PINELLAS PARK —Linda Weh, a Waffle House waiter who gave away most of what little she had, was a sucker for Christmas. She crammed a closet in her one-bedroom apartment with decorations: a little fake tree already decorated and wrapped in plastic, and as many yard ornaments as her landlord would allow.
She spent the actual holiday at her daughter's Inverness ranch, always remembering to bring presents for the horses.
Widowed at 35, Ms. Weh brought up three children with a perky philosophy that some might dismiss as a cliche: If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.
"It means, just because you are handed lemons, make it a happy time," said Marge Wiemiller, 61, a childhood friend. "Make something good out of it."
Ms. Weh died Monday at Northside Hospital. She was 66. Her family said doctors told them Ms. Weh had lung cancer. Until the last 10 days of her life, no one suspected a life-threatening condition.
She grew up in Staten Island and New Jersey. At 18, she met Joe Weh, a good-looking sailor with a brooding way about him, at a USO dance. She told her family that night that she had met her future husband.
He drove a truck. She cut hair and waited tables.
Children and adults found in her a listening ear. "She had a couple of girlfriends who would come stay with her because they had nowhere else to go," said daughter Cathy Trump, 42. "Even kids who had no place to turn or needed a shoulder to cry on — I've found cards where people said she had been a better mother to her than their own parents had."
She liked country music. As a girl, Ms. Weh once sang a solo in Carnegie Hall, but never got carried away with musical aspirations. Sometimes, just for the heck of it, she and her two daughters would all dance in the kitchen to 1950s rock 'n' roll.
Joe Weh died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1977. He drank only moderately, his daughter said. The love of her life gone, Ms. Weh told her family she would never look for another mate.
Wiemiller was one of the friends who tried to get her to date again. "She said, 'Hell no. I'm alone and set in my ways.' "
Ms. Weh moved to St. Petersburg in 1992. A Waffle House employee for 17 years, she has worked most recently at the 2525 54th Ave. N Waffle House. She handled the breakfast and lunch crowd, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Nothing bothered her. Not the morning rush, or surly customers, or noise bouncing from the tile to the ceiling.
"She always made it look easy," said manager Denise Warrington, 42.
She worked her shift June 12. The next day, her doctor sent her to a hospital, where doctors found a mass in her lung. She died before they could begin chemotherapy.
Thirty-two years earlier, her husband had died in much the same way — with no hint anything was amiss, working right up to the end.
In the aftermath, her stunned daughter and son-in-law, Cathy and Richard, have made the trip from Inverness, a trailer in tow. They have emptied her tiny apartment of its knick-knacks, including the Christmas closet, and hauled everything away.
Going through her mother's belongings, her daughter found a drawer full of correspondence from charities to whom Ms. Weh sent money.
"Oh, my God, I've got a list of them," Trump said. "Disabled veterans, feed the children, hospice. National Wildlife Federation, the Humane Society, Easter Seals, Cancer Fund, National Association for the Terminally Ill. She sent everybody $5 a month."
Wiemiller had planned to come down from Wisconsin in November. Her voice trembled over the phone as she talked about her lifelong friend.
"You say, 'Okay, this is not a bad dream. I'm not going to wake up tomorrow and find out that it all went away.' "
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]