Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bea's Memorial Service

My brother has graciously provided a summary of remarks during Bea's memorial service:

NICK: We’ve gathered here this evening not to mourn my mother’s death but to celebrate her life. She had more influence on me than any person I’ve ever known, and her main quality in this regard was her capacity for expressing love. The name Beatrice means "one who blesses.

I remember her sitting and listening for 45 minutes while I sang the entirety of a musical performance I was rehearsing. I remember her taking me to my first baseball game. I remember when she invited a troubled officemate to come live with us for a while. And I remember that she was the only one of my son Ben’s four grandparents who could connect with him. Her love for me was so intense while I was growing up that she had trouble placing limits on me.

She was a complicated woman. She participated in the 1963 march in which Martin Luther King articulated his dream, but she was afraid of street crime and suspected our maids of drinking her wine and putting water in the decanter, so she wouldn’t notice. She was a highly paid professional in an era when most women were putting all their energies into homemaking and mothering, yet by the time most women were working, she regretted not devoting more attention to her children. She embraced my father’s ancestry - saying Good Night to me in Russian, observing the custom of sitting quietly before a departure, and co-authoring a book on the tsar and his family - but her New Jersey roots kept showing. I could never figure out why my father’s ancestry seemed to matter so much more than my mother’s. She loved to enter contests; I remember helping her with a Dial soap contest that involved praising the product with phrases beginning with D-I-A-L. Once she actually won a mink coat in a contest.

My mother never drove a car all her life, but she could be eminently practical. She saw that in Washington in The Sixties success in your field often depended as much on contacts as on ability and hard work. When I was struggling in school, she invited my teachers over for dinner - and invited some single women over, too.

I was struck that the headline writer at the Provincetown Banner, challenged to sum up my mother’s life in a few words, chose "writer and editor." I thought, "Wow, that’s what I am, too." She taught me to play Scrabble, and shared my love of Shakespeare. Whenever I said that one person did something better than another, she would say, "Comparisons are odious."

For my mother, psychoanalysis was a saving grace, a life raft after some traumatic experiences in her early years. She considered Freud to be the most important person of the 20th century. In the fact of all the craziness of modern life, she managed to project a warm, welcoming love that became a life raft for me. I’ll always remember her fondly.

BETSY: Beatrice was my mother-in-law. Unlike all the jokes, we had a good relationship. In fact, over the years, I came to love her dearly. I admired her and she taught me many things. Nick says that at first she may have found me a bit too prim and was unsure I could make her son happy. (You know Beatrice!) Near the end of her life she said she thought I had improved! Ultimately, I felt included in the circle of her love.

I remember how one of the first areas where we connected was about the importance of soil, of earth. Beatrice believed in building up the fertility of the soil and in composting. At one point, I think, she urged Nick to consider a career in soil agronomy. And there was, I thought, a deeper, metaphorical/psychological/spiritual dimension contained in this interest of hers. At any rate, being an organic gardener and composter, I resonated with it.

Mother had studied Italian at one point in her life. She loved to roll phrases of Italian over her tongue. One summer she was fond of the phrase, "Dolce fa niente" which she translated as "It is sweet to do nothing." Since I am always busy to the point of workaholism, and am challenged to balance my activity with time for rest and relaxation, Dolce Fa Niente is medicine for what ails me. Another gift from Beatrice!

Like all of us Beatrice had her struggles and her faults. Sometimes when we were visiting, Mother would get extremely frustrated with Father. One morning I was in the kitchen and she came charging in and poured herself a glass of wine. "That man!" she fumed. After a while, calmed and fortified by the wine, she returned to continue the conversation with Father.

As others have mentioned, Mother was able to relate to our son Ben who has Down syndrome and autism. Of all his four grandparents she was the one who really forged a connection with him. She met him where he was at. If he was obsessed with hamburgers, she made sure she fixed him a hamburger on his first night at Wellfleet. She rolled with his odd behaviors and found things to talk about with him. She had real conversations with him. She was comfortable with him in a physically affectionate way.

And Ben is only the most extreme example of Beatrice's ability to connect and to pay attention to the people around her. She listened and gave good attention to her children and her grandchildren (and her friends and acquaintances.) She was warm and interested in what we each were doing and what we were thinking about. In the spotlight of her attention she made us feel seen and that we were important and loved. Beatrice communicated her love in ways that reached us and fed us. And we loved her back.

NAN (niece): Her mother Dorothy and Beatrice had a rivalry..."Auntie Bea was the most exotic character I was related to"...At her wedding, Beatrice threw rice under her skirt and said, "That’s for fertility."...She was emblematic of something that was radically different.

ELLEN (grand niece): You had to be on time for Beatrice...She was a crucial person at a difficult time in my mother’s life...She remembers Beatrice running naked into the water.

MARGOT (niece): She worked, she traveled, she lived in a cool Washington house, and she’d say something you didn’t expect...Beatrice sent her mother, Dorothy, exotic food for the holidays, like a jar of whale water, baby bees, and was it bull’s testicles?...Remembers fights with Dorothy and saying to her mother, "You two are too old to be fighting."

NATALIE (granddaughter): Learned it was normal to be a highly paid professional and go to the best school and have friends all over world. She wanted to know if she had had "a screaming-mimi orgasm....She never made us feel like kids. She set an example that you can have your own thoughts and don’t have to be ashamed.

NICK (son of best friend): She could say things that shock you...She was not averse to bridging gaps...She was very thoughtful in helping with his mother’s illness.

IRIS: (local cook, friend, former tenant): "She was one of the most beautiful women I’ve seen in my life" and called her "regal."

JULIAN (architect): Asked him to put cabins together as one cottage. She was project manager and agreed to his suggestion to make the deck bigger. She invited him to Wellfleet in the fall and always had an agenda for every visit. Compared her to Katharine Hepburn and said she would be comfortable on the African Queen.

STEPHANIE (granddaughter): Was present at fights between Beatrice and Dorothy, often accompanied by drinking; she remembers Dorothy saying, "No wonder you don’t have any friends" and Beatrice running after her with basket of Christmas cards to refute that statement...She was not a good cook...Once cooked Thanksgiving turkey with a plastic bag of giblets still in it...Gave us vodka when sister had her first period. She paid attention to people as individuals...

SANDY (daughter): She’d get people in cars and feel she had a captive audience. She’d ask my husband specific questions about Swedish politics...

ELAINE (librarian): Treated her as an equal...Gave feeling life is interesting. "Taught me how to talk to all the countesses in the world." "They don’t make them like her anymore."


Blogger Karyn said...

This made me well up - I am sorry I missed this service. What a legacy Bea leaves you...

6:20 AM  

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