Back in the blogging era I would generally write about technology or politics or journalism or China, or other “weighty” things. Or beer. But I also thought it important to note personal and family milestones.
These included somber ones, like the death of my mother, Jean Mackenzie Fallows, in 2004, and of my father, Dr. James Albert Fallows, in 2008. And joyous ones, like the arrivals of our five grandchildren: Jack Fallows in 2011, Tide Fallows in 2014, Eleanor Fallows in 2015, Navy Fallows in 2016, and West Fallows in 2018.
I’m writing today about another joyous milestone. That was the 100th birthday on November 26, 2021—yesterday, as I write—of Angela Ann Zerad, known as Angie, and who I’m proud to say I have long known as my mother-in-law.
Angie celebrated her birthday in the presence of many friends and of her two daughters, whom you see in the photo above. On the left is Susan Zerad Garau, who traveled from Rome, where she has lived with her Italian husband, Piero, for decades. On the right is Deborah Zerad Fallows, to whom I’ve had the good fortune of being married through most of Angie’s life.
Here are the same three women almost 70 years ago, on a boat near Duluth on Lake Superior. Angie is of course on the left, little sister Deb in the middle, and big sister Sue on the right. The three of them have been exceptionally close.
Angie and her wonderful husband Frank, who was an ideal father-in-law for many decades and who died in 2007, were both from Czech immigrant families that had arrived in Chicago and other points of the midwest before World War I.
Angie was the fifth child in a family of six, and was born with a neck condition called torticollis that required then-experimental surgery and long-term wearing of a neck cast. Here you see her before and after the surgery and treatment. In the left-hand photo, she is the infant in her mother’s arms. In the right-hand photo, she is the beaming, blonde, and perfectly erect four-and-a-half-year-old standing at right.
Frank was a submariner during World War II. He and Angie were married in their native Chicago when he had a week’s leave from the Navy near the end of the war.
Frank and Angie raised their daughters across the Midwest: in the Minneapolis area; outside Chicago; and then in Vermilion, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. That is the place Deb thinks of as home, and where they all loved to skate and sail.
When their daughters had grown and Frank had sold his small business, Frank and Angie spent much of their 60s and 70s in what both of them referred to as the most satisfying thing they had done—apart from raising their children, of course. That was service in the International Executive Service Corps, a kind of Peace Corps for retired business officials, for which they served multi-year postings around the world, including Korea, Indonesia, Kenya, and Egypt.
As Midwesterners for the first five decades of their lives, they were consciously involved citizens of the world from that point on—Frank until his illness and death, Angie even now.
Angie has been a lifelong gifted musician. She went to Mundelein College, outside Chicago, on a music scholarship. Through every day of her life I’ve been aware of, she has spent time at her piano keyboard.
Including yesterday, on her 100th birthday, when she gave a recital lasting one full hour at the assisted-living facility that is now her home.
The final number in the program was “Happy Birthday.” “I’ve never played that for myself before,” she told us afterwards. Everyone heartily joined in.
Happy Birthday, dear Angie. Many additional happy returns.
Thanks for sharing. Such an American story.
What a remarkable human being, how inspiring! Thanks for sharing this moment in your family's life.