The fracture didn’t show up in the X-rays. Only when iodine was injected did the telltale crack show up in her pelvis. But Ida May wasn’t going to go peacefully.
“Let me preface this visit with telling you I’m not the ordinary 93-year-old who is willing to sit in the chair and rock,” she said brusquely to the doctor. “I square dance. I play my banjo and my bones. I’m active. Now … tell me what’s wrong and how long it’s going to take to heal!”
From the get go, Ida May was a do-er. She probably received that trait from her parents.
“My dad came from Copenhagen, Denmark, when he was 5. Later, he and a friend came down from Muskogee, Okla. to St. Louis and became friends with a group of people,” said Ida May. “I don’t know how my parents met but they both belonged to that same group and they would all go out on an island in the middle of the Mississippi — the men to fish and the women would bring bacon along just in case they didn’t catch anything. They all had a good time.”
Born in St. Louis, her mother tried to show her how to do things around the house.
“I was not domestic!” she said adamantly. However, she’d follow her carpenter dad around to various jobs, “helping” him oversee his work on weekends.
The only child, she grins widely when accused of being a spoiled brat. One wonders about this when they discover her mother died when Ida May was 21 and her dad took a new wife with seven children.
Life was good for Ida May. She led an active existence and music became a part of her life at an early age.
“I took piano lessons when I was 10 but only practiced a bit before my Saturday morning lessons, so my mother decided she was wasting their money on me,” she said, laughing.
It must have been watching her daughter on her bones that gave her mom the inkling Ida May had musical talent.
“My daddy made my first bones for me when I was nine,” she said. “A man who lived down the street played the bones and showed me how. I kept persisting and he lent them to me for awhile. His were made out of rosewood and I had my dad make a pattern and make mine.”
The Bones have been a part of her life ever since. In 1938 and 1939 she played her bones as part of a trio at the National Folk Dance meeting held at the Keil Auditorium in St. Louis.
After graduating from high school, she worked in a doctor’s office for seven years.
“I bowled at that time and would swim at the Y. I bicycled for years — even hitting 2,000 miles twice on my cyclometer. Before that I was in the hiking club, I played tennis and I played volleyball with the Mother’s Club from the PTA while raising my boys. And,” she said with a grin, “I met my husband when I was roller skating.”
Meeting Joe Schmich was a unique experience. Joe must have been something special.
“Normally I did not date,” said Ida May. “I met him right before the war was declared when I was 25 and on our dates we’d go see soccer games.”
Joe seemed to drop out of the picture for a long time but it wasn’t because he didn’t want to see her. Seems Joe had contracted meningitis and pneumonia and was in the hospital with guards on the door to keep him from leaving or evading the draft.
“He went from 222 pounds to 160 pounds,” Ida May said. “The aldermen finally talked them to get the guards off so the doctor could treat him. He’d had my name and address in his glove compartment, so nobody knew anything about me.”
After joining the service in 1942 he landed in the Aleutian Islands. Writing back and forth during the war, she received a special letter on Valentine’s Day in 1944.
“I thought about it for a long time,” said the letter in one long sentence. “And I finally got the nerve.” On and on it went until the punch line — “Will you marry me?”
When he returned they wed on Sept. 2, 1944, and went off to the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Ark. for a honeymoon. Since the army had taken over the hotel during the war, they were able to stay as military.
“Three meals a day for $1 a day back in 1944,” she said, with a warm smile.
After the war, Joe worked shift-work at the brewery in St. Louis.
“He was a good guy,” she said. “He worked at the brewery but didn’t drink. He said he saw enough drunks, so he didn’t like to drink.”
While Joe worked, Ida May raised their two boys.
“I was a household engineer!” she said cheerfully, fighting off the “housewife” stigma.
Their oldest son was killed in Vietnam, and the second son lived only two days with undeveloped lungs. Their third son lives above Ida May and drove her down for the season this year. Previously, she drove herself the 1,200 miles in two days!
In 1964, they bought a travel trailer and began taking trips out west, Joe’s favorite place to go. Over time they visited such areas as the Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park to Grand Lake in Colorado, Las Cruces and Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, the Petrified Forest in Arizona, crossing the Hoover Dam on their way to Las Vegas. Traveling was one of their favorite things to do.
Before Joe retired, he saw a notice on the bulletin board — Learn to Square Dance. Before long he and Ida May were square and round dancing all over.
“In 1957, I attended the 6th National Square Dancing Convention at the same Keil Auditorium with the girl I played in a trio with in 1938 and ‘39,” Ida May said. At 94, she is still dancing — able to dance the male or female role depending on her partners.
After Joe passed away in 1997 after 52 years of marriage, a square dancing friend convinced her to come down to the Valley. Ida May settled into Winter Haven Park in Pharr.
“I like the location because it’s close to the parks where I square dance,” she said. “But, my dancing was curtailed this year when I tripped over a microphone cord and fell flat on the concrete.” That was the cause of her fractured pelvis.
Discovering Jams when she first came to the Valley, she took her bones and began attending.
“I would just sit there with my bones because you can’t play the bones all the time,” said Ida May. “Somebody had an omnichord and I thought, ‘I can play that.’”
Learning the omnichord, she would play that instrument at jams except when playing her bones. But here, these last few years, she’s taken up the banjo, doing mostly chords, at jams — always saving her bones for her specials.
When she thinks of the future she’s mindful that she’s still up, looking down, not looking up from the grass. She’s grateful for that and shooting for 100 years old.
Looking over her life, it was that time in Vallicito, Colo. that ranks up there as one of the most exciting things in her life.
“I went up on the pass and I got four rides on the toboggan. Each time I timed myself and I got a little bit faster until it was down to about a minute and 27 seconds coming down. It would zig and zag and go around in circles. That was a big thrill.”
Hoping to be an inspiration to people by being happy, active and having fun, she’s back to her square dancing after only eight weeks out!
There’s only one thing Ida May is lamenting over these days.
“I used to be go, go, go — fast, fast. Now I’m slowing down a little bit and I hate it!” She laughs and life is good.