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Archive for the ‘Tributes’ Category

It’s been nearly a week since my last post. It isn’t that I haven’t had anything to post, it is more likely that since entering the world of FaceBook and Twitter where thoughts and ideas are stated in a few sentences and often have very little in the way of content… it has just been easier to do that… to not have to think or explore or ponder anything at length.

Yesterday I attended my second memorial service in FOUR DAYS. On Sunday was the service of a long-time activist in the LGBT community (Lisa was 66), and yesterday was the service for a long-time member of my church (John was 84).

Sunday’s service got me to thinking about my own activism in the 1980’s and 90’s, and how as of late, I have felt very disconnected from this (ever changing) group of individuals. This is, of course, of my own doing. I had a significant change in my life about nine years ago, and I just stepped back – WAY back – from the community. I never really stepped back in.

I did take away two things from Sunday’s service: (1) This community still exists for me, and I could easily step back in if I chose to. (2) A long-time activist got up and talked about wishing she had TOLD the person we were honoring how much their work meant to her before she died, and she encouraged us all to reach out now, while we can, to tell people who have touched us how much they mean to us. I plan to take that to heart.

Wednesday’s service packed our small church. It is estimated there was probably 60-70% more people in the church than we had pews to accommodate. It was a great testament to John that so many people – many of them pretty old – sat or stood for an hour and a half in a hot church. The air was on, but it was 90+ degrees outside and very crowded, and most of the men were in suit jackets.

I spent the time prior to the service (and after it began) pulling folding chairs from EVERYWHERE for those who had come to say their “farewells.” After all the chairs were in (and many, many folks still had to stand up against the outer walls), I went to the office to get more programs printed. There were two women who succumbed to the heat, and I checked on them, spent time talking with the funeral director, and gave directions and answered questions through-out the service from those who had wandered out of the service early to get “the first or the best” food or chance to be seen when it ended (their words, not mine). When all was said and done, I missed most of the service. I felt like I had missed my chance to say “good-bye” to this amazing man.

John (and his wife), had many more opportunities available than most, but they chose to be a part of a small city church that welcomed folks no matter who they were, what they looked like, whom they chose to love, how much was in their bank account, or where they went to high school. I knew him as a kind, gentle funny man long before (a good 10 years, I’m guessing) I knew what he did for a living or where he lived or who he associated with outside of church. He was just this incredibly REAL person who loved people.

Today, I listened to a recording of the homily and comments from a son and grandson off the church’s website. I listened and heard what I really needed to. John was, according to his son, one of the least judgmental people on the planet he knew (and I concur).

As I think about my own thoughts and comments to a friend – many on the snarky side – of those who I thought pretty rude because of their comments to me about wanting to be seen first after the service or wanting to be one of the first at the reception – I felt a sense of shame. I had done to them (not to their face, mind you) pretty much what they had done to me – I had lowered myself to their level instead of “Rising Above the Bullshit.”

What I want to take away from John’s passing is the drive to be more loving and accepting, and to not lower myself to the snarky side. It is time to try and be a better person. Not a bad goal, eh?

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My Grandma

Sunday afternoon my grandma died. I am sad… and I am relieved.

Grandma was born June 4th, 1917 in Waverly, Minnesota. She was the oldest of four girls. When she was 16 she met the man who would become her husband of 65 years (ending when he died in 2000). Together they lived on a farm in Central Minnesota with my paternal great-grandfather until his death at age 91 (land and house purchased by his father in 1870) and had 14 children – all live births (and all still living) – 11 boys and three 3 girls – half born at home and half at the hospital. These children went on to produce 54 grandchildren for my grandma to love on.

My grandma was the old-fashioned kind of grandma. She always wore a dress (didn’t see her in pants until my grandpa died), and a full apron. Coffee was still made on the stove top in an old coffee pot. Dinner was served at noon on the dot and supper was served at exactly the same time every evening – and not one minute later. There was always a stack of bread on the table and a stick of butter. The last time I saw then both alive I met a few of my aunts at the farmhouse, and because it was Friday we had tomato soup and cheese sandwiches (no meat on Friday – ever!)

We lived just four miles from my grandparent’s house when I was growing up – but we could still legitimately sing “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go” because we did those things to get there. When I would attempt to run away from home I would be heading to my grandma’s house (when I was six I got over a quarter of the way there!) When I was with my grandma I felt like I was the most special person in the world. She told me I was her favorite – but I’m guessing that she told all her grandchildren that.

Grandma baked. She was known for her pies – crust made from scratch with lard (she used to tell people that she had 14 children – all raised on lard and butter and they were all alive and well – why in the world would she ever want to use margarine!) I believe her crust recipe makes 50 crusts – evidently the dough freezes well. Every year in June, for my birthday, she would make sure she made a fresh strawberry pie just for me! I have one of her recipe cards for banana bread. I think it makes 50 loaves.

My grandma quilted. She did the standard quilts for her mission group, and for all the members of the family she made tied quilts. You can see a few of these quilts and find out how to tie quilts here.

Grandma taught me how to tie quilts on a quilt frame my grandfather had made for her (I have one he made for me, too!) – and we would spend time together quilting and talking. I was interested in genealogy and family stories, and she shared with me her childhood memories and stories of her family. Or we would listen to the Edison (the Victrola-type record player).

Grandma sometimes made the Christmas gifts for the grandchildren. When I was quite young she made teddy bears for the children around at that time (with so many, I think there is a 20 year difference between the oldest and youngest grandchild). This is mine (yes I still have it). I think my brother (who is just a year younger than I) bit the nose off the first year I had it. gma-bear

When I was in college, she made dolls for some of the younger children. I asked her if she would make one for me, too… and she did 😉

gma-doll

No matter the crowd in the tiny farmhouse – especially during the holidays when the whole family would get together, you could count on two things. Grandma would have time to hug on a child, and there would be LOTS of food. Holiday meals were potluck – and grandma would cook several turkeys and make three large (and by large, I mean just barely able to fit into the oven) pans of stuffing. One thing is for sure – our family loved to eat

One of my aunts had kept me posted on her health, and I knew I would probably never see my grandmother alive again. Grandma didn’t know who I was last time I saw her, but she doesn’t know who her children were either. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for over ten years, and had been living in a nursing home for the last six or seven. Her death was a blessing. I was told that she was surrounded by 11 of her 14 children when she died. In fact, I got a call (message left on machine) several hours in advance of her death. I returned the call just 30 minutes after she had actually died. She was 91.

My grandmother was truly an amazing woman and I will always cherish the time I got to spend with her. And, when I wrap up in the quilts she made for me, I feel her loving hugs.

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Three years ago today (January 20th) I lost a good friend. Another totally unexpected death – the second in just three weeks. Three years ago it felt like my world had crumbled beneath me.

Michael and I had been attending the same church for many years before I really got to know him. I knew he was a bit of a “celebrity” and celebrities have never been a draw for me. We started talking at a church dance just shortly after both he and I had ended relationships. We knew that we had the same birthday, and made arrangements to spend at least part of our birthday together the following month with another member of our church with the same birthday, and thus began our friendship. As time went on I thought of him as my big brother [big being the operative word here – besides being 15+ years older, he probably had a good foot on my 5’8″.]

I remember some 5 years ago when I headed back to Minnesota for a class reunion. I was very nervous – not very popular in high school and in the last reunion book (tho I did not attend that reunion) I made an announcement which probably came as a shock to this primarily Catholic town. I remember that Michael called me as I was getting ready to go to the first event and gave me a pep talk to ease my nervous stomach. And, when the next night didn’t go well, half way through I called him again and he gave me courage to go back and enjoy myself.

Michael was a kind, gentle man, with a voice that St. Louis had grown to love on the radio. He was a fixture in the Central West End of St. Louis City and an attraction every time our group of friends wandered to a public event.

Because of Michael’s connection to public ratio, he got me into a special gathering to meet Garrison Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion fame. He said there were hundreds of folks wanting to get in to see him. I know that it was because I was from Minnesota and Michael was the one who asked, that I got to meet and talk with Keillor for a few moments.

For several months prior to his death, when “the gang” would go out for lunch after church, we would talk about the word Michael would need to fit into his radio interviews. There were many, but the one I always remember is “higgily-piggily.” I’m not even sure if it is a real word, but he managed to work it into his interview effortlessly.

Michael is gone, but he gave me the gift of his sister Pat and one of his dearest long-time friends, Kathi who have become friends of mine as well. While neither of them live close by – Kathi is living in Jerusalem right now and Pat is in Philadelphia – they are never more than an email or phone call away should I need them.

He was one of my closest friends, and I still miss him very much.

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I’ll miss you Mandy

Mandy

I had my 15-year-old Aussie, Mandy, put to sleep last night.

For the last 11 years Mandy has been my good friend and companion. Through three relationships, two significant deaths, and four cats – Mandy has been there.

Mandy was 4 when I got her. She was well-trained and an incredibly smart dog. Since there is no fence around my yard, I was sure I would need to purchase an electronic fence, but after a week of her stepping outside of the property line and me telling her “our yard”, she knew where she could and could not go – and didn’t begin crossing those lines until just a few months ago (and only on the side of the neighbor she really liked). When we would walk to a neighbors (no leash was required) and she got bored, she would “run away” back home. Her house and her car were where she wanted to be, because I would always come back to these places.

When I first got Mandy the neighborhood had a number of children. There would often be crowds around her because she was so gentle. With the words “Say please”, she would sit up and wave her paws up and down for 15 or 20 seconds. This was a huge crowd-pleaser.

say please

The first few months she was with me she didn’t bark. One day I heard a small bark come out of her and when I turned to look at her she cowered. I guess she had been beaten for this in the past. Instead, I rewarded her, and from that time on she was a great watch dog. In fact she chased off a group of teens trying to make trouble in the neighborhood and became the sweetheart of the block!

A great traveler, we have taken road trips to Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota and Philadelphia.

Over the past year, Mandy had lost her hearing and control of her bowels. Her hips had been giving her trouble, and she would often fall down and find it difficult to get up (so I started watching her when she would go outside so I could help her up if needed). I think she knew her times was coming to an end, because for the past few weeks she was never more than a few steps from me and tried as hard as she could to go with me wherever I went (although that was usually not possible).

Last evening she started panting heavy and this increasingly got worse until she seemed to be gasping for breath. I knew she had a growth around her throat, but at her age there was little that could be done for her. Her breathing was more and more difficult and the vet said it was time, and although I wasn’t really ready to make that decision, I knew it was the right thing to do.

I will miss my baby.

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Tribute to Dad

I met my chosen parents (Ann & Charlie) probably 20 or 21 years ago at a church retreat. I remember Charlie was wearing a red sweat suit and he reminded me a bit of jolly old St. Nick – complete with white whiskers and the “bowl full of jelly” belly.

Over the years I got to know both of these wonderful people, and when my ex and I got married 17 years ago I asked them to be my chosen parents and take part in the wedding ceremony. They agreed, and from that point on we were family.

Dad was soft-spoken – and I often had to exert extra energy to hear what he was saying. When he was happy you knew it, he would talk louder and use words like “delightful.”

Dad worked as a counselor who specialized in working with folks with drug, alcohol, and anger issues (and in many cases all of the above). He had worked in a half-way house for a number of years before I ever knew him, and I often found it difficult to believe that this short, soft-spoken, gentle man could scare the crap out of of ex-felons. These were men considerably larger than he, but around dad, there was a respect given that few had the privilege to see.

Dad was a great lover of music, studied voice, and was a member of the Bach Society Choir here in St. Louis. Mom and dad were great lovers of opera – traveling to Iowa for weeks of opera almost annually to watch one performance after another. I, on the other hand, love everything from rap to Classical, with the exception of opera. One day I got a phone call from dad saying that he had gotten all of us tickets to a “musical.” I love musicals and was expecting Oklahoma or the like – instead he had tricked me into seeing an opera. And while there is no denying the incredible vocal talents of operatic singers, I must admit that I am still not a fan. He had tried – and with a smile and a wink 🙂

Dad died three years ago today (Dec 28th), just 3 days after Christmas. It was completely unexpected. I did get to the hospital in time to see him before he died (although he wasn’t awake at all during that time). When he went mom was holding one hand and I was holding the other, and many of his friends were standing there around the room holding on to each other.

I think a lot about dad this Christmas Season, and know that his presence in my life – all as an adult – gave me a peaceful look at life, and helped me to trust again.

Peace be with you, dad, until I see you again.

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