Eulogy for Rosemary

My mom’s memorial service was yesterday. Pfoutz Valley UMC was packed – it’s not a big church, but still, we had to bring out extra chairs. It was an altogether lovely tribute to her – we think she’d have been pleased and possibly even impressed.

My sister and I worked on the eulogy  together, and her husband was kind enough to read it for us, because we each knew we couldn’t get through it without blubbering. Here it is:

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About ten years ago, we asked our mother to start writing down some of the stories and memories she’d like us to have. We asked her to include certain stories we had grown used to hearing, and to recount what it was like when she was a child. Lucky for us, she obliged, and we rediscovered the document recently. This made it easier for us to prepare a reflection of our mother’s life.

Mom was born on November 23, 1939, the youngest of five children to Pusey and Mary Losch. She arrived seven years after her next oldest brother, George, joining Doll, John, and Eleanor. She was delivered by Dr Harold Gelnett, the uncle of her future husband, Larry, in a small rural community called Pine Swamp in Juniata County.

Pusey moved the Losch family around a lot when Mom was little. After World War II, they moved to Millerstown, to a house with no electricity, plumbing, or central heat. They carried in buckets of water and wood for the cook stove, used a kerosene heater, and had an outhouse. As an adult, she would explain her extreme dislike of camping by saying, I did all of that when I was a kid because we had to — why would I choose to do that FOR FUN??

Despite spending her early years in a house with no conveniences, she had such fond memories of her family. They were a musical bunch: They all sang and played multiple instruments. They even had a family band! “Pop Losch and his Family” played for local square dances and had a live radio program on WKVA in Lewistown. Music continued to be a big part of Mom’s life, both vocal and instrumental, and she encouraged both of us in our musical pursuits — teaching us to sing harmony, starting us early on the piano, and driving us to private lessons. She sang and played in the band in high school. As an adult she sang in the church choir, and she played the oboe in the Greenwood Community Band.

Our mother was the first of her family to go to college, and was a proud graduate of Susquehanna University. Never one to squander an opportunity, she double-majored in Chemistry and Biology, and minored in English, and earned her teaching certificate.

Mom was a talented seamstress (she gives her sister, Doll, credit for inspiring her to learn), and sewed most of her own clothes and many of ours throughout our youth. She also loved cars, especially hot rods (there are three pages devoted to her cars in the memoirs she wrote). In addition to science, she taught internal combustion engines to three vo-tech classes full of skeptical boys in Reading. She loved the story about how she had driven our dad’s ‘59 Chevy, which had “trophied” in drag races, to work one day, and ended up drag racing, and beating, a car full of her vo-tech students, earning their respect for the rest of the year.

Mom and Dad married in 1963. Meg was born in 1967, they purchased a farm in Pfoutz Valley in 1968, and moved from Mechanicsburg back to the country. Betsy was born shortly after. We grew up near many cousins, aunts and uncles, and our grandparents, and were enriched by being part of this small, tight-knit community.

Mom was a volunteer with many local organizations. She was an active leader in this very church. She led Girl Scout and 4-H troops. She was elected to the Greenwood School Board and led the District through the somewhat controversial consolidation of two elementary schools into one. She supported Dad when he became a county commissioner. She and Dad liked to socialize—they had lots of friends and hosted their share of parties, from class reunions and Halloween parties to the monthly rotating gathering of the Card Club.

She spent lots of time renovating and maintaining our old brick farmhouse—painting, wallpapering, and refinishing furniture. She remarked, once you finish the last room, it’s time to start over with the first room! She also observed that if a married couple could hang wallpaper together and not end up divorced, theirs was a solid marriage indeed. (Mom and Dad hung a LOT of wallpaper.) She loved antiques and always let us know where a certain chair or serving dish had come from, so we would feel connected to our past. She also made sure we knew our genealogy. Though we moved away in 1985, our roots here run deep.

Shortly after Dad died in 1982, Mom returned to teaching, this time in the Harrisburg City Schools. She also got her Realtor’s license and sold real estate for a number of years. After Meg left for college, she sold the farm and moved herself and Betsy to Hershey, where Betsy finished high school. Mom was very proud of having put both her daughters through Dickinson College and took delight in having accomplished her goal of raising responsible, productive citizens.

Mom shared with us the high value she placed on accurate grammar, spelling, and punctuation. She loved wordplay and crossword puzzles, and treasured a good pun and quick wit. She was a good writer. She wrote a few clever poems, of which she was quite proud, but the best one was “O, the Cussedness of Winter.” We have included it in the program.

No one hated cold weather as much as our mom did. She put significant effort into her extreme dislike of winter, and rejoiced each year on the Winter solstice. So just imagine her delight in February 2007, when after meeting Bob Fried, he invited her to spend as much time as she wished with him at his place on Florida’s Gulf Coast! She jumped at the chance and, much to our surprise, was on the next airplane out of Harrisburg on a one-way ticket.

For the past ten years, Mom and RJ had a lot of fun and made many memories. They enjoyed talking shop about cars and real estate, went on cruises, visited the beach, hosted dinner parties, attended concerts, went out to eat, attended family reunions, and fed the wild birds and the deer together. RJ even accomplished the impossible and got our mother to ENJOY CAMPING! RJ, Mom loved these years with you. We will forever be grateful for the comfort and companionship you brought her, and the fun you two had together. We know your friends in Harrisburg and Fort Myers will be sorry to hear of her passing.

Our mother is survived by five grandsons. Seth, Ross, Eli, Jae and Kisung, your grandma — or “Bammy Rose” — was so delighted by you. She took immense enjoyment from watching you grow up.

She also leaves behind her sister, Doll, her brother-in-law, Troupie, and her sister-in-law, Annamae. In addition, our dad’s sisters, Anne and Cathy, loved her like she was their own sister, and please know, she returned the sentiment many times over. She was proud to be a Beaver through marriage and grateful to have been so thoroughly welcomed into this family.

Before there were daughters or grandsons, there were a whole lot of nephews and nieces who looked up to their Aunt Rosie. We know you share our loss. Beyond her immediate family, there are in-laws, step-relatives, and countless friends, neighbors, colleagues, students, and classmates whose lives she touched.

In the memoirs she wrote, Mom recalled that she experienced frequent illness in her childhood. She had pneumonia 10 times by the age of 4, and her parents hadn’t been able to get their sickly daughter to church to have her baptized. One time when she was very sick in bed, with her mother by her side, she had this experience:

“Jesus appeared in the room. I sat up in bed and held up my arms the way a child does when she wants to be picked up. I said, ‘Mother, there’s Jesus!’” Our Grandma Losch, fearing her baby was going to die, made arrangements to have her baptized at home. Mom wrote, “From then forward, I knew I was His….It would be an understatement to say that I am grateful it happened.”

Well, Mom’s life came full circle, as pneumonia was the thing caused her final hospitalization in July. But we believe it’s likely that she saw Jesus just as she had as a child, waiting with outstretched arms to welcome her into Heaven, where she joined her parents, her in-laws, her first husband – and our dad – Larry, and her siblings, Eleanor, John and George.

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Edited to add: Cousin Mary “Mame” Miller and her daughter Nikki also made lovely remarks at the service. Both of them mentioned Mom’s pro-level talent for shuffling a deck of cards, and Nikki remembered her Aunt Rosie teaching her how to shuffle. So it was especially fitting that that old deck of cards I discovered? I left it to be buried with Mom’s ashes. You know – in case she needs to set up a quick round of Solitaire.

 

Thunderstorms

It’s an August Tuesday afternoon, and I’m at work. It’s not yet 4pm but it’s nighttime-dark outside, thanks to a thunderstorm that’s passing through the DC area. My office is on the 15th floor of a high-rise in downtown Bethesda, MD, and whenever dramatic weather comes through, I can see it from my perch high above Wisconsin Avenue. To the south, beyond the tower cranes that transform the skyline, I can see the National Cathedral, the Washington Monument, and can also spy close-in Rosslyn, Virginia in the distance.

Our lobby faces the other side of the building, and as I walk through it’s still daytime there. As we listen to the still-distant thunder, a coworker asks me if I remember thunderstorms when I was a kid. We traded memories about how, if the storm was close, the adults would make us sit in the middle of a room – not too close to a window – while we waited for the storm to pass. She was speaking of her grandma, but I thought of my mom.

This caused me to remember things I haven’t thought of in many years, but with my mother’s passing just last week, some precious memories come rushing back.

Rosemary hated thunder and lightning with almost the same zeal she invested in hating cold weather, which is to say, quite a lot. She would fretfully pace from room to room, stopping to look out each window, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder.

One time, when I was a kid, she was pacing as a storm approached, brow furrowed, and, sensing her concern, I followed her, wanting to see whatever it was that was causing her such angst. But once she realized I was following her, she turned it into a game, just to see how long I would keep doing it. It wasn’t long until I figured out she was messing with me, and we had a chuckle. She teased me for years thereafter about how she “got” me good.

During thunderstorms, we were to stay out of the kitchen and bathroom, away from water faucets. Under no circumstances were we allowed to bathe or shower. To soak in the bathtub during a thunderstorm was to risk certain death by electrocution. I never quite understood exactly how the lightning might find its way inside our home to the bathtub (through the chimney? Like Santa?) but mom assured us it was possible, and therefore, better safe than sorry. Only in cases of most dire need were we permitted to use the toilet mid-storm.

She would also chase us away from the piano – something we normally spent lots of time playing. Apparently, she said, such a metal-filled instrument had the potential to lure lightning out of the sky and into our living room.

Perhaps she had watched “The Wizard of Oz” too many times as a child, but a particularly greenish sky on a summer afternoon meant mom was likely to usher us to the perceived safety of the cellar in our old brick farm house. The cellar held our furnace, water softener, deep freezers, shelves for canned goods, and was home to many, many spiders. Its floors in the dank front (underground) rooms were cool, compact earth. In the back room there were concrete floors. This room contained a few windows and a door to exit to the ground level, which was below the main-level back porch. We referred to it as “out back.” We would stay in this room watching (but not close to) the window, waiting for mom to deem the storm far enough away to return to the main level of the house.

If mom determined the storm was not of Kansas-like intensity, we would still turn off and unplug most electric items (including the TV and its antenna rotor, the stereo, and some kitchen appliances) and shut all the windows. Then we would gather in the family room, where we grabbed decks of cards to play solitaire – sometimes each to her own game, but more often, two or three of us would play with common aces in the middle. We would rush to see who might “go out” (be first to get all your cards up to the aces in the middle) first, and we’d end up racing and laughing as we frantically slapped our cards around.

Last weekend, as I was clearing out things from mom’s desk and dresser drawers, I came across one deck of cards I remember her using many years ago. I’m not one to save a lot of things just for sentimental reasons, but her hands spent countless hours shuffling and dealing that deck of cards into game after game after game of solitaire, and I don’t know how I could possibly get rid of it. I wonder if she eventually forgot about those cards at the bottom of that drawer, or if perhaps she placed it there, knowing my sister or I would come across it when we had to go through her things after she was gone.

In the time I’ve spent writing this, the storm has moved off to the east, and I can once again see the Rosslyn skyline in the distance. Mom would have hated this storm, but I’ve liked it, because it made me remember things about my her and my childhood. We encouraged mom to write down some of her memoirs, and I’m so grateful she did. I wish I could show her this one, even though doing so would be to risk additional teasing about that time I followed her around the house.

 

Take me out to the ballgame

We went to see the Washington Nationals last night. I lucked into four tickets through work, so Steve and I brought Seth and Ross. It was hot and steamy and sticky, almost unbearably so, but we were very brave and (mostly) stoically suffered through it until the middle of the 8th inning, at which point I could stand no more. Yes, I realize it’s July in DC, and don’t mistake my discomfort for surprise that the weather conditions were what they were. It’s just… yuck. So, Steve and I retreated to the relative comfort of Metro’s air-conditioned cars, leaving Seth and Ross to return at the game’s end (the youth have a higher tolerance for discomfort, apparently).

It was a pretty typical ballgame: I spent way too much on a red Nationals tee-shirt. I bought my oldest son beer. (!!) I explained to him about tipping the concession guys working the stands. We ate hot dogs. We got frustrated as the Nats fell behind by like nine runs, then excited as they rallied to beat the Marlins, 14-12. We cheered for the guys on top of the dugout to lob a free, rolled-up tee-shirt our way and made noise when the stadium signs demanded we do so.

But the most important thing I need to record here is that last night, at long last, I finally got the answer to something I’ve been wondering about for 22 years. You see, when Seth and Ross were babies, I would sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while I rocked them to sleep. The song is short and sweet, I knew every word (if you know me, you know that’s not always the case), and it worked like a charm. And, we were big baseball fans, so it made sense.

As I rocked and sang, I thought to myself, I wonder if someday, many years from now, my adult offspring will be at a baseball game and, during the seventh inning stretch, will start singing the song, then experience an overwhelming urge to go right to sleep, there on the spot, like some post-hypnotic suggestion or something. It was a funny image, to me, and I had mostly forgotten about it until we stood up in the middle of the seventh last night. At last, here’s my chance, I thought! Ever vigilant, I was ready to catch one or both of the grown men who still call me “mommy” if they crumpled and passed out in a dead sleep, but I tried to play it cool so they wouldn’t catch on.

Well, friends, I am here to tell you that the answer to the question is NO, they were not overcome. Nobody who was born in the 1990s went to sleep in row T behind the first base dugout. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit disappointed. C’mon, it’d have been funny! On the other hand, their persistent consciousness did save us all from mild embarrassment. It felt… anticlimactic. Womp womp.

As we sat back down, I told them the story. They pretended to be amused. Oh, that mom of ours, they probably thought, exchanging knowing glances and rolling their eyes as I looked in the other direction. That’s completely silly and would never happen in real life. She is such a piece of work.

Hey, I am just continuing in my own mother’s tradition. I’m almost 51 years old, but she still likes to tell stories about funny things I did or said when I was little. It’s what moms do. So get used to it, boys. We’ve only just begun.