Monday, January 7, 2008

Celebration of Life

I went to a funeral the other day. It was my Ex-mother-in-law's funeral.

They asked me when I came in whether I was family or friend. I decided I must be a friend since I was no longer family. That's a little uncomfortable right up front having to make that decision. I've wondered about that before as in what difference does it make really. I'm glad I sat on the friend side though because there weren't so many people there.

The officiating pastor admitted right away that he had never met my Ex-mother-in-law. That was right after he said this was to be a celebration of her life. He said he felt like he knew her based on his conversation with her two daughters and son and one of her sisters. Both of those statements irritated me.

I think it would be better to omit the fact that you didn't know the person. You don't have to pretend you were some big buddy. But to say it right up front like that bothers me and kind of sets the wrong tone I think.

For sure don't say something so absurd that you know someone because you had a couple of brief conversations with a couple of other people. I knew her pretty well. And I can tell you for sure there's way more to her life (and anyone's life for that matter) than what you can find out in a few brief conversations.

Otherwise the pastor did a pretty good job though. He had a good, calm voice and he made the whole thing pretty good.

I told my son if he was planning my funeral someday and the preacher didn't know me then he should tell the guy to not say stupid stuff like that.

I was 16 when I met her. She was 36 then. It's hard for me to believe that she then was younger than my own children today.

She was my height but really seemed taller and had a lanky, athletic build. She was very strong, both physically and mentally. I mean she was very determined.

Her name was Paula.

It was the kind of "determined" that gets set on a person that's gone through a lot of hardship and difficulty. She was a child of the depression from rural Oklahoma. Her father was a number of things including a pretty good baseball player. But more than anything he was an alcoholic except that's today's language and back then he was just a drunk. And his family was poorer than dirt. Dirt poor was way above their status. Her mother supported the family for the most part. That and divorced and remarried the same fellow and had babies. You might guess she had problems of her own and you'd be right.

So the raising of the other six children in the family fell to Paula. At age 7 when a little girl should be doing little girl things she was doing mother things. I don't know all that she suffered. I know once she had to flee from her father who in a drunken state fired at her with a gun. I know when she was 15 or so that her mother basically sold her into a marriage that was eventually annulled. I know more but I'll keep it to myself.

Her childhood was a very difficult time, especially in rural Oklahoma.

She was married at 19 and had three little babies within a few years. Her husband took various jobs but generally drove a truck which kept him on the road and away from his family. And he made a pretty good living driving the truck. And that was at a time when pretty good livings weren't all that easy to come by.

But there were serious illnesses and accidents and grinding poverty and lots of problems for a young wife and mother to solve all on her own. And still there were the brothers and sisters she'd left behind and they all needed help from time to time and place to live and money to keep from starving. All that would be depressing enough for a well person but there were physiological issues that made it worse. Except that no one knew about things like that then and doctors didn't treat such things and if they would have treated them there was no money for it anyway.

She couldn't get things clean enough. Not her house or her car or her kids or her self no matter how hard she tried and she tried really hard, sometimes too hard. I always suspected there was more abuse behind that obsession for cleanliness but it is only speculation.

She was a survivor and a fighter and a protector. She took care of her family. She was an exceptionally loyal friend and a ferocious enemy. She was a great cook and knew how to do so many things in the kitchen. Once she and I made sausage. I didn't know how but she did and it was very good sausage. Nearly every year at Christmas she would make candy. Divinity was the kind I liked the best. It is hard to make candy. You have to stir divinity and fudge a lot. When your arm feels like it is about to fall off you are about 1/2 way done. She could stir longer than I could.

I forgot to say that she was very pretty in her youth, too.

There were so many things she could do. She was resourceful and smart and honest and loyal and oftentimes she was a lot of fun. To me, then, she had no fear and nothing but confidence. I look back and know that was not true. Back then she and her husband, who I adored and loved and respected in his own right, liked to go to one of the western clubs on occasion. They smoked and drank and had a really good time. They sometimes went with other driver couples.

There were tragedies and difficulties. Once another driver was killed and Paula and Walt were right there with them. If anyone was in the hospital they could count on Paula to help out with food or errands or kids and surely a hospital visit or several. That was true for neighbors and friends and family and acquaintances.

Sometimes we'd have these really long card games that would last into the wee hours of the morning. Or sometimes we'd play a board game. Really we'd just sit there and talk and drink coffee or something else and there would be chips and dips and food that Paula had made us.

I loved to eat breakfasts that Paula made. She made the best biscuits and gravy and there would be bacon and sausage and ham and eggs and more food than we could all eat. At supper there would be a ton of food too and we'd talk about politics or any news of the day. We were pretty spirited in our discussions.

Paula wanted more for her children than what she had. So she encouraged them in different activities. She never missed a game or event that I can think of where one of her children was performing. And when the grandchildren arrived she came to see them, too.

My own family was calm and peaceful and placid. But Paula's family was vibrant and chaotic and extraordinarily spontaneous. There were other opposites as well. My dad was a business owner and and my then-future-father-in-law was a Teamster. But we were all from the roots of rural Oklahoma and the soil.

Paula's own children had a much better childhood than did she. But it was not the childhood of TV series and literary fiction and American mythology. There's some pain they carry that's not likely to be easily assuaged.

Paula loved her pets. I mean loved them. And she had some of the smartest dogs I've ever known. I think maybe they were smarter because she loved them so much. They loved her, too.

And she could sew. She made wedding gowns and things like that. She even created her own designs and patterns when she couldn't buy what she wanted.

She loved to travel trailer. They bought the first one that first year I met her. It was a little "pop up" trailer and she packed everyone up and took off to the Grand Canyon. They were gone for like 3 weeks or something. Later on they switched to 5th Wheels and had a boat and the whole thing was longer than anything I'd want to pull, or could for that matter.

There was something about the smallness of the trailer and the environment of the parks they camped in that was good for Paula. And there were friendships that were formed that lasted nearly as long as life.

One of those trips though something happened and she became really sick and was hospitalized a long while. No one ever really knew what the problem actually was. But she never really totally recovered from that.

Her husband died in April, 2006. They were married in June, 1947 so they didn't make it quite 59 years. She's been pretty sick since then and her daughter took care of her. They built her a little place out back so she could live out there. Just the last few weeks were spent in a facility.

I loved and respected Paula. I'm glad I went to her funeral. I miss her. She was very human and I know that very well.

She was a really fine woman. She did the best she could.


~Betsy said...

This is a lovely tribute to Paula. I'm sorry the minister said what he did about not knowing her. That does sound rather callous. Thanks for sharing a part of her with us. She sounds like a remarkable woman.

Annie said...

She sounds like quite a woman. Thank you for sharing your memories of her.

nancy said...

what a lovely tribute you wrote about paula. even though she obviously had many hard times she had a lot of preserverance which you obviously respected in her. thanks for sharing and again my sympathies to you.

Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Sorry to hear about the loss of Paula. You wrote a beautiful tribute to her and I'm sure she would have appreciated all your kind words.

Lori1955 said...

What a wonderful tribute and a vivid picture you paint of her. I agree that the minister should not have said that. It makes it seem so impersonal.

*(·¸*Chris*¸·)* said...

Too bad you couldn't have said something about Paula. I'm sure it would have been nice to hear from someone who knew her and thought so much about her. What a dumb thing for the minister to say.

SKYGIRL said...

Flinty! What a remarkable woman! I wish you had given her ulogy? Do you think any of her kids or relatives would like a copy of this one?

She sounds like she lived life to it's fullest, even during and after such hardships, and who of us could argue with that? I "LOVE" her, and never even met her!

I wonder if there is something from coming from Oklahoma stock. We are a hardy bunch! I was not born there, but every relative I ever had was! She sounds really, really, cool. I would have loved to have had one breakfast with her, or have been a fly on the wall, during one.