SUSAN L. SNYDER, 1939-2001
Mother-Writer-Artist-Equestrian
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(I wrote this in September, 2001 shortly after Susan died. It was published in the Galesville, Republican, September 13, 2001, I have added most of the pictures for this web page.)
Susan Louise (Bockrath) Snyder was born in St. Louis, Missouri, April 21, 1939, to Meriel and Richard Bockrath. She was preceded in birth 11 months earlier by her brother Rick, a phenomenon explained by her father as one that was caused by a Catholic doctor who was reluctant to prescribe birth control for Meriel’s use. Since her father, simply could not wait for his wife to get an appointment with another physician, they resumed marital relations and the result was immediate pregnancy and the birth of my wife!

There is in that story a great truth about Susan’s youth; she was raised in a household dominated by a very conservative, German patriarch whose alcoholism reinforced a need for control that eroded and eventually undermined the emotional health of his equally alcoholic wife. Susan, inescapably, became a product of an enormously dysfunctional family.

Each of Susan’s parents had a special way of reacting to all that she did, whether it was making a drawing, setting a table, riding a horse or writing an essay. On the one hand, her mother, steeped in a romanticism of “happilies ever after,” saw everything that Susan did as being superb, without weakness or need for improvement. As Susan wrote to a friend, late in life, about her mother, “she was never what you'd call practical. I never had an adult conversation with her.”

On the other hand, her father was obsessed by his need for unchallenged authority, driven by his fundamental disdain for women, all of whom he saw useful for only one purpose (sex) and focused on his desire to control those who touched his life. There is a long list one could compile of former “friends” who ultimately ceased speaking to him.

Susan was therefore an anomaly, and an irritating one at that. Since his daughter could not be a sexual object she had no fundamental reason to exist and everything that Susan did was wrong, poorly done or stupid. One of her father’s favorite sayings was that his daughter was “strong as an ox and just as smart.”

He never could quite fit her into his idea of what a girl/woman should be. He thought that a flattering story about her was his reaction to an expensive bathing suit her mother bought Susan. He was outraged at the price until he saw her in it, and then he calmed down and chuckled that she was the most beautiful girl so presented that he had ever seen.

Since Susan was too smart to believe that she was perfect, she could not believe anything that her mother said, and since she was too talented to believe that everything that she did was wrong, she came to resent and ultimately to despise her father.

Cued in her youth that she was unplanned, unwanted and untalented, she grew to adulthood insecure, unsure and in her core, unloved, a subtlety confirmed by her father when she was about 50 years old. Over dinner one evening, I heard him tell her and her brother that he would have preferred that neither had ever been born.

It is not surprising then, that Susan remembers little of her youth. Those events that she could recall with pleasure were always things that occurred away from her father: summer camp at Lake Hubert in Minnesota: many rides on horses with her mother; hours spent riding her own horse Meadowlark over the fields of the farm that they visited on weekends.

There might be a fleeting remembrance of a little time in New Orleans (where coffins sometimes floated up to the surface in heavy flooding), or the compelling color of the pink sands of Bermuda. She had happy slices of memory of little adventures with her brother Rick, whom she adored and loved and admired. They would take their little rowboat (The RickSue) out onto the Big River, and spend time fishing for catfish or just “exploring.”

Indeed, times spent at "Flat Rock” above the Big River were among the best memories that Susan could dredge out of her childhood, because her father, absorbed in the socialization of drinking and talking, left her and her brother alone, and they had little adventures together. She loved Flat Rock.

Throughout her youth, the only reliable, loving member of her family that she could trust was her brother, Rick. When they finished up at Cleveland High School, he went to Yale. There he played freshman football, then rowed crew, was selected to Skull and Bones (although he does not by any means share the politics of his fellow member, George W. Bush) and went on to have a very successful career after finishing his Ph.D. in Biophysics at Penn State University.  He teaches now at the University of Indiana Medical School in Indianapolis.
(Rick retired from I.U in 2002.)

Susan, exceptionally talented in her artistic ability, also possessed a lovely, strong voice, and at Cleveland High School she had opportunity to explore those abilities under the guidance of teachers who were both critically supportive and emotionally encouraging. She was regarded as an excellent female athlete, swam competitively and practiced water ballet.

Socially, she was extremely shy. As she explained to me in the last weeks of her life, she used to think that she was “all covered up” by dressing very conservatively and keeping her personality from coming to the surface. Although she was not a wall-crawler, she did tend to drift to the edges of every people filled room that she entered.

Life was frightening. The daily necessity of rising, dressing, going to school, interacting with students, was always an ordeal. Boys were formidable. Bobby Rhodes was an admirer for a time, and gave Susan her first kiss, but he was really more interested in the pork chops her father served for breakfast, and motivated by that, he became a dentist too.

For her, as for many people, high school was a draining trial eased by her escapes in riding “Lark” and keeping close to her constant companion dog, Herman. Susan always found animals soothing and interesting. Late in life she would still gain deep pleasure when she would “go for long walks with my dog Wendy… I think my thoughts and who knows what Wendy thinks.” 

Her high school days were also lightened by the antics of a good friend, Leland Cowie, who adored her and somehow amused her father when he rode his motorcycle into the house and around the ground floor circle and out the door. Leland, after all, was a boy, and boys did those things.

Boys also attended college, and so would Susan. That was a part of the expectations her parents, especially her mother, had for her and although he was not happy about it, (it was costly, though not as expensive as Yale), her father sent her to her choice of schools, the University of Colorado, Boulder. Susan was the first woman on either side of her family tree to complete college, and as soon as she emerged from her first semester of being homesick, she knew that there was life outside her home in St. Louis.  She had survived.

When I met Susan, she was a junior majoring in Fine Art at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She hung out with the theatre crowd, a group alien to me and always a little “out there” because they were so open about their sexual activity, their drinking, and their presumed immunity to other conventions which I believed were there to be violated at one’s peril.

Yet, for Susan, the theatre “group” was a liberation. They did not judge her. She could not act, did not drink, nor smoke nor have sex, but they did not care. They accepted her for what she was. She tried drinking vodka one time, was debilitated by it and never drank to excess again. To their great amusement, she always warned our children not to drink vodka because “it would sneak up on you.”

She was not an actress, but the theatre clique appreciated and admired what her artistic abilities could do with creating stage settings; they did not varnish truths as they saw them; they held humor and irony equally well in either hand as they commented on the world around them; and they were frank in proposing their sexual interest, happy to act on impulse, but completely comfortable being told “no.”

And they were told “no” because Susan’s father had always stressed that she should not “advertise” by dress or action or language any sexual activity that she was not willing to deliver, and that sex before marriage was simply not to be done.

The power of his personality was such that while Susan could enjoy the liberating presence of people in theatre, she could not, before I met her, violate the sexual mores she had been taught. On one occasion, she became physically ill and vomited just when she thought that she might be able to allow her paramour to seduce her.

Indeed, her father saw preservation of Susan’s virginity as one of his chief parental responsibilities. On the day we were married, he said to me “man to man” that he had brought his daughter to me a virgin (he was wrong about that) and the rest was up to me to keep her loyal and faithful.

We met and began dating shortly after my engagement to one of her sorority sisters had ended, and shortly after one of her romances had failed. Both of us were equally jaded with “falling in love,” and so we did not.  But we found interest, support, attraction and a certain sense of comfort and conviction in one another.  We dated for about 9 months, became engaged in November of 1960 and married on August 19, 1961.
My Dad

My dad was not an easy man, sitting in an easy chair ----
the man had opinions…. and expressed them everywhere!
No, not an easy man; he was a complex fellow...
he liked his women, good food and his whiskey mellow.
No iceberg lettuce, he liked romaine;
If you were wrong, he would explain.
He liked the morning, and perhaps the rain.

When young and strong. he played great football
so was noted in St. Louis University’s Honor Hall.
When I was young, as I remember
My Dad and Rick practiced each September
drilling tackles, the house they’d dismember!

A dentist, a carpenter and builder of gardens,
My Dad lived his life without any pardons.

Generous, giving, with a wicked wit;
he teased and taught and argued a bit.
He chose his logic and it always fit.

A proud man who, when losing his sight,
still walked tall and held himself upright.

He loved the desert in Arizona;
Hated music such as Wynona.
He grew flowers I wish he could have shown ya’.
As his life wore on he developed phases:
the fickle finger of fate” granted his life stages.
He took pride in his ability to adjust
To life’s vagaries that were thrust
His way. Indeed, he thought he must.

For me, each time I tend my roses
I shall recall his life and many poses,

I love the mornings as did he
and as he did, keep my dog with me
We caught some turtles and set them free..
.
My Dad was not an easy man sitting in an easy chair
and now, tho I look, he is no longer there.

(Susan L Snyder, late 1998 following the death of her father))
DICK AND MERIEL BOCKRATH,
VENICE, 1980
SUSAN, BROTHER RICK, AGE 12
SUSAN, DICK, ABOUT 1962
SUSAN, ABOUT 1966
Visiting California, probably 1962:  TOP, l-r, Rich, Mother, Dad, Larry, myself.  BOTTOM, l-r, Orv, Joseph, Gisela, Joyce, Rosalie, Susan.
It was a superbly produced wedding ceremony, the one that her mother had always wanted for herself. We got through it and then fled as soon as possible and moved 1,000 miles away from her parents. Our marriage survived because we never lived any closer to them for the next 40 years.

(As 1 reviewed the four decades of our marriage to prepare to write this story, it occurred to me that it had six parts. In our first year, both of us taught high school in Denver, ($4400/year each). We lived on one salary and banked the other. We had fun, frolicked, laughed and never had an argument about anything. That was Part One.)
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