My Mother

My Mother – Emily Bruen

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My mother, Emily, was born in 1918 in Montclair, New Jersey to Olive Webb and Theodore Bruen. Her mother, Olive was a violinist who graduated from Juilliard Music School and her father was an insurance salesman. My mother was an accomplished pianist and also played the bass violin in her high school symphony orchestra. Sometime during the early years of the depression, her parents separated and my mother was never able to pursue her music education. At age 19 she had to go to work as a stenographer for a legal firm in Newark, NJ to support herself and her mother. Shortly thereafter, in 1937 she married Wallace Eric Anderson, a machinist. He was known as “Andy” and was of Swedish descent. I’m guessing her mother went to live with them and caused some friction in the household because my mother blamed Olive for Andy leaving her. They divorced in 1940.

Soon thereafter my father, Everett Regel, met my mother. He was a business manager, but also a music lover and sang with the New York Men’s Glee Club. They married on Nov. 14, 1941 in East Orange, NJ. My sister was born two years later on March 10, 1943 and I was born three years after that on April 29, 1946. During those early years of their marriage I believe my mother was quite happy. My father worked for IT&T in New York, taking the train to work everyday. He was exempt from the draft because of a heart murmur caused by rheumatic fever as a child. During the summers in New Jersey we enjoyed spending time at our cabin at nearby Tabor Lake. My sister and I learned to swim there and spent many hours fishing for minnows. My mom and dad enjoyed a large circle of friends there.

By 1950 the post war aerospace industry was booming in California and they decided to pull up roots and move west, bringing my grandmother with us. After my father found work they bought a house in Pacific Palisades, CA and for a few years my mom was a “stay at home” housewife and mother. Soon however she began working outside the home as a church secretary. She worked for several different denominations over the years and hence, we all joined the different churches and were repeatedly baptized into our “new” faith. Unfortunately, this had a negative effect on me and jaded me about religion. I heard all the inside gossip about what really went on behind the scenes.

My mom didn’t adjust very well to her new life in California and seemed very unhappy from then on. I’m sure she missed all her friends. We moved five times during those early years in Southern California. By 1960 we settled down in Arcadia, CA where my sister and I attended high school. Somehow my mother managed to smile and act pleasant to the world, but at home she never hid the pain and disappointment she was feeling.

My best memories of her were listening to her play the piano while I played with my dolls or dog nearby. I am so glad she shared her love of music with me and took me to singing lessons as a pre-teen. She also loved plants and animals and allowed my sister and I to have various pets during our childhood and to grow a garden. All these things have remained lifelong interests for me.

She was a very social person with lots of friends and enjoyed playing bridge and having parties. I remember her floating camellias in the bathtub for decor at her parties. She liked to play games of all kinds and enjoyed visiting museums, missions, parks and other tourist sights like Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland frequently.

Fantasie Impromtu by Chopin (played by Emily Bruen Regel)

By the time I was a teenager my parents were constantly fighting. It got a lot worse after my sister left for college. Thank heavens my grandmother, Olive, still lived with us so I could “hang out” with her. One day my mother decided to tell me about Andy, the true “love of her life”, whom she had divorced before meeting my dad. What a shock! I had not known about him before then.

After leaving home in 1963 to attend college, I kept my distance from my parents. I resented her phony demeanor of “niceness” when she was so deeply critical of everyone. She separated from my dad right after I left for college, but then took him back a year later after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I visited a few times before and after my dad died in 1973, but it was never very pleasant. She continued to complain about everyone and everything. This must have been a turning point in her life since within the span of one week, Nov. 6 – Nov. 15, 1973, both her mother and her husband died. Shortly thereafter she visited me in Fairfax, CA and she took one of my pups from a recent litter of basset hounds. She named him Andy.

In 1976 she remarried Gordon Case, a retired postal clerk. They continued to live in her home in Los Angeles, but with the rising crime rate in their neighborhood they decided to move closer to family. So in 1986 my mom and Gordon moved to Coos Bay, OR where I was living at the time. Slowly we began to heal our relationship. Although I believe she was far from happy, she seemed to have mellowed. She was proud of her grandchildren. The best time we spent together was playing piano duets.

Shortly after I moved to Portland, OR in 1999 she suffered numerous ischemic strokes and began falling. I then had to move her and Gordon to the Jennings McCall Nursing Home nearby me in Forest Grove, OR where I could visit her frequently and oversee her care. We always listened to music together, but she never played again. She died six years later on July 4, 2006. I was at her bedside when she passed away. My mom was cremated, but sadly Gordon insisted on keeping her ashes and I have no idea where they were placed. He died nine years later in 2015.