Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Year is Dying in the Night . . .

A few more days left to celebrate the Christmas season, but the end of 2017.

Not a great year, but not a bad one either. I couldn’t think of much news about us for a Christmas letter, so I didn’t send one. These days it is our children and grandchildren who are leading the exciting lives.

2018 promises to be an eventful year and we are looking forward to it.

Happy New Year world!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas

I first published Lucy’s editorial in 2012. I hadn’t realized it was so long ago. I want to print it again—the changes she described in 1993 are becoming all too real. I miss those days and cherish all the memories.

Love and best wishes to all who are with us and those who are separated by time or distance. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Last, But Not the Least . . .

. . .  of the women about whom I want to write in this Year of the Woman is someone who for thirty years had been part of our occasional conversations. We knew her name, not where she was or how she had turned out.

Her father had been one of Ernie’s students, a brilliant scholar. His was a kind of quirky brilliance, as evidenced by his ability to learn and recite pages of Demosthenes, or to recite by heart the majority of the text of the movie “Reap the Wild Wind.” But there were parts of everyday life which seemed beyond him. He delighted in a second and non-judgemental family which he found in us and he was frequently in our house for a visit and for dinner. The children got to know him well. He received his B.A. and M.A. in Classics while Ernie was chair and his father invited us to a celebration dinner to mark the awarding of the second degree. At that point he wanted, and indeed his brilliance as a scholar demanded, a place in a Ph.D. program. He started working to that end at an Eastern university, but the abrupt introduction to a new culture and a more independent way of life was not easy for him. In addition, his mother died and the introduction of a step-mother was difficult for him. He returned to Detroit and to a couple of menial jobs while exploring other facets of his life. He was the adopted son of a Jewish dentist, but he found himself attracted to a small community of somewhat unorthodox Catholics, who gave him the warm acceptance he needed. He taught at their school and in time we heard the name “Linda”. After a while he and Linda were married; we attended the wedding in their community and shared in their happiness. After this we were no longer in regular contact and we felt that he was in a good situation. Eventually we learned that he and Linda had a daughter (an unexpected joy for them since they had been assured that the MS Linda had been diagnosed with made her unable to conceive.) The daughter was named Emma. Within three years of her birth we learned her father had died from a heart attack.

We did not know how to get in touch with mother and daughter and hoped continually that all was well with them. Last New Year's Eve their names came up once again and Lucy whipped out her computer and did what we should have thought to do earlier, scoured Facebook. It did not take long to find Emma and Lucy was off and running with finding out the mystery of Emma’s past.

After her father’s death, her mother’s MS reached the point where she could no longer work, and thanks to the help of the community and a member who drove them west, they settled in Northern Idaho, where Linda had heard of a group of Dominican nuns from France who gave Emma a superb education. After she graduated, Emma began studying at a Community College, but she came to the conclusion that the best way to complete a degree and to care for her mother was to join the Military. She joined the Marines and their initial assessment indicated that she had a bent for languages. (No surprise that.) So Emma went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey California and studied Chinese.

After two years of immersion in Chinese, Emma served for three years in Hawaii and completed her degree. She decided not to re-enlist and moved with her mother to Maryland, where she lives not too far away from my son and where we hope we will be able to visit her some day. She worked as a civilian contractor translating Chinese for the government, and after a while re-enlisted as a Marine reservist. When we got in touch with her she told us she was going to be deployed at the end of the summer.

I wrote to her before her deployment date and wished her well. In reply she wrote, “I will stay safe; I’m a good shot, and trust god won’t let anything happen to me when my mom has no one but me to take care of her. She is being so supportive of me, knowing that I want to do my little part in the fight against ISIS.”

We pray for her daily and as I was writing this, I realized the extent to which I was writing  not about one brave woman, but about two, who together had overcome almost insurmountable obstacles to help and support each other and achieve a better life.

Linda and Emma, you are both to be honored.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Kinder, Küche, Kirche

This Fall we attended the funerals of two more friends, whose company we had enjoyed for over four decades. Their services were packed, and many of the same people attended both, since we had all been in the same circle since the 60’s.

When we arrived in Detroit in 1966, we knew no-one and had only been married for a couple of months, so neither of us had more than a nodding acquaintance with cooking, mending, fixing or any of the practical aspects of life not found within the covers of a Greek or Latin text. And almost before we could unpack our meagre belongings, we knew we soon would be facing the challenges of parenthood. Enter Fr. Ruedeseli, who welcomed us to our parish and introduced us to a group which he oversaw. It was called The Christian Family movement, a title which about says it all. Couples met in groups of about ten or twelve at each other’s homes. I think we met about every two weeks. I remember a guide book which set up suggestions for our meetings (not always adhered to as closely as the authors would have advocated), together with a prayer component and a discussion of our reading material. I think snacks were involved, I’m certain wine was. We usually set a concrete service goal for the next meeting and then the group got on with what I think was the main purpose of the whole movement. We just talked. The groups were cunningly set up so that neophytes like us met with experienced older couples and learned what real life was all about.

That is how we met Leona and Beverly. They both had immigrant backgrounds: Bev’s family was Lebanese, Lee’s was Polish. They did not have the ambitions or influence of the last two women I wrote about, but these two embellished the derogatory phrase "Kinder, Küche, Kirche” and made it something to be truly proud of, in an era when former values were becoming up-ended. Bev and her husband Don had eight children, Lee and Joe were the parents of ten, a goodly number of whom became our children’s babysitters. They, and the other members of our groups, were on hand to help when we moved, they were at our front door with dinners when I came home from the hospital after our children were born.

Bev was a beautiful woman all her life. When our parish instituted a successful theatre group (well, we put on plays and some unexpected talent was unearthed), Bev  lent her lovely singing voice to the choruses of Oklahoma and The Sound of Music. Her son Dennis joined her in the latter and played a dreamy Rolfe. He told me at her funeral that the last music they shared was his shaky rendition of “Danny Boy” at her bedside the night she died. She was the natural choice to take our eleven month son for a couple of nights when we went to New York for College Bowl, and there is no-one else I would have trusted. For Bev, it was just another baby to love.

Lee was one of those larger than life women who was always cheerful (though not to be crossed) and who loved a good party. Like Bev she took the unheard of step of going to work, but only when her children were self-sufficient. We actually worked in the same office, and I saw her giving her sage advice to many of her co-workers, just as she had to us. She and Joe left Michigan to live in Florida, where she loved getting up and watching the sunrise over the ocean. After Joe died and her health began to fail she returned to Detroit and the love and care of her family. It was her nature to feed everyone and at her funeral the priest remarked that Lee had faithfully followed the Polish custom of bringing a basketful of food destined for Easter dinner to be blessed at a noon ceremony on Easter Saturday, and that she always brought along a loaf of bread for him, still warm from the oven.

Their lives did not always go smoothly, but faith and their strong characters pulled them through. Beverly and Leona, two more women I honor and whose memory I cherish.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Two More Memorable Women

The next two women I want to celebrate died this past summer, united not only by longevity but by the pioneering spirit which pervaded their lives. I had not known one of them long, but the other had been an honorary member of our family for four decades.

Ernie and Betty often shared their experiences teaching Latin
Betty first appeared in the pages of this blog two years ago when we were honored to be present at her one hundred and second birthday party. Just a year later we celebrated with her at her one hundred and third. Those two posts contain the details of an extraordinary life and of an extraordinary woman who was the granddaughter of a slave and who went on to attend Wellesley College, earn the honor of being elected to Phi Beta Kappa and have a distinguished career teaching in the Detroit Public School system.

She was always up-beat and positive, although I can’t think it had been easy being one of a handful of black students at a college attended by the elite daughters of the wealthy. She was gracious and in remarkably good physical shape. Although she was already in a wheel chair when I met her, her mind was sharp. She watched the television news avidly and loved to talk politics as well as literature. She and Ernie had some common links in the Detroit Classical world and he often went to visit her, taking along the bars of chocolate she loved. Betty was Wellesley College’s oldest living alumna the college and they did a splendid job of putting her life in it historical context.

A wonderful woman.  I just wish I had known her longer.

When my children asked how we made the acquaintance of the second memorable woman who died this summer, I found myself saying I just couldn’t remember. Somehow she seems always to have been there. I suspect it was through our church, where she often taught children’s classes, though she couldn’t bring herself to use the assigned text books, but preferred to use her own experiences and her expertise as a high school science teacher—an approach which wasn’t always appreciated! But so typical of Lynne, who marched through life doing it her way.

In her case too I marked two birthdays, her 85th and her 87th. I know that she appears tucked into various other posts, such as the New Year's Eve’s when she joined us for cut-throat scrabble games (mainly cut-throat on her part: she was a fierce competitor) or the post I wrote at the time she was getting ready to move and was having such a hard job with her possessions. The end of my entry describes it well.

I didn’t write about the time she found the perfect table and chairs for her dining nook and had us accompany her to Jacobsons to get it. They told her that she could take it from the store and avoid paying a delivery charge, so we lugged it all into the elevator and outside the store—where suddenly warning bells went off and we found ourselves the object of curiosity on the part of the store security guards. Then there was the time Lynne was appointed chair of the Symphony Show House gardens. Already in her 80’s, she sat gracefully outside the large house and organized a small army of helpers, of which I was one. I especially remember digging up beds of iris from some auxiliary flower beds, putting them in a wheelbarrow and transplanting them artfully under Lynne’s watchful eye.

Andrew, our friends Jerry and Sally, Lynne and Garth
She died a couple of months short of her 97th birthday. She did get to see my grandson Joe (she loved children and had only been blessed with one grandchild, so she liked to “borrow” ours) and here she is at Lucy’s wedding with Garth, who was a devoted companion to her in her last years. When she died the world lost a flamboyant personality (her hair still red) and an avid traveler, gardener, woman of faith and advocate for various causes. She had run for public office when men were the big players in politics.  Lynne kept the newspaper article where her rivals were described as "throwing their hats in the ring”, while she “threw her apron in the ring.”

Her daughter put together a slide show for a woman who was truly “Unforgettable.”  Our whole family will never forget her.

Footnote: I am delighted to say that in my post of November 30 where I started my series on remarkable women, I hazarded a guess for the cover of Time Magazine. I was pretty much right!