Mutti Would Have Been 100 Today

Elizabeth Josephine Walsh, née Pinke, would have been one hundred years old on March 19, 2018. Known as Betty, she was the youngest of eight children born to Joseph and Josephine Pinke, a Hungarian couple who emigrated to the United States near the end of the nineteenth century. Betty was born in Alabama, but the family moved to the newly incorporated city of Clifton when she was a toddler.

betty_walsh_with_four_boys
Betty Walsh with (l-r) Tim, Pat, Mike, and Brian. This photo was taken some time in 1958.

Citizenship papers belonging to Joseph Pinke show that he renounced his allegiance to the Emperor of Austria-Hungary and became a U.S. citizen. No such records exist for Josephine, his wife. Faithful Catholics, Joseph and Josephine occasionally attended a Hungarian church in nearby Passaic, but they sent their children to the local parish school in Clifton.

On New Year’s Eve in 1931 Joseph Pinke was injured in an automobile accident. The following summer he died of complications arising from his injuries. Betty, who had recently graduated eighth grade, was obliged to suspend her education so that she could help pay the bills. She worked as a seamstress for a while, following in the footsteps of her sister, Rose. Betty also took evening classes and earned a GED.

Seamstress work, and the proximity of an older sister who could only seem to see the mistakes that she made, led Betty to pursue other career options. She found work as a bookkeeper for a bus company and later a roofing company. She remained in the family home through the Depression years and into the war years that followed, providing and caring for her mother.

In 1945 Josephine fell ill. When she died she left Betty and Rose, both still single, as the only two members of the family still permanently installed in the family home. As the elder of the two, Rose inherited the house. Some time in early 1951 Betty met Ray Walsh, a single carpenter renting a room in a house a few doors away. It was after a nasty snowstorm and Ray lent a hand clearing the snow off the walks.

Betty and Ray married in July, 1951. He moved into the Pinke family home, intending to save up for a down payment on a house he and Betty could call their own. Four boys, Mike, Pat (yours truly), Tim, and Brian came along in quick succession. The down payment never came together, and Ray and Betty continued to live with Rose and raise their sons in the Pinke house.

Mike, Tim, Brian, and I eventually bought homes of our own. Ray died in 1994. In the fall of that year Betty, whom we referred to as Mutti, was found to have ovarian cancer. It was too late in the course of the disease to consider surgery, and chemotherapy slowed the disease only briefly. Betty entered hospice on Valentine’s Day 1996. She lived four days past the six months that Medicare allowed for hospice care. She died in what had been the dining room of the family home, her sons by her bedside.

Like many people who came of age during the Depression and endured the sacrifices that civilians were obliged to make during the Second World War, Betty lived simply. Thrift, the art of making do and getting by with less, and self-reliance defined her life. There was little that would make her cry. The only time I remember seeing her shed tears was during JFK’s funeral in 1963. My wife saw tears on one other occasion.

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