Thursday, September 27, 2012
This past weekend we took a long, slow trip by train from Philadelphia to Montreal. Fourteen hours travel on Friday and the same to return Sunday.
I wish I could say it was for fun, but no, we put together this trip short notice for a funeral. Flying was too expensive for the three of us, driving too stressful, so the train became the best option. We spent two days searching the house for our passports and Olivia's birth certificate. Our regular dog-walker wasn't available, so we had to find a new pet-sitter.
It all came together in a flurry, and none of those plans addressed the loss, other than the fact that not being there would feel terrible.
The woman who passed I have known since I was two years old. She was my friend, my savior, my mother-of-sorts. She was the most generous, hard-working person I have ever known. A perfectionist, but in the most positive sense of the word. Someone who worked at something until it was just right because that is how it should be and because the effort was a reflection of herself.
Beatrice died ten days before her 87th birthday. The funeral service was held on her birthday, a coincidence of convenience--a Saturday, best for those traveling and enough time to make plans. She passed suddenly and continued her routine right up until then. She had healthier habits than most even half her age, cooking for herself and others and walking daily.
Beatrice came to my family when I was two as a housekeeper and a care-giver for me, so much younger than my sister and brother. She lived with us in this position until I was twelve. She told herself she would stay ten years and she did just that.
She remained in the States, mostly cooking in other positions, for another twenty years before retiring and moving back to Quebec to be near her extended family. We kept in touch always: visiting, phone-calling, letter-writing. She attended my wedding and Aaron's service.
Saturday was the first time I have seen some of her family since they came to my parent's house to visit Beatrice when I was four years old. I met two of her nieces who are eight and ten years younger than me. I have followed their entire lives through Beatrice's telling.
She taught me to knit and to speak French. She let me sip her milky tea with honey and her cups of Postum. She taught me Chinese Checkers and games she played with her family back home. She introduced me to real maple sugar and maple syrup, bringing us tin containers from Quebec with snowy scenes of horse drawn sleighs.
She attended cake-decorating school and knew how to make panoramic sugar Easter eggs. We made those together and kept them on a pantry shelf in our kitchen.
At the luncheon after the service, we all talked about her cookies. She baked hundreds at a time, packing them in coffee containers she decorated with shelf-lining papers. She would freeze them and give them as gifts. Her niece said that I think we all have these containers.
I have some of her recipes in scattered boxes upstairs...I need to find them. Vegetable soup, apple pie, chocolate chip, oatmeal and peanut butter cookies. Just recently it occurred to me that I needed to locate those recipes or ask Beatrice for them because she wouldn't be making them forever.
Her apple pie was my favorite, but I will save that recipe (if I can find it) for another post. At present, my head is still rocking back and forth to the motion of a train traveling along the Hudson River and Lake Champlain, through farm country and the Adirondack mountains. Crossing country borders in the middle of cornfields, watching aghast heading back to the U.S., as an Asian student without the proper paperwork is taken off the train by customs officials on her return to New York from travels in Canada.
The end of a long, full life without illness is not so sad to me. But the cumulative loss to those gathered on the hillside terrace as we followed Beatrice's cornflower-blue casket being carried out the church doors, down the steps and along the path to the awaiting hearse was wrenching. It was as if no one wanted to let her go, like following a beloved dinner guest to their car just to prolong the evening a moment longer. She took care of each one of us present. With phone calls, cards, visits, soup and cookies, and knitted slippers.
*All photos were taken with my iPad placed against the train window.