My mother-in-law, Evie Strohmaier, died today at the age of 96. She died peacefully in her sleep. A person can’t ask for much more than that.
I’d be hard-pressed to name someone I’ve known in my life who was a better person than Evie. I mean that sincerely and not as a platitude. In a world characterized by mother-in-law jokes, harsh depictions of mothers-in-law, and husbands and wives doing anything they can to avoid their mothers-in-law, I was blessed with one of the kindest, warmest, and most genuine women on the planet as my mother-in-law. There are an awful lot of folks who will agree with me, an awful lot of people with empty spots in their hearts right now.
I was doubly blessed in the fact that she liked me…a fact she made clear on more than one occasion, both to me and to her daughter. Before we moved to Oregon so that Cristina could care for her parents, before they hit their 90s and age slowed them down significantly, Ed and Evie often came to San Diego. During those visits, Evie and I often talked about this or that – innocuous conversations. Except, they were never truly innocuous. If you really took a moment to examine what was said, the crafty ol’ gal was checking out just how I was treating her daughter and grandson and great-granddaughter. Apparently, I passed muster.
Evie was born in Blue Hill, Maine on October 31, 1912. She seemed to take special delight in the fact she was born on Halloween. It was so against ‘type,’ and it brought a mischievous twinkle to her eyes each year, matching her very dry razor wit. A very New England wit. She lived in Maine for over 40 years, and it showed, particularly in the way she downplayed a lot of the things she did in her life. She, or my wife, would tell me these stories about things Evie did through the years – things that most people would find kind of exciting. Evie would respond, a little grin on her mouth, “It was fun.” And, we’d move on without much ceremony.
She was an independent woman. According to my wife, this proved the case until close to the end. As such, Evie didn’t much appreciate the realities of aging. When I was home last Christmas, she fell a couple of days prior my having to leave and go back to work in Saudi Arabia. She was still in the hospital when I left, and true to form, she was more concerned that Cristina and I were not able to be alone that last couple of days than with the fact she was in not such good shape. That’s who she was.
The last time I saw her, she was lying in a hospital bed…sort of belying the very vital woman I knew for nearly 20 years. I’ve decided not to remember her that way. Rather, I’m going to remember the woman who offered a quiet, but haughty, little smile whenever she managed to beat my socks off at Scrabble. I’m going to remember the woman who worked in the church serving line at the soup kitchen into her 80s. I am going to remember the woman who would bounce out of her chair and snap into action mode whenever a friend needed her. That’s who I will remember.
I’m burning a candle for you today, Evie…
bright red, with a spicy scent that
fills the room with memories of Halloween and
the Fall season into which you were born.
It’s the only candle I could find,
and some might think it odd
to burn a red candle for a woman
who neared a century of life.
But, I know about you rushing out the
door to meet the ship;
weekends at the Plaza and the party in the Embassy.
Not buried as one – in ignorance – might think,
a little flame flickered safely in a special place,
carefully cultivated like a prized orchid,
ready to burn brightly when the moment,
like a fanning breeze,
brightened everyone’s day.
Copyright 2009, Greg Hubbard