Clara Rihn, R.I.P., 12-17-03
Wednesday evening, I came home to the news on my answering machine that my "Grandma Clara" had passed away rather suddenly, probably as a complication of surgery on thrombotic leg veins that she was recuperating from. Clara Rihn was not my father's mother, in fact, she was Grandpa Earl's third wife. Dad's mother, Ella Zinke Rihn, and a baby sister both died as a result of injuries received in the explosion of a kerosene stove when my father was quite young, which resulted in Dad's being fostered with his maternal grandparents, George and Bertha Zinke. When Earl re-married to Evelyn he attempted to reclaim my father (Harold) from the Zinkes, but was driven off by George, so that my father continued to live with the Zinkes, while Earl established a new family with Evelyn, eventually begetting a daughter, my Aunt Edith. Earl and Evelyn were later divorced, and Earl married Clara, who had a child, Jack Koerner, from a previous marriage of her own, and eventually grandchildren on that side as well. So, as a boy I had: "Grandpa Zinke", who lived with us; "Grandma Lambert ", mother of my mother as well as an aunt and two uncles; and "Grandpa Earl and Grandma Clara," (The term "Grandpa Rihn" was reserved for Earl's father Alvin, and "Grandma Rihn" for the memory of his deceased spouse, who had been a notable termagant.) In the classic way of families who don't talk about certain things, it took us a while to learn that:
1) Clara was Earl's wife but not Harold's mother.
2) Harold's mother Emma was Grandpa Zinke's daughter.
2) Edith was Harold's half-sister, but not Clara's daughter either.
3) The Evelyn Rihn in the Baraboo phone book had been married to Earl at one time. (Although Edith showed up at family events, I never met Evelyn.)
4) Jack was Clara's son but not Earl's.
(Just to further complicate matters, Harry Lambert had married Elizabeth Clark (Grandma Lambert), and her brother, Great-uncle Robert Clark had married Harry's sister, Mary, so Elizabeth was Robert's sister and Mary's sister-in-law, and Harry was Mary's brother and Robert's brother-in-law. So much for classical linear nuclear families.)
Clara was the only paternal grandmother I ever knew, and she was good to us in a rather distant way. Grandma Lambert was the domestic, cookie-baking grandmother. Clara was younger, more social, more dressy in her fashion. She was a good wife to Earl, sharing his love of their small house in Baraboo, their succession of pampered cats, and, "camping" at their travel trailer which spent much of each summer at Devil's Lake State Park, where over the years Earl became almost an unofficial extra park ranger.
Now that she is gone, my family's oldest generation has all passed on. My father and Clara were never terribly close, but the loss comes at a hard time for him, with my mother's poor health meaning she is spending a second Christmas in rehabilitation care. The funeral will be Monday in Baraboo.