What was Arda’s story? Who was she? The challenge of summarizing a very special person’s life is a daunting one. No matter what I tell you, I know I could tell you more.
Her story was not uncommon for her time - the immigrant’s tale, fraught with hardships, separations, and difficult choices. She was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1926. Her mother and father were from different parts of Switzerland and spoke Italian and German respectively. Neither was conversant in the other’s native tongue, so they spoke French to each other. Arda would benefit and become fluent in all three.
At the age of 5, Arda and her mother left for America to join her father and brother, who had gone ahead of them. The plan had been to wait until Arda’s father was established but an unfortunate accident to Arda’s brother, Bruno, required the immediate attention and intensive care that only his mother could provide.
They made the crossing in steerage - although Arda’s proficiency in French made her the guest of a wealthy French family who had a little girl her age. After seeing the Statue of Liberty and processing through Ellis Island, her life in America (and acquisition of more languages) began on Brooke Avenue in the Bronx.
It was 1931, work was scarce, and good paying work even rarer. The first job was nursing Bruno back to a complete recovery. The family all worked, her father at Abercrombie & Fitch, her brother at odd jobs, and the women did “piecework” - giving Arda professional experience as a seamstress at an early age.
Arda did very well in school and was looking forward to City College and a future teaching mathematics when another accident, this time to her father, required her to go to work after high school to help support the family. She soon found herself working for the US Army Signal Corps as a civilian employee. By the age of 25 she had saved enough to go on a vacation to Europe, sailing on the Queen Mary. She traveled to several countries including her native Switzerland to be reunited with her family including a younger sister, Claire, whom her mother had to leave behind twenty years earlier.
After her return, Arda met Francis through friends and in1954 they married. They bought a 3 family house, needing renovations, and started their family.
This was her story and she was proud of it. It is an interesting story but does not give you a sense of how she was.
She was calm. Not that she didn’t worry; not that things wouldn’t upset her. Her husband’s driving could always elicit a series of hisses, groans and sighs. But she didn’t inflict the stress on those around her. It was the difference between stress and stressed out - the hurricane that spends itself harmlessly out at sea, versus the tornado that touches down in a trailer park.
She knew how to be relaxed. Whether she was busy sewing or drawing, cooking or just sitting - there was an inner peace there. When some people sit, they give a sense of “ pre-launch mode”. She could just sit and be in the moment.
She was talented - drawing, sewing, painting, and when her children were in high school she returned to work for the US government and excelled there too. Proud of her accomplishments, she never bragged, but rather took pleasure in other’s appreciation of her efforts.
She was generous with her time, with her effort, and with her attention. She once used her contacts to get a real combat helmet for one of her nephews - a gift he remembered and valued so highly that he spoke of it quite recently. She tutored her nephews through high school. She helped found the Community Arts Program that still exists today, a program that brings arts and artists into the schools in Nassau County, NY. She made clothes for the family, read with grandchildren, did paintings for charity auctions, sketched your child or your dog, cooked your favorite meal, babysat at a moments notice, and made you know it was her pleasure to do so.
She was truly interested in other people. If you wanted to talk to her about something, she really listened. Your story would impress her, elicit questions, praise, surprise, and most of all engagement. And she meant it. She would relate interesting details about the lives of friends and acquaintances, information that they could only share with someone who cared.
She was the perfect foil for my father- by definition “ one who enhances another by contrast”. She was the eye of his hurricane, the secure mooring to his speed boat, she provided balance and stability, ever ready to pour oil on troubled water. She knew him well, loved him when he was unlovable, and adored him the rest of the time. They were married nearly 63 years.
She had a superb sense of humor, but did not need to be center stage. She could appreciate humor and irony and laughed as easily at herself as at anything else. When Parkinson’s was robbing her of her vocabulary, she would sometimes come up with reasonable sounding words whose only flaw was that they did not exist in English. When questioned on the meaning she would smile, maybe roll an eye and say “ there I go again…”
She knew who she was. Her internal confidence was unshakeable, and it gave her the ability to empathize with all kinds of people in all sorts of circumstances. We knew her as smart, kind, generous, compassionate, funny and much, much more.
Arda L. Berdel, (nee Oidtmann) beloved wife, mother, nana and sister passed peacefully on January 27, 2018. A kind and generous life. She is predeceased by her husband of over 62 years, Fran, (Francis). Missed by many including her children, Stephen (m. Susan) of Wantagh, NY and Missy (Mary) Lindston (m. Ian) of Rumson, NJ; her 4 grandchildren, Robert Lindston, Max, Doug & Claire Berdel. She is survived by family in Switzerland including her sister, Claire Hubacher.