Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mimi's Last Gadabout

“To fly west, is a final check we all must take.”

Gentle Readers,

It has been some months since last I wrote. There are many reasons for this. First, nothing much of interest has happened in my travels. That’s the minor reason.

The major reason is….something different.

I started writing these travelogs to share my experiences with my family. My mother read these things religiously and I pretty much thought of her as my audience as I wrote them. My wife and kids, too, of course, but it always seemed like I wrote best when I thought of my mother as my reader.

Mother passed away in June in a sudden and totally unexpected fashion. Dad, my wife, my daughter and I were at her side in a hospital in Asheville as she ‘flew west.’ We were at her beloved cabin halfway up a mountain near Cullowhee, North Carolina when she developed a massive cerebral hemorrhage. The keystone cops-like saga of getting her down off of the mountain on the one lane dirt road in the back of the huge ambulance would make a great story….but I don’t think I will ever be able to write it.

In any case, it was my privilege to give a part of her eulogy and I…well I have to share it with you. Until I post this, I don’t think my Muse will let me write another travelog. So here goes….

Mother’s memorial was held in Haines City, FL, where my brother and I grew up and went to school and where she and Dad have lived since 1957 or so. Mother was very active in the local Hospital Auxiliary, the local Library and was well known around town. The entire four front rows of the memorial were full of her friends from the Heart of Florida Hospital and the Haines City Library. The Hospital ladies were all wearing their ‘Pink Lady’ outfits complete with nametags. It was very touching. The rest of the room was filled with friends and family.

Three of us gave the eulogy. I went first, mother’s cousin, a great public speaker I greatly admire went next and my oldest cousin, a long time reader and contributor to this blog finished with a very nice memorial. Here’s what I said:

Hello everyone, I want to thank you for coming today. Dad appreciates it and I know Mother would have too.

When Dad asked me if wanted to say something today, my first reaction was a cowardly one. But I quickly realized that if I did not take this opportunity to remember the life my mother led and the example she set, that I would regret it for the rest of my days.

But as I started to gather my thoughts on what to say, I quickly discovered that I was having a hard time organizing it all. I could stand up here and tell stories about my Mother for hours, but boiling all my thoughts and feelings down to something I can say in the time I have allotted was very hard.

I have heard and read over the years that psychologists and interviewers – when they are trying to assess the “content of someone’s character” often say that they pay attention to the things that are not said. Often the values that someone holds as so basic that “it goes without saying” are a wonderful insight into their makeup.

This all came together for me when I was talking with my wife. I was going through some my photos to see if I had anything to include in this memorial. I said in passing to Ann that there weren’t very many pictures of Mother by herself – that she was always in a group of people. Ann gave me that look she always gives me when I’ve said something dumb or obvious and said: “Well of course, family was very important to your Mother.”

And that crystallized the whole thing for me and I knew exactly what I wanted to say today. For if family wasn’t the most important thing in my Mother’s life; it was in the top two. I don’t mean just my brother and I, or our children, her grandchildren. She was also immersed in her sisters, her mother and father and her ancestors. I was never more proud of my mother than during that long dark time when she sacrificed so much to take care of my grandmother after grandma’s strokes.

Before this gets too maudlin, I’d like to tell you a story of my first memory of my Mother teaching me a lesson. As you all know, Mother grew up on a farm in northeast Oklahoma during the Great Depression. She and her sisters had many chores around the farm. Many of those chores included taking care of the cattle – feeding, watering, milking and cleaning up after the cows. Mother hated those cows and told me once that she was so happy when she grew up, got married and moved away from those darn cows.

Some of my earliest memories are of those same cows as I spent a lot of my earliest days on that same farm.

Fast forward a couple of years. Grandma and Popper have sold the farm and we’ve moved here to Haines City. I’m about 4 or 5 years old and we are all having dinner over in the house on Leroy Drive. I evidently have developed a bad habit of chewing with my mouth open and Mother – like gazillions of mothers over the history of Mankind – is going to show me how to do it right. So, she says: “Geoff, you have to stop eating like that. It’s disgusting. No one wants to look at that. Here watch me.”

She takes a bite and begins chewing. Now, I am a young man with a vivid imagination. Totally unbidden, my imagination pops up an image of one of those cows chewing her cud and puts the picture right next to my mother’s face. Which would be OK, if I had kept my mouth shut; but I was an honest and straight forward tyke. I hear my voice saying: “You eat like a cow.”

Quickly, what was a simple lesson in dining etiquette became something much more serious. She explained to me – in terms I could easily understand – that no, she doesn’t eat like a cow, she eats like a person. Further, it is very disrespectful to adults in general and her in specific to say something like that. I got the message.

I also never compared my mother to a cow again.

I have one final story to tell you. My youngest daughter, Katie, graduated from High School several weeks ago. Of course, Mother and Dad came up to Minnesota to be part of the celebration. Several days before she graduated, we decided that we needed to make a road trip to Ames, Iowa, to see Iowa State University where both will go to school this fall. Jaime and Dad went off the Engineering Department’s shop where they were going to spend a couple of hours on one of Jaime’s projects. That would leave Mother and I with a couple of hours to drive around campus and the town.

We had a great time. One of the things I showed Mother was Howe Hall which houses a Virtual Reality theater and the Aerodynamics Lab. There are a lot of interesting things to look at to include various sculptures. Most of these are of the Modern Art School and Mother and I both agreed that – even after reading the descriptions – we didn’t quite understand what the artist was trying to do.

But there was one piece that Mother and I both enjoyed. It’s down on the main floor amongst the jet engines and other aerospace displays and is a large slab of marble shaped to look like the wing of jet airliner. Engraved near the root of the wing is the famous quote most often attributed to Sir Isaac Newton, although there are quotes like it going back to the Ancient Greeks: “If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

I’ve seen this quote often throughout my life – and I always viewed it in the context of science and how science advances generation by generation. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mother give a little head nod as she read it. I really regret that I didn’t say something to her then.

I’ve thought about this a lot since she died. Mother was not scientifically minded. When she read that, she was thinking of family and how each generation builds on the last. I wish I had said: “Mother, you know I’ve always felt like I was standing on yours and Dad’s shoulders.”

I know she would have said something like she always did - something along the lines of: “Well of course you do….and I always felt like I was standing on my folks….and I’m sure your kids feel like they are standing on yours.”

I can think of no better thought to leave you with today than that as a testimony to my Mother and the life she lived.

I remain,