A tribute to our mother by my brother Larry Wolfe.
“The Life and Times of Irene Violet (Anspach) Wolfe”
It was the day after Christmas in the year 1922, and even though it was the day after The Lord Jesus Christ’s birthday is celebrated, one of the greatest gifts to me, next to my wife and The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, was born into the world. It was the day my mother Irene Violet (Anspach) Wolfe was born! Born to Margaret Soliday and Clarence Anspach near Indiantown Gap, PA she was the first of their seven children, five girls and two boys. Mom’s Mother, Grandma’ Anspach was the glue that held together their family and Mom learned much from her Mother and her steadfast Christian faith which she learned from her Mother Grandma’ Soliday.
Mom, the oldest, was educated in a one-room schoolhouse along with her siblings, Minnie, John, Wayne, Dorothy and Betty Lou (Mary Anne [youngest] died as an infant) who all appear on a school picture we have except for Dorothy & Betty Lou because they were more than seven years younger than Mom. The school only accommodated the first eight grades! Did I say only? Eight grades with one teacher seems like an impossibility but it was the right combination for learning as these schools produced many top notch students, which if I may brag a bit on Mom, she was one of them.
She showed us her ‘Straight A’ report card many a time when we, me and my brothers, were draggin’ behind! We still have that report card of hers and the school picture to remind us of her determined ‘Get the job done’ outlook on life. You can almost see it in her expression in her eighth-grade picture! Her name, Irene, means ‘Peace’ in the Greek language, but peace never seemed to be something she possessed. Her life since I can remember was filled with turmoil, for the most part due to her father, a reckless sometimes ruthless man, and a wayward veteran of World War II, her husband, my father Warren A. Wolfe.
Although Dad was described as a friendly, likeable guy by those who knew him, he definitely came home from the war, a different guy, with a multitude of bad habits including a dependence on alcohol. Drink and the surrounding lifestyle it brings wrecked our home for it was his priority, not his family.
Mom had to go to work to pay the bills and put food on the table before I was in school, and that was only the beginning! We lived in Fredericksburg, PA then, although Dad and Uncle, my mom’s Uncle John, tried to make it in D.C. working in a large supermarket, while we commuted, movin’ on, from an apartment in D.C. to Fredericksburg. The ’41 Buick Mom drove back and forth on the weekends was the first vehicle we owned that I can remember, and Mom knew how to get us home in that ‘ol straight eight, the first car she dubbed: ‘The Jet’.
My twin brothers, Bruce and Brian, were born in October of 1951 while we lived in Fredericksburg. My oldest brother Warren Jr. was eight years old and I was six. We lived in a right nice Cape Cod brick ranch which they bought with G.I.bill money. You had a choice, higher education or a lump sum of money. They chose the money for a down payment on our beautiful brick home.
We walked to school through the town of Fredericksburg, past one of the first cut-up poultry plants in the USA, but it wasn’t long until we moved to Ono, PA where ‘Butch’ later nicknamed ‘Pooch’ (Warren Jr.) and I walked to a one room schoolhouse just across new Rte. 22. We lost our home in Fredericksburg through a storm window scam which caused us not to be able to make the mortgage and the payment on the windows. So, our home was sold, and we used the minimal equity to buy another place in the area.
The twins were still in their high-chairs, just one-year old babies, when we arrived in Ono, only a few miles from Fredericksburg. Pooch and I didn’t realize it then, but Dad was now ‘On the run’, owing money to other creditors! Before we knew it we were living in Annville, renting a house on Sheridan Avenue, no longer owning our home as Dad drank away the money from the sale of our house in Ono. All this in just a few short years…the spring of 1952 to the winter of 1953!
We stayed in Annville for only a couple of months it seemed, and suddenly one day when we came home from school, Dad and Mom were packing up for yet another move, throwing ‘stuff’ into cardboard boxes! The dreadful toll it took on Mom was beginning to surface. She lost most of her lovely belongings and all of her dreams in just a few short but tragic years. It was now the summer of 1954 our next destination was a two-story frame house ‘In the curve’ back in Greenpoint, a few miles from Dad’s home and birthplace.
December 14th, 1954 Mom had a ‘Nervous breakdown’ and was committed to Wernersville, the state mental institution! Pooch was eleven and I was almost ten, and we moved in with Grandma’ Harriet my Dad’s mother who lived in Greenpoint. The twins just turned three years old and they went to Mom’s family. She was released six months later and briefly moved in with her parents, Grandma’ and Grandpa’ Anspach and my Aunt Betty mom’s youngest sister who was just a few months younger than Pooch. This was Mom’s attempt to get away from Dad, and, of course us four kids went with her.
Dad and Mom were now separated. A few weeks later we moved into Billy Stichler’s ‘Trolley-car like’ three rooms in a row cabin in the Appalachian mountains just a mile or so from Grandma & Grandpa Anspach’s place. No running water, just a spring out in the woods, a woodstove, and plenty of wood to chop for us young-uns’! I can still remember the Christmas we spent there in 1955, Pooch’s most memorable he told me recently.
He and I went out into the snowy woods looking for a Christmas tree that would be suitable for Mom and us kids. We topped a few hemlocks after we couldn’t find anything else, and finally, chilled to the bone, we drug (One of the topped hemlocks) home. With scarcely any of her belongings intact after the harrowing experiences she had gone through in just the past couple of years, Mom gathered ‘Her boys’ together and we had a Christmas regardless of how the outward circumstances seemed!
But, Mom wasn’t really in the best mental/spiritual condition after her stay in Wernersville, and the ‘Cabin experience’ was really hectic with Mom driving Pooch and I to school in Hershey, saying that the ‘One room school’ where she went to school wasn’t good enough for her boys. Her old one room schoolhouse a couple of miles down the road is where Pooch and I were going to school at the time. The twins turned four while we lived there and finally got rid of their baby bottles, throwing them out into the deep snow one wintry afternoon!
I remember Dad visiting on one occasion driving a black ’40 Ford four door sedan, and after the dust cleared, he went on his way with one half of the windshield broken thanks to Mom’s pot! Mom and Dad somehow reconciled, and eventually they got back together early in 1956. Mom was only thirty-three! What a life!
We were movin’ on, on the road again, moving to a huge farmhouse north of Annville we called Herr’s, which was the name of the other family that rented the opposite side. It was while we lived there in the spring of 1956 that Grandpa A. J. Wolfe (Our Great-Grandpa who owned the store in Greenpoint) died! It was the first death in the family that I can remember and it had a somber effect on us all, especially me as I spent a few summer’s day at Grandpa’ and Grandma’ Wolfe’s place enjoying the beauty and blessedness that was there.
We stayed at Herr’s less than a year, once again movin’ on, on the road again, moving into a garage on old Rte 22 near Ono that had an upstairs where we slept. That’s right…a GARAGE! The downstairs was wide open, concrete floors, with a garage door on one wall. It was now the winter of 1957 and Mom’s fifth child, my brother Frederick John, was born on February 21st. Pooch and I treated Freddy like a new toy when he was in his playpen, flashing the camera causing him to throw back his arms…he hasn’t gotten over it since, HAH!
Grandma Harriet was there to help Mom during the first few weeks of Fred’s life, and handily caught Pooch and me playing hooky from school to boot! The twins would turn six in October so off to school they went in September. You guessed it, a one room school was where they started, about a quarter of a mile from where we lived on old Rte.22. I’ll never forget the day Mom dressed them and they just walked out the door, by themselves, off to school as though they had been doing it for years! But, that was life in the ‘50’s.
Dad was working in Harrisburg doing interior and exterior painting and somehow decided that we should live closer to his work, so after awhile we were movin’ on, on the road again. It was early in 1958 when we moved to Piketown in the mountains of Dauphin County north of Harrisburg. Mom and Dad bought another home with the help of our Great-Grandma Kate Wolfe and it was here that we, the whole family, lived for the longest period together as a family, early spring of 1958 to the spring of 1962, a little over four years!
It was also here that Pooch and I received a sound high school education in a good school with the twins attending a modern elementary school in West Hanover township. Fred would start school down the road a little later, and have the privilege of attending one school system for all of his school days! Mom’s last son my youngest brother Steve would also have this same blessing of living in one place most of his childhood days, due to Mom’s determination to keep her boys together and raise them the best she could.
Pooch graduated from Central Dauphin High School in 1961, but before he did, Dad kicked him out of the house! This was a traumatic event for Mom and the rest of us kids. Our family was splitting up, it seemed, and turmoil abounded! Pooch moved in with his future in-laws, having dated his future wife, Thelma Moyer, for over a year and soon joined the Navy. But, he was still a strong influence on our family even though he was away for quite a while. He served his country for four years during the build-up to the Vietnam war.
I graduated in 1962, but three months before that happened Mom separated from Dad permanently and divorced him not long after their twentieth wedding anniversary, February 28th, when she was only thirty-nine years of age! Her boys were her priority, and she decided it was time to get a place of her own! We moved on once more into another old farmhouse near Grantville on old Rte.22 where we once again rented one half. This was the twelfth place we had lived in ten short years if you count our stays at the two Grandma’s! I think we were called to be ‘Professional Nomads’ hah!! Maybe that’s the reason we’re so comfortable ‘On the road’!
The twins and I finished our school year commuting in a ’48 Chevy tudor Fleetline I bought for $75 from U.J.(Uncle John) but it barely lasted me the three months we needed it to get the job done. True to U.J.’s prophecy, the engine blew, throwing a rod out the side, when I exceeded its previous owner’s limits, which was ’50 mph and no faster’ I remember U.J. saying! Hahahah…that limit lasted only about two weeks, and the old Chevy couldn’t take the pressure of 65mph on new Rte. 22, the only four-lane highway in the area! U.J. the prophet, no?
But, thankfully, Mom’s moving days were almost over. She gave birth to her sixth and last son, my brother Steve, while living there in Grantville in 1966. She lived there for six years, the longest she ever lived in one place since she was a child, until Pooch bought her a mobile home in 1968 and set it up on a beautiful piece of land overlooking the valley where she spent her most carefree and peaceful days.
She lived there twenty-three years, some of the happiest days of her life, in a place which was truly her own, to move on no more…except for her final trip, the one she made to heaven in October of 1991…movin’ on no more…no more tears…resting in the arms of Jesus…Irene…our Mom found PEACE at last! In those sixty-eight plus years Mom spent on this earth, some would say she didn’t amount to much. But, when viewed from God’s vantage point, we will easily recognize that God used her to keep her boys together and influence them all for eternity! Now I’m surely not trying to paint a picture of Mom the ‘Saint’, because she certainly was not, even though she did become a saint, a born-again child of God!
No, she had her faults to which we all would admit, but her determined mindset to do what she could to keep her boys together and raise them the best she could was one of the keys to her great success as a Mother, which is probably the greatest single calling anyone can have here on Earth! It was this driving desire to see her boys turn out to be good that caused her to send Pooch and I to confirmation classes at Faith United Church of Christ in Grantville in the summer of 1958. At the end of these religious training classes we went to a revival meeting at the Methodist Church by Memorial Lake.
Pooch, Aunt Betty and I attended, and we all ‘went forward’ to the altar in response to the fiery Gospel preaching of Pastor Arthur Miller. And when the invitation was given Pooch was born again, yes, by faith he received the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior at age 15 and this single event not only made him an eternal child of God, but it influenced the rest of our family for all of eternity!
It was Pooch that led Brian to the Lord in the spring of 1975 up at Pooch and Thelma’s cabin and he too was born again becoming a child of God! It was Pooch that told me ‘to read the Gospel of John if I ever had any questions about God’. And, after attending a powerful Bible Seminar in 1979, the Lord led me to read the Bible Betsy bought me when I was desperate/suicidal in 1980 after struggling with drugs and alcohol addiction for almostt 15 years!
It was while reading the Gospel of John that I was born again and miraculously delivered from the penalty and power of sin! Fred also was saved in 1980 while attending this Bible seminar in Hershey, PA. And so, the loving, sacrificial influence of Mom, putting us in the right place at the right time became the very reason why we, ‘Irene’s boys’ as we were called by the people in the area, are children of God today! Yes, it was and still is the miraculous working of God throughout the history of our family that is the MAIN reason why we can truly say today, “To God be the glory, great things He hath done!!” As one Bible Preacher has rightly said: “It takes a thousand pounds of Preacher to equal one ounce of Mother”, Amen and Amen!
Evangelist/Chaplain L. E. ‘The Wolfman’ Wolfe
I-85 Exit 35 ‘McPilot’