Mother, matriarch, lover of cards and grilled cheese. Born Oct. 20, 1913, in Glowinsk, Poland, died Sept. 14, 2012, in Ottawa of natural causes, aged 98.
Perhaps it came from surviving bombing raids during the First World War – hidden in garbage cans with other children. Or maybe from losing two babies of her own after having two daughters and before adding two sons. Somewhere along the way, Frieda Schultz learned that there is always a brighter day ahead.
Those who knew her could always count on her sense of humour to take the chill off the darkest day.
She was born Frieda Leichnitz in Glowinsk, Poland, when it was part of Russia. She emigrated to Canada in 1924 as a child of 11, and at 23 secretly married Eric Schultz. They lived apart until they could afford to buy their first home, in downtown Ottawa.
They were both ethnic German, Eric having grown up an hour’s walk from Frieda’s childhood home. Starting their family under the shadow of the Second World War, they suppressed their mother tongue, lost their accents and raised their family as Canadian as could be.
Frieda worked as a nanny in Ottawa’s finer homes while Eric pursued a career as a cabinet maker in the federal government. Frieda developed a deep distaste for houseplants – “You have to dust the things” – balanced by a love of fine furniture.
They lived frugally, and amassed a collection of rental and vacation properties that afforded them a long and very comfortable retirement.
Frieda never had a driver’s licence. When they were in their late 60s, she gave Eric a hard time when he bought yet another well-appointed but moderate sedan car. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, just buy me a Cadillac,” she said. “How many more cars do you think you’ll own anyway?”
The day before she buried Eric, 15 years before her own passing, she pulled her grandson over to Eric’s open casket for a tour of the workmanship.
“Grandpa made some of the most beautiful furniture I’ve ever seen,” she said. “This here is mahogany, his favourite wood. He never would have wanted to spend this much – but he deserved it. He looks good in it, doesn’t he?”
Later that same night, over a plate of barbecue chicken, she winked at her family and said: “Do you think now I can get my Cadillac?”
When, at 96, Frieda moved to a retirement home, she loved to have family members visit for meals. She would point out the dining room décor and the hearty menu selections, order a grilled cheese and whisper, “I only hope it isn’t for too long.”
She grew so weak that she needed a little crane to move her from bed to chair. She would sit there in her wheelchair, wrapped in a sling, feeding herself with her one good arm and crack, “See? I’m a basket case!”
Her muscles abandoned her, but Frieda ate heartily to the puréed end. In her final days, her voice lost weeks before, barely able to nod and squeeze a hand in recognition, Frieda still managed to communicate what she saw as the absurdity of living quite so long. And she’d laugh about it, until there were tears in her eyes.
Rob Brunet is Frieda’s grandson and godson.