Tag Archives: Isabella Mischke

The Scent of Roses

  by Joy Grude, author of Scandals of the Coachman’s Son
 I can still hear my grandmother’s husky voice, with that very distinctive New York accent, as she would describe in vivid detail magical stories of the “olden days.”  Her collection of memories were both sad and happy, with some full of mystery and intrigue.  By the time I was ten years old, I had heard all the family stories numerous times, but never seemed to tire of them.  On weekend sleepovers, I would beg to hear them again and again, knowing that they were true family legends.  My grandmother Bella recited these stories from her youth, recalling some very interesting life experiences.  One of my favorites was a mysterious tale about “the scent of roses.”
Isabella (Bella) Mischke was the middle child born to German immigrant parents, Henry and Emma Mischke, in the fall of 1898.   The family had settled in the slums of Yorkville, a poor German neighborhood of New York City. Of the couple’s ten children, only six survived into adulthood, as four of the unfortunate infants and toddlers succumbed to deadly diseases such as diphtheria and typhus.  It seemed that the lack of birth control was balanced out by the lack of medical science in those days, as childhood mortality rates were at an all-time high.  The grieving parents could only turn to their faith for comfort in coping with their losses and deep sorrow.  Bella’s mother, Emma, was a devout Catholic and prayed daily, looking up to the picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary that hung on the wall of their rundown apartment.

As the children grew up, the three girls and three boys relied on each other as playmates, best friends and confidants, as their close sibling relationship developed.  Times were tough, and they were very poor, but there were also many happy times together, including family picnics at Bronx Park, trips to the Botanical Gardens, and canoe races on the lake at Central Park.  The family always pulled together as a strong supportive unit, especially during the hard times.  When Henry had died suddenly in 1907 at the young age of 46, Emma again relied on her religion to carry her through, not knowing how she and the children would survive without their main breadwinner.  Her worries were somewhat eased when the community took up a collection and saved the family from starvation and destitution.  Never losing faith in God, Emma often spoke about life in the “hereafter.”  She truly believed that the soul lives on after death, and tried to reassure her family that they would all be together again in heaven. 
One day while sitting around the dinner table, Emma made a surprising statement to her adolescent and grown children.  “When I am dead and gone, I will send a signal to let you know that I am watching over you.”  With widened eyes, they inquired as to what her signal could possibly be.  Emma thought about it for a few moments, then remembered her favorite flower…  “I will come back in the scent of roses!”
Emma had died of natural causes in 1941, but her memory lived on.  Ten years later, the Mischke brothers and sisters, with their wives, husbands and children were gathered together on Christmas Eve at the home of the oldest daughter, Hilda, in Roselle Park, New Jersey.  It was bitterly cold on this December night of 1951, with snow falling lightly outside.  Everyone had arrived, and there was much laughter and lively conversation among the adults and children, some speaking in German if the subject was not suitable for young ears.  Suddenly there was a loud knock on the door.  They all looked at each other, trying to figure out who was missing from the party, but were bewildered.  Hilda, as the hostess, said she would answer the door, commenting as she walked away, “I wonder who it could be!”  She opened the heavy oak door that let in a gust of wind.  When Hilda returned to her guests, her face was as pale as a ghost and she kept mumbling the same words over and over.  “It was Mama… it was Mama.” With all eyes fixed on Hilda, each slowly turned their heads in amazement as a sweet smell drifted through the house.  Sniffing the aromatic air, not a sound could be heard… until someone called out softly: “The scent of roses!” – – – – – –
You can enjoy more of Joy’s writing by reading Scandals of the Coachman’s Son