy’s father was against girls going to high school. He thought they would all get pregnant attending high school (I guess I missed that class when I was in high school)! Knowing that her family was poor, and her father opposed to her attending, she decided it was a lost cause and never returned. I do know that was something she always regretted. She would tell me how she envied her younger sister, Mary, who told the principal that her father would not buy her books, so the school supplied them, and Mary got her high school diploma. Dorothy always wanted to have the courage of Mary, but my mom was the quiet one in the background.
When I was a kid my mom would always say that we were not allowed to do the kind of mischief she did as a child. Of course, that raised our curiosity, and we would ask her what she had done. When she would tell us her stories, we would just roll around laughing and not believing this was the quiet unassuming mom of ours, Here is a sample, in her words of some of her shenanigans:
- When I was about 5 years old and Gus was 3, he wanted to bring the horse in from the field. He wanted me to ask our father if it was okay. I didn’t go all the way in to ask, but I returned and told Gus that Dad said we could bring the horse in. We began to tug on the horse’s leg. All of a sudden the horse kicked and Gus flew into the air about 50 feet up. A neighbor saw this happen and ran over and caught Gus before he hit the ground.
- When I was about 9 years old I thew a lit match into an empty gas can. The can exploded and flew up in the air about 100 feet.
- When I was about 10 years old, my Uncle Walter came to our house and took the Sunday funnies away from me as I was reading them. I thought it was rude that he could just take it away from me, so I picked up a waffle iron and threw it at him. I missed him, but the waffle iron sailed though the plate glass window.
Now you can see why we girls would laugh so hard about this—this is not the lady we knew who was such a rule follower, but back in the day, watch out for Dorothy and possible projectiles!
Most folks you ask today how they learned to drive, they would tell you that one of their parents or a driver’s education class taught them. My mom was 14 years old when she learned to drive, and she was taught by her 12 year old brother, Gus. Good to know he survived the horse incident to give her driving lessons. Dorothy stated that when their parents would attend long members meetings at church, the kids had to wait for them outside. What else should one do, but get driving lessons in a Willys Knight automobile by your 12 year old brother.
At age 16, Dorothy experienced a life altering event. She was in an automobile accident, in which her aunt, who was her same age, her Uncle Walter (the annoying teenage uncle who took her funny papers), and his wife of less than 24 hours were killed instantly. Only Dorothy and her mom survived the accident. I won’t go into the details here, since they are published in Accidents Happen. I suggest you click the link and read that blog. It will give you an idea how our lives can change in an instant.
Dorothy was raised in a very religious family. Her mother was raised as a Catholic, and her father was raised in the Orthodox Christian tradition. I suppose as a compromise, they became protestants! They were members of the Apostolic Christian Church Nazarene. The church is a European based church, and in the United States tend to be smaller churches around major cities where Eastern Europeans have emigrated. Her father became a lay minister of the church. When her Uncle Walter started going to Ohio to court Anna, my mom and her family would travel with him, and she
had many life long friends from the church who lived in Ohio. Dorothy met my father, Andrew Nothum, at church in St. Louis, Missouri. Dating was something that was not in their vocabulary. They had a lot of get togethers with the other young people from the church. They made many outings with this young group of friends all around St. Louis, especially at Forest Park. When my mom started working as a bookkeeper, Andrew came to visit her at work when her boss was on vacation and stay there for hours. I find this extremely funny, because my dad became a business owner, and in my lifetime, if some young man came to company to visit a young lady, he would have put a stop to that! He was all business. But, when you are young, those are not in your thoughts, but courting the sweet young lady are!
Dorothy and Andrew married in 1942. They started their family with the birth of my sister, Marilyn, in 1943. Then Andrew was drafted into the army. His first assignment was Miami Beach, Florida. We girls used to chuckle about him spending 18 months at the Battle of Miami Beach. He had it pretty easy, exercising each morning on the beach with the military, working the rest fo the day in a clinic and as an ambulance driver. Dorothy moved to join him when Marilyn was a baby. When my mom would talk of those 18 months, you could tell that this was a really special time in their lives. Dorothy got pregnant with my sister Judy, about the same time that Andrew was now being shipped overseas. She moved back to St. Louis and lived with her sister, Mary, while my dad’s brother, Joe, who was married to my mom’s sister, was also sent overseas. My dad did not meet my sister, Judy, until she was around 9 months old.
I wasn’t born until 1948, and by that time, my dad was building our first home, on the property of his parents’ farm. I was 6 months old when they moved to this home. We stayed in this home until I was 6 years old, and we moved to the home in a subdivision my dad built in southwest St. Louis County. My dad by this time had become a building contractor.
Dorothy, with her bookkeeping background, became my dad’s business partner and office manager. I recall that years later one of my uncles told me that he attributes a lot of my dad’s success as a building contractor to Dorothy. He said she was a very smart and good business woman. I was very proud to hear my dad’s brother share those thoughts with me.
My parents’ business office was in our home until I was in the 7th grade when they finally moved to a separate location. Although, my mom worked full time with my dad, she was always home when I got home from school. The only days that we girls could not run in and out of the offices was on “Bid Days.” My dad would be bidding for the construction contract, usually a school edition or a church (the two specialties his company became). Those days the subcontractors would telephone in their bids. Dorothy, was a meticulous bookkeeper, so on bid days, she would have separate papers for each sub (masonry, plumbing, excavating, etc). She and my dad would take phone calls until 4:00 pm, at which they quit answering telephones. Dorothy and Andrew would sit down and go over each subcontractor’s bid. They would select the ones they wanted to use, and of course, then add their cost and profit to the total. We girls would be upstairs from their basement office, getting dinner prepared, as Dorothy is typing the letter perfect bid. The bid was complete, dinner was on the table, and we had our meal together. There was always an excitement in the air on bid days.
My dad would leave the table, and get cleaned up and dressed up to drive to the architect’s office for bid opening. Dorothy would line us girls up at the front door to give Dad a “good luck” kiss as he was exiting. Our parents instilled into us how important this bid day was. If they did not win the bid from another contractor who competed, we would have no income. It was a celebration atmosphere if Dad walked in later that evening and announce that Nothum Bros. Construction had won the bid! My parents always made us feel part of the business. It was very exciting for me, and still gives me as sweet feeling as I write about this.
The years moved on and Dorothy served as a great mother, great office manager, and a wonderful mother-in-law and grandmother. In December of 1972, shortly after my first son was born, she had her first medical crisis, and had to have a kidney removed. She was also diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Shortly after that, she retired from working full time with my dad. I am not sure she was really comfortable letting some other woman become the office manager. By this time my dad’s business was phasing out of construction to a manufacturing business that manufactured and sold the seamless gutter machine.
Dorothy became the grandmother who took the grandchildren to every Disney movie that came out. She fed my kids lots of McDonalds, Steak ’n’ Shake, and Danny’s Donuts. Her health was declining but she never declined an opportunity to be with all her grandchildren.
My mom, Dorothy Tomich Nothum, was my biggest ally. When I was going through the worst years of my life, when I didn’t think I could do another day, my mom never left my side. She encouraged me. She always told me that she loved me and that she was praying for me.
Dorothy was a quiet unassuming lady. She never took center stage, nor would she have wanted to. She was a prayer warrior. Her faith ran deep and she was not afraid to talk about it. She was never pushy, and she never tried to tell me how to live my life or how to raise my children. She was generous with her time and her money. She never forget anyone’s birthday. I can recall many, many times she came to my house to help me with sick children, babysat my kids on a school holiday when I had to work, and bring me groceries when I had none.
Dorothy had a small but loyal group of good friends. Her best friend had always been her sister, Mary. They both married into the same family, my mom marrying Andrew, and his younger brother, Joe, marrying Mary. With such a close family relationship, my sisters and I were able to enjoy years of relationship and fun with Mary & Joe’s seven children. We were one big family. When my mom died, my Aunt Mary took me under wing. We spend many evenings going out to dinner, watching movies, and talking for hours.
Dorothy Tomich Nothum was a great lady. She did not do anything earth-shattering. She just lived her life with deep faith, loving on everyone she met. She had a servant’s heart. She never expected anything in return for what she did. She liked if someone reciprocated, but she never did her deeds for that reason, nor did she expect repayment. Because of her faith in Christ Jesus, and her love for me, I found my way back. She was the most instrumental person in my life.
Thank you, Mom, for all the love you poured out on me. If I can be even half the loving mom to my sons, I will have done my job!