Despite her demise at 99, Beatrice -- my mother -- continues to play a startling part of continuing life. So her departure is more symbolic than actual. She remains present in all sorts of life's significant details.
She had a remarkable knack to be a significant person in all sorts of people's lives. I think one reason was that she did not dominate or impose. Other people appreciated her friendship and wisdom. Her phone kept ringing. Friends were calling. Always she wore a ribbon in her hair. It broke the ice and enabled all sorts of splendid conversations. Beatrice hadn't remarried after her divorce from my father when I was a youngster. She played a role in all sorts of people's lives. I think Beatrice's secret was, simply, that she genuinely liked other people and therefore enjoyed their company.
Beatrice's mother, Ruth, was a classic great cook. Her adage was, "The key to a man's heart is through his stomach." Grandma knew the key. A faithful kitchen partner (and a humble one) Beatrice faithfully utilized her mother's recipes and utensils. Especially she made fruitful use of a great iron pot that was designed as if by divine will for soups and pot roasts. I think the secret weapon in Grandma's cuisine was her home-baked loaves of bread. I can still remember as if it were yesterday when Grandma removed her freshly baked loaves from the stove and gently brushed them with melting butter.
Beatrice successfully led a double life of public service. For many years she volunteered as a teacher at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. After laundering and ironing her uniform, she got on the freeway in her car and drove downtown to the hospital. Apparently she enjoyed a splendid rapport with her young students. One afternoon a young boy said to Beatrice "You;'re old, aren't you?" Beatrice allowed that, indeed, she was. "Good!" said the boy. "Then I can talk to you." Beatrice could talk to virtually anyone. Her secret? She knew how to listen. I cherish two awards given to Beatrice by the Childrens Hospital, The Kate Page Crutcher Award was in 1977 and the Mary Helm Memorial Award was bestowed on mother in 1982.
During the 1950s Beatrice worked as a parish secretary in an Episcopal parish in Los Angeles. So, unwittingly, she became a forerunner in the mainstream life of the Anglican chujrch during a burgeoning period prior to the present large scale emergence of women priests and bishops. When my mother retired from this work in 1959, the women in the parish gave her a going-away party. It included this note to Beatrice: "You have been our sounding board, our wailing wall, our fellow sufferer when we were upset and our joint exulter when we were happy, always bringing us closer into the rare privilege which has been ours as the friendship of the finest person most of us will ever know."
The letter to Beatrice continued: "We have all had experiences in our work here which have sometimes been cause for worry, sometimes screamingly funny, and sometimes of that deep nature which brings about true fellowship and understanding." Until her death at 99, Beatrice retained her ready smile and warm acceptance of other people. If one wished to reward her with a comely report card, might I suggest giving her an A?
I give her thanks.