‘A Special Taste Of Heaven’
Local Woman, Mother Celebrate With Memories
WHEELING — Eva Nagem remembers when her mother Angela Nagem stayed up all night to complete a sewing job so that she could earn the few extra dollars she and her brother Tommy needed the next day for school projects.
“My mother is a special taste of heaven here on earth,” Eva Marie said during a lunch outing at Perkins on Friday with her now 91-year-old mother. “She is the hardest working woman I know, and still feisty.”
Angela, referred to by friends as “Angie” and “Sitto” by her three grandchildren, came to America from her native home of Beirut, Lebanon. She met her husband Tom Nagem while he was serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. She spoke fluent French when Tom brought her to Wheeling, but had little knowledge of the English language. They settled on Wheeling Island where three children — Eva, Tommy and Alex — brought Angela the joys of motherhood.
“All my friends wanted to sleep over at our house,” Eva said. “They loved my mother because she would make them the food each of them liked and she would listen to their problems. She gave some good advice.”
Angela, who carries a rosary wherever she goes, said she would tell the youngsters that they should “think before you open your mouth … Talk from your heart, not your lips.”
Eva said her mother has many talents and shares them with others. She has made dozens of dresses for First Communions and other special occasions. In her 90s, she still has been able to create three wedding pillows for granddaughters. She continues to knit blankets despite some age-related health issues. She also worked for several years as a seamstress at Hornes of Wheeling.
“My mother is a beautiful seamstress, but she couldn’t even read a pattern when she came here. She taught herself.” Angela said she learned to read and speak English through her children’s first and second grade readers. Still, speaking English with a broken accent brought some raised eyebrows when she attended parents’ meeting at her children’s school. Eva said her mother was not immune to the bigotries other immigrates who came to America suffered.
“One man talked down to me at a school meeting. He told me I should go back to the country I came from. I studied, you know, to become an American citizen and passed the test. I told that man I knew more about his country than he did,” Angie recalled.
Angela’s late husband worked at the former Fort Henry Billiards in Wheeling. He was a master at remodeling and repairing pool tables. He often left his name on the undersides of the tables.
Eva said she and her brothers would bring their mother to show-and-tell at school because she spoke French and talked about the Lebanese culture. She said if she stayed up late to work on homework or a write a paper, her mother would be right by her side. “She always encouraged us. She never yelled at us when we didn’t get a good grade. She just encouraged us to do our best. She would say ‘You don’t make mistakes. You make lessons,’ because that’s how you learn.”
Generous to a fault, Angela often provided full meals for the nuns at Blessed Trinity School where her children attended classes. She enjoyed cooking and baking traditional Lebaneses foods and says she learned well from “the best mother-in-law in the world.”
Angela’s carries a rosary that belonged to her son Tom, an established dentist who died unexpectedly from an undetected health problem. The loss, she said, knocked the wind out of her sails, but her faith in God and the love of family still allows her to celebrate Mother’s Day.