Our families are broader than that. They extend to those we touch, or those who touch us, often in ways not so easily recognized by those just beyond our inner circles.
This realization struck me with gale-like force this week at the public visitation for my mother Elsie, who died last week. Mom crammed a lot of living into her 86 years, 66 of them married to my dad. Together they built their own home, successfully raised three rambunctious boys, managed to enjoy a couple of decades as “snowbirds” and literally made sweet music right up to the end.
Along the way, as we were reminded at the funeral home on Sunday, they enjoyed the abiding friendship of hundreds of others.
That includes Jane, the Hospice of Southwest Iowa worker who entered Mom’s closest circle of friends in her final weeks. Shortly after Jane graciously accepted the gift of Mom’s casino name badge, Jane’s luck turned for the better. She won top prize in a gambling game she rarely attempted; her daughter earned a spot on an elite sports team. Mom’s name badge is now a lucky charm for Jane and her family.
Mom enjoyed fiddling at the Western Historic Trails Center’s Jam and Bread sessions every Thursday. Fellow jammers loved Mom, too. When she was having trouble walking, they created a special parking spot just for her. Jam master Dick Zion taped and edited a performance just for Mom’s family and fellow jammer Fred Larson gave her a private, after-hours program at the funeral home and later, at the cemetery, gave a virtuoso performance on harmonica of one of Mom’s favorites, Red Wing.
Mom gave up bowling probably about 40 years ago, yet the Council Bluffs Women’s Bowling Association remembered her with a beautiful plant. And, even though Mom and Dad moved from their house into an apartment six weeks ago, their long-time neighbor, Red, moved their lawn the morning of the visitation so it would look nice for the new neighbors, who will be moving in soon.
Although Mom and Dad moved into their Bethany Heights apartment less than two months ago, enough residents attended the visitation to warrant a bus to accommodate them.
These people won’t show up in our family tree, but they were certainly important members of Mom’s extended family. I’m sure that I speak for the others that are fortunate enough to be included in our family tree when I say that I am grateful for those non-relatives who contributed to the richness of Mom’s life. They’re family to me.
Larry Lehmer is a personal historian who helps people preserve their family histories. To learn more, visit his web site or send him an e-mail.
Photo: Elsie Lehmer in 1942 (Walter B. Lehmer collection)