Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My mother's hands

Her hands are gnarled and deeply veined,
Their trembling now is still.
At unaccustomed rest they lie,
From work at last released.

Childish hands in younger days
Knew the toil of country life:
Feeding chickens, toting water,
Planting, picking, shelling, shucking.

Shell shocked soldier and Great Depression
Conspired to send her off to school.
Her hands not only wrote her lessons,
But also worked for room and board.

Independent, self-reliant,
With the inner strength her mother taught her,
With determined hands she pushed
The confining limits placed on women.

A mother's hands worked ceaselessly,
Keeping the house, keeping the books,
Sewing thousands of straight, true stitches,
Guiding her children with a straight, true heart.

In later years, her weary hands
Of necessity took over other tasks,
As touch replaced her fading vision,
And gestures augmented her jumbled speech.

Through her pain and through my sorrow,
Our hearts spoke all they had to say.
Her hands grasped mine with newfound strength,
At once both gaining and giving comfort.

And then those precious hands grow cold,
As we look into each other's eyes.
And yet, even now, I feel their warmth
As Mother's strong hands guide me home.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Esther Adams Gregory 1918-2010

The eulogy, a group effort by the family:

Esther was a Christian who believed and taught her children that religion was a private matter and that one witnessed one’s faith by practicing the Golden Rule. Her code phrase was “Don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.” She was born and raised her children during segregation, but neither expressed nor instilled in her children racial prejudice. Her mother told her always vote for the Democrat. After marrying a federal civil servant from a staunchly Republican family, she rarely expressed her political views until Ronald Reagan’s policies toward retired federal employees had transformed her husband Newell into a Democrat as well. After surgery in early 2001, she told every healthcare worker that she was counting on them to see that she recovered because she needed to live to vote again in 2004.

Esther graduated from high school and entered junior college at age sixteen. It was there that she met the love of her life Newell. Each was walking to vespers with others from their respective men’s and women’s dormitories. When the groups met, they paired off into couples. When he and Esther were the only ones left, Newell remarked that it appeared that it was the two of them. Esther thought he was being a bit presumptuous but reluctantly agreed to walk with him. Telling this story, Newell always added that Esther was the only woman who would have him. Esther and Newell honored her mother’s request that since they were so young, they wait one year to marry. They were married for sixty-nine years. On Valentine’s Day, they would go to the buffet restaurant that they frequented. That day lunch was free for couples married at least fifty years. It was not the free lunch, but the opportunity to announce how long they had been married that drew Newell there.

Esther knew adversity and hardship early in life and overcame it through independence and self- reliance. She and Newell raised their children to be equally independent. After years of being Newell’s ears and he her eyes, Esther returned to independence and self-reliance upon his death. More than anything else, she wanted not to burden her children. Next most importantly, though legally blind, she counted on the continuing judgment of her ophthalmologist from his very first diagnosis of her macular degeneration that she would never be completely without vision and require a full-time attendant.

After her marriage, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Esther perhaps found the advancement of women during her lifetime most gratifying. As a young woman, her mother had returned to Oklahoma from a properly chaperoned trip to visit relatives in New York City to announce an intent to move there and support herself as a secretary. Esther’s grandfather had forbidden her mother from doing so, declaring that no daughter of his would ever be any man’s secretary. Esther’s mother subsequently taught bookkeeping to men attending business college but could not obtain bookkeeping work herself because she was a woman. By her death, Esther had watched her and Newell’s daughter, granddaughters, nieces and great-nieces pursue whatever careers they chose. In 1984, considering it historic for women, she stood for hours at a rally to hear Geraldine Ferraro campaign as Mondale’s vice-presidential candidate. In 2008 she watched Hillary Clinton compete for the presidential nomination. She transitioned from signing as Mrs. N.W. Gregory to signing her own name and from being “et ux” to being one of the named owners of real estate. When advised that contrary to the apparent custom, her first name had been inscribed on the left side and Newell’s on the right of the plaque marking their couple’s tomb, she responded that if her name was indeed first, it was for the first time ever.

While gratified by the opportunities that opened for women, Esther herself wanted to be a full-time wife and mother. She stretched Newell’s income by employing the home economics which she had studied in junior college and by carefully managing their finances. Her brother-in-law told everyone he knew that if Esther’s sister Jimmye had managed money as well as Esther, he would have been able to retire as a very young man. At one point, Esther studied for and earned a real estate license. Upon realizing that the prime hours for showing properties would be after school, she decided that her family needed her more than whatever income she might earn.

After Newell was drafted, Esther and Scotty spent part of the war living with her mother and sister. Newell’s sisters and sisters-in-law were similarly gathered in Muskogee. The bonds and friendship among them all were forever strengthened as they assisted and supported each other.

Her children thought she authored phrases like “Don’t run with that – you’ll put your eye out.” “Eat your _________. There are children starving somewhere in the world.” “Of course you can’t have a BB gun. You’d put someone’s eye out.” Somewhere in the ozone there is a trove of water guns, pea shooters, Spud Guns, bean flips, sling shots and such. They all disappeared at her hands. Why? Well, of course, they could put someone’s eye out! If one dared use the argument that “Johnny is doing it,” the response would be, “Well, I’m not Johnny’s mother.” Or “If Johnny put his head in a hot oven, would you put yours in too?”

Her daughter-in-law of almost fifty years says that had she looked the world over, she would never have found either a mother-in-law or father-in-law who could have treated her any better or accepted and loved her anymore.

Setting opinions about fashion aside, her grandchildren remember her love, acceptance, support and belief in them. Within her own family, she was truly able to judge a person not by the color of his skin...or his disability or his sexual orientation...but by the content of his character. And, after so many years of being on the receiving end of Grandma's kindness, some of them learned the satisfaction of giving back, by helping her in many small ways after Granddad's death.

Her great-grandchildren remember their and their Grandma Essie’s mutual love but maybe not her exclaiming that they were trying to jump out of their skin or her thinking that Gramps was buying them too many toys. She was proud of their accomplishments, such as earning their Eagle Scout award, and loved to be included in discussions of their college plans.

Newell’s nieces and nephews recall her as tough but kind and dear.

All of her family loved Esther and will miss her so very much.