In memory of Emily

Wisconsin State Farmer
John and Emily Stephens are captured in pictures on their wedding day and on their 70th wedding anniversary.

By Susan Manzke

Some columns are easier to write than others. A few aren’t easy at all. This is one that is very difficult.

Emily wasn’t a blood relation, yet we were family because we chose to be.

When I first met Emily I was six years old. Of course, I didn’t call her Emily. Back then she was Mrs. Stephens, the mother of my best friend, Joyce — all adults were given respect in the 50s by using the prefix of Mr. and Mrs. before their surname.

I don’t remember when I grew up enough to call Mrs. Stephens Emily. Using her given name seemed to stick in my throat even when I became an adult. Eventually, after I was a mother myself, it seemed I could finally call her Emily and her husband, John — John passed away in 2015 after 72 years of marriage.

Emily had a million jokes and stories. She loved to laugh and loved when others laughed with her. Even when I was an extremely shy kid visiting Joyce I felt like one of the family. Both Emily and John made me feel welcome.

My children grew up calling her Emily. Times had changed and it felt right. All four of our brood found out that their friend Emily may have been older —the same age as my parents — but in reality Emily was just a big kid herself, no matter her age.

John and Emily Stephens work on a jigsaw puzzle with Susan Manzke's granddaughter Arianna in 2014.

When we visited in the summer, Emily loved being in their family pool with our children. She was a happy fish splashing around on a float or inner tube, but the water was so much more fun with the company of children — and she had many around. Besides our four, in the end Emily had three children, six grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and 5 great-great-grandchildren — there may be more by marriage, but I lost count.

Our daughter Rachel reminded me of the time I left her behind at the Stephens’ home one summer. There wasn’t room in the car for Rachel. We were taking my handicapped mother to the farm for a visit. She needed to pack her television so she wouldn’t miss a Cub’s game. With that TV in the seat, Rachel had to be left back for her own little vacation. Our youngest wasn’t so upset about the change in plans. For a whole week she was an only child, spoiled to the hilt by Emily, Joyce, and John.

My friend Emily also liked to make things. She did oil paintings, sewed, knit, and crocheted. A couple winters ago, when our weather was extremely cold, she made fingerless hand warmers for both Bob and me. Long before that I remember little pink knit purses she knit for our little girls. When turned inside out the drawstring purse became a baby bed with a little doll inside.

More than once Emily fed me and our whole brood. She was famous for her Polish dishes: kołaczki, cream cheese cookies, and Pierogi, Polish dumplings — my favorite was the one with a sweet cheese in the center, but any were yummy. Cucumbers from her garden were turned into pickles: dill and creamed. She could bake zucchini bread that even Bob loved to eat. All the while she’d be bopping around the kitchen chattering up a storm.

Emily was a stitch. Her sense of humor continued even into her final days in the hospital. There was a sign in her room. It was just letters, NPO. She asked what it meant.

Joyce told her that NPO meant nothing by mouth.

“What am I supposed to do? Eat through my ear?” was Emily’s response — she was a sharp cookie to the end.

It was a long trek to the wake, but our family had to say farewell to Emily. You were more than a friend. You were family and will be missed.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;