There were three things we could always count on coming back to WSS after days, months or even years away; the springs would be hot; the castle would be standing; and our Mother, would be waiting. At home. On the hill. Food and shelter. Safe harbor. Sixty, seventy years of this constancy and it is unavoidable that one begins to take it for granted .. .forget that nothing lasts forever, no one lives forever … for 101 plus years, perhaps, but not forever. And so it was that our ‘forever’ Mom would finally leave us. As she did, quietly in her sleep, on the morning of March 23rd, in the year 2019.
Mary Priscilla Metzger was born August 2nd, 1917 in Havre, Montana. The second and youngest child of Charles, “Charlie”, and Mella Metzger. Charlie Metzger was tough. In 1910, he left his sweetheart in Ohio and came west to homestead north of Havre. He promised to return for her after he got ‘situated’. In 1914 he did just that. Returned to Ohio and married his fiance’, Mella Kinsey, who had waited (patiently?) for four years. After the lush, rolling and wooded hills of Ohio, the farmland north of Havre, three miles from the Canadian border where Charlie had his homestead was almost too much to bear. Flat land that stretched for as far as the eye could see. Not a tree, a brush, a shrub in sight. “Home” was a one room tar-paper cabin, which would eventually, with time and work, become a three bedroom house. Water was hauled in drums on horse drawn wagons from a well a couple miles away. No electricity. No phone. Nothing but hard work and endless opportunity. It would become one of the premiere farms of the area. Charlie and Mella had two daughters, Helen, born in 1915 and Mary Priscilla in 1917. In 1918 there came a tornado which destroyed the one room cabin, sent it, in bits and pieces, not to Kansas but north towards Canada. As the wind calmed, the dust settled, the situation assessed … Charlie and Mella couldn’t find their youngest child, Mary Priscilla, a toddler and still in diapers. After several hours of searching, a white piece of ‘something’ was seen in a ditch a mile from where the house had been. As the ‘piece of something’ was pulled from the mud, there turned out to be a baby attached … Mary Priscilla. Grandma Metzger would tell this story and remark that baby Priscilla was so calm, didn’t really cry. They washed her off and it was as if nothing had happened. This quality of remaining calm no matter how stormy the surroundings would be one of Priscilla’s life-long qualities.
The first eight years of Priscilla’s schooling took place in a Country School three miles from the farm. Attendance fluctuated, with anywhere from 5 to 10 kids attending. Priscilla and her sister Helen rode double to school on one of Charlie’s most trusted horses. Priscilla told of the times when the winter storms were so bad … thirty below zero, snowing and blowing, visibility down to several feet…that her dad would come on his horse to get the girls and lead them back the three miles to the farm house and safety.
The move from a one room country school to Havre High was difficult for Priscilla. She always spoke of how she couldn’t have managed if it hadn’t been for her older sister Helen. Priscilla and Helen stayed in town during the school week and would then go out to the farm on weekends. With time Helen would stay in town, attend HS events, dances, be a teenager, but Priscilla always went back out to the farm. This ability to be alone, to not need to be entertained, would also be a life-long trait. There was an inwardness to Priscilla, a sense of self-content, containment, that was very real. She enjoyed her Self. This lent her Being a quality of grace, elegance. Serenity. Around people she could often be seen sitting quietly, observing, with a slight smile and a twinkle in the eye. She was part of the party, but not in the party.
Upon HS graduation in 1935, Priscilla, attended Northern Montana University, in Havre. She studied Office Administration.
Upon graduating from a two year program, she went to work in the Law Office of William Leaphart. It was while working there that she met a young lawyer, fresh out of Law School by the name of George Niewoehner. He had grown up in Harlem, MT. They married in ’37 and shortly thereafter, moved to Helena, where George worked for the Industrial Accident Board. Their first child, George Roy, was born in Helena in ’39. George wanted to open his own law practice, and in ’40 he and Priscilla moved to White Sulphur. For over 20 years George would have his law office over the Berg Garage. Two more children would follow, Dirk in ’45, and Ramona in ’47. Thus began the decades of raising children. Of home making. It was what most ladies of her generation did. They ran the home … and thereby the family, community …. Washing clothes. The old fashion way … a couple tubs .. washing, rinsing, one with a ringer for squeezing the water out. Memories of Mom hanging clothes on the line. Automatic washers, dryers wouldn’t come until almost too late and the kids gone. Making clothes. Cooking. Sweeping. Dusting. Gardening. Canning. Making jams and jellies and a choke cherry syrup that should be illegal. Pies for dessert, cakes for birthdays. George bought a 1953 MG sports car and in the summer you could see them zipping around, top down. Priscilla loved it. The MG would be replaced in 1955 with a Jaguar XK140, faster, more exotic, but she always missed the little MG.
In 1961 George and Priscilla were divorced. It was then she went to work at the Hospital. She kept the books, made the appointments, filed the insurance claims, collected the monies owed. As one person she did all this. For over 30 years. She saw many doctors, nurses and administrators come and go. She saw a lot of things come and go during her 100 years. She finally retired, not because she was bored or tired …. but because she felt she was keeping a job from a ‘young person’ who needed it more than she did. Of course, she never stopped ‘working’. Hers was a body in constant movement. “I have too much to do,” was her reply when asked to pause, sit and chat. And she did. For there was always something, a lawn to mow, floor to mop, rug to vacuum, clothes to wash, beds to change, cards to write, food to prepare. She took great pride in her home and lawn. No clutter. No dust. No dirty dishes in the sink. Ever. You could come in, kick your shoes off, throw your coat on the couch. But when the party was over, she would put all back in order.
The last time she mowed her lawn was just prior to her 100th Birthday Party. Not all of it of course, but enough to signify and make her feel like she’d ‘done something’. She needed to be active. You could call it work but it wasn’t really, it was what she loved … being productive.
She seldom watched TV, un-less of course it was one of her two favorites, Batt/estar Galac-tica or The A Team. All this activity, of course, has to be one of the reasons …. she lived so long. And so well. 100 years of her 101 were without major illness. She took no prescription medicine. Not even aspirin or Advil. This at a time when all America is worried about who is going to pay for their Meds. Doctors didn’t want to believe her. When a person lives a long and healthy Iife … there is more to it than ‘luck’. Genes. There are others in her Gene Pool who have not been so long lived. God knows he gave Priscilla’s children plenty of time to observe their Mother, to notice things that have something to do with longevity … (that they might learn?) Hard work. Maybe it was the dancing. She loved to dance. Moderation. In all things.
Priscilla enjoyed beer. “I’ll split one with you.” “Okay, Mom, we’ll split one.” Maybe a beer and a half. Two beers …. once. She loved food and the eating of it. But never to excess. In fact the ONLY thing she did to excess, other than work, was coffee. If coffee is ‘bad’ for you, that means Priscilla could have lived to 200 if it wasn’t for that d….n coffee.
She had one son who smokes cigars. She liked, no, she adored their aroma. “Honey, don’t you want another cigar?” This while driving in a closed car. If the coffee didn’t shorten her life; the second hand smoke surely must have. On the other hand she never smoked. Longevity … the same cigar smoking son gave up eating meat in ’71. This caused great concern with many people, not least of which was his Mother … until he came home and cooked for her. She liked it, even the tofu! And especially Miso Soup. Over the decades … almost five of them … she gradually ate less and less animal product and more and more grain and vegetables.
For what it’s worth. She never argued with people. Anyone. Not even her children. She was free of hatred. She had strong opinions and beliefs but had no desire to force them on others, nor did she like others trying to force theirs on her. Loud/raucous conversation or behavior bothered her and she would remove herself from it if possible. A bit of a stoic, inward directed, she let the world come to her and she would choose when to engage.
In ’72, her son Dirk was starring on Broadway in a play entitled Butterflies Are Free. The legendary Gloria Swanson costarred in the role of his mother. Dirk invited his mother to come to New York City to see the play. And meet his ‘stage mom’. Dirk worried that his mother would be overwhelmed, intimidated, by the noise, the crush of people that is NYC. He needn’t have. Worried. Not only was his Mother Priscilla not ‘intimidated’, she blossomed. She was game to go anywhere, travel by any means … taxi, subway, bus … and her favorite … on foot. NYC is a walking city and she loved that … walking the streets, sometimes all the way to the theatre where the play was playing … two miles. She stayed a week. Dirk had asked several young girls he knew if they would take his Mom shopping, or to lunch, once during the week she was visiting. Which they did. And he almost never saw his Mother again. The girls adored Priscilla … would call Dirk’s apartment … “does your Mom have plans for today or can she come have lunch with us, shop with us, go to a museum with us … ?” Priscilla remained friends with one of the girls for many years afterwards. And of course Priscilla saw the play. Many times. Never once telling anyone … “That’s my son up there.” Another of her qualities, she never talked about herself, or her family. Gloria Swanson was 17 years Priscilla’s senior. Priscilla had seen her in movies, silent and otherwise, while in HS in Havre. After seeing the play for the first time, she came back stage and Dirk brought her to Ms. Swanson’s dressing room. Not prone to compliments, Ms. Swanson was completely surprised by the elegance, the manners, of this lady from a small ranching community in Mon-tana. She thought Priscilla one of the most beautiful women she had ever met. This from a woman who was herself considered a great beauty. She also complimented Priscilla for doing such a great job … “raising such a polite, well mannered, young man.” Ahem. When Priscilla returned to WSS, she never called the paper for a mention of her visit. Perhaps she told some friends. Probably not. She went; she saw; time to move on. Always living in the present.
In the mid-sixties, she began dating Harold Logan, a relationship that would last for over 40 years and only end with his passing. Priscilla and Harold, with their dear friends Elsie and Bob Weitz took cruises, visited Mexico, gambled in Vegas and various other casino meccas. In ’78 Priscilla and Harold visited Dirk in Los Angeles, where Mom would make a “surprise” visit on The Merv Griffin Show, which appearance she always had on tape but never showed. Like Ms. Swanson before him, Merv was struck with her beauty and aplomb. Poor Merv, he was a bit speechless … first of all she was 61 and looked 41, she sat serenely and smiled at him, showing no nerves, as if she’d been doing live TV interviews her entire life. Dirk did Merv’s show many, many times in the years that followed and Merv always asked .. “How’s that beautiful mother of yours. She could have been a movie star.” Heaven Forbid. And always ‘dressed’. Her children never saw her in a robe, or house coat. She loved clothes and the wearing of them. Always
elegant. Her entire life.
Her oldest…it is so strange to refer to people in their 70’s as children, but this is what happens when a parent lives for a century …. her oldest child, Roy Niewoehner, died in 2012. This shocked her. Parents always expect to pass before their kids, even if they live for 100 years. The thing is Priscilla never thought about age. Didn’t like a big fuss (about anything … this obituary is probably irritating the you-know-what out of her) made about her birthday. So to have a child die is to be reminded of the passage of time. Roy attended her 95th Birthday party, which she also enjoyed … maybe she DID like a big fuss? .. in 2012 and died some month later from a rare blood cancer. She never talked about his passing. Live in the moment. Move on. She took great offense when her son congratulated her on passing driving test for drivers license renewal when she was 98 yrs. old. Why was Dirk making such a big deal out of it …” .. I’m a good driver!” “I know Mom, but you’re also 98 years old and … ” “I am not.” “I’m pretty sure you are …. ” She runs to get the calculator. “What year is it … ?” “2015” Lots of pushing of buttons … .frown. “98? That’s awful.” Laughter from Dirk and from Mom the “look”. Priscilla had a ‘look’ when she was not pleased with something. A look of, not anger, not disappointment or unhappiness, just a look of… enough. Stop. Okay. Move on. In her elder years it was quite cute and endearing.
To all parents their children are special. And they are. But let’s be honest. Some are more special than others. There never was a question in the Niewoeh-ner family as to which child was Mom’s favorite. Her daughter Ramona. There was the mother/daughter aspect of course, but more. Something else. Beyond and regardless of blood, there was a connection and for over 70 years they were pals, roommates, confidantes … best friends. For life. And perhaps beyond. In 2009, Ramona moved from Bigfork to White Sulphur and for the next 10 years was omnipresent in her Mother’s life. Up to and including the year spent in the Nursing Home. Every day, as many can vouch, Ramona was with her Mom. Washing her clothes, assuaging her fears, bearing the difficult burden of the end time. This is love. Writing these words about our Mother has been difficult, not only because obituaries are always difficult but because Mom never talked about herself. Never told stories about “how it used to be”. ‘The good old days.’ This is a wonderful quality but can make it difficult to reconstruct a life. Added to which she did live a long time. Lots of material, despite her reticence. Much has been left out. About Mom’s nearly 80 years in WSS, all the wonderful families that the Niewoehners knew and whose lives intertwined. Many of these families are no longer in WSS, for those that are … they know the rest of the story and can fill in the missing bits and pieces.
In the seven decades her children have been around their mother they never heard her brag. Rarely would she even talk about herself. Self effacement and modesty. Almost to a fault. Only very late in life were her children able to get her to speak a bit about ‘the past’. About herself. She always lived very much in the present. No nostalgia for “the good old days”. No looking back. And never, never, never complain or make excuses. It is what it is; get on with it. Some of this is generational … and no longer evident in today’s America … some of it is just her, her DNA, her personality, her Being. Keep moving forward. She was not a sentimental person. She was kind and polite to all people but held few close. Those she did, she loved … deeply, forever and without question.
She was never known to be mean. Or to gossip. And in her last decade, except for those she held close, she wanted to be left alone. She enjoyed very much her 100th Birthday when ALL of her kids, grandkids and great grand kids showed up from far and wide. She stayed the entire 4 hr. party, might have had …. three beers. And could have passed for 80.
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: It’s loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health and quiet breathing”.
Services are pending at this time or no services will be held. If available, please see obituary for more information.
Services are pending at this time or no services will be held. If available, please see obituary for more information.