O, the Cussedness of Winter

AS MENTIONED IN a recent post and in the eulogy my sister and I wrote, our mom put remarkable effort into hating everything about winter. Rosemary hated the cold and the dark. She hated snow and ice. She hated how the threat of bad weather might impact her ability to travel somewhere, so much so that she would start fretting a week in advance. If you said to her, “Yuck, it’s raining,” she would reply, with raised eyebrow, Yes, but you don’t have to shovel it.

Had Mom been engaged in leisure pursuits in Ft. Myers this week (where it is currently 65 degrees and cloudy, which means she’d have been padding around the condo in wool socks and a velour track suit), she would surely have been watching our weather and sending us emails and texts, calling us to ask if we were keeping warm, and did we plan on making soup or roasting a chicken.

Some years back, Mom had a new-agey past-life regression done, and while I don’t remember much about it, I do recall her saying something about how she had supposedly, in a previous life, been a young woman, trying to find her way through the dark woods. She said she had been cold to the bone, and was wearing a hooded cape. Or something like that. One wonders if the brain creates such constructs to help us process our intense emotions, but the possibility that she came by her hatred naturally seemed to satisfy her.

She offset this hatred somewhat with her love of the written word. She was a precise grammarian and a talented writer, and appreciated a clever turn of phrase. She was particularly proud of this poem, which she wrote and had copyrighted in 2009. It seems appropriate to share it here, given the Polar Vortex and subfreezing temperatures we’re having this week.

O, the Cussedness of Winter

Slipp’ry roads and frigid breezes,
heavy clothes and frequent sneezes,
cloudy days and longer nights
make me curse the frost that bites.

Three long months of winter’s blast
seem like six before they’re past.
Winter isn’t of my choosing
so I’ll have to turn to boozing

just to get me through the season
that deprives me of all reason
while I wait, with hope eternal,
for the equinox that’s vernal.

© 2009 Rosemary Beaver Fried

Those last two lines are just golden, aren’t they?? If you love it as much as I do, may I direct you to my sister’s Cafe Press shop, where you can have this gem printed on your choice of apparel, drinkware, a tote bag, and more. Makes a great gift for all those winter-hating people in your life.

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This one, I took through the back window of our house after a heavy, wet snow.

 

 

 

Things lately

IT’S BEEN HARD RECENTLY to know what to write here. I’ve started a few posts, but nothing felt like it was coming together. Today, however, is the Winter Solstice, and as we noted in our eulogy, nobody anticipated the Solstice with more eagerness than our mom. Her fervent hatred of cold weather was unparalleled. And, while the Solstice marks the first day of winter, her glee was directed toward fact that from here on out, we get a few more minutes of daylight, and therefore less darkness with each passing day.

She hated darkness, too.

I was browsing through a batch of old photos that Mom had converted from slides – a real treasure trove of photos from back in the day. Many of them are overexposed and most are not particularly well composed (no one has ever accused anyone in my family of having above-average photographic skills), but some of them are gems. Like this one:

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She hated snow with unmatched zeal, but not even Young Rosemary could resist measuring the new-fallen snow with a yardstick and grinning for the camera.

I shared this one on Facebook because, well, Winter. And Snow. And, Mom. It’s a fun photo I hadn’t seen before – those slides languished in boxes for decades until she finally had them converted to digital images a few years ago. But after I posted it, I found myself frowning back at her smiling face wondering and why she had to leave us so soon. I mean, she was only 78. In the year 2018, why couldn’t Modern Medicine fix her?

And then I got angry at her.

How dare you not be available to commiserate with me when my Thanksgiving gravy was too salty!

How dare you leave me the tedious, time-consuming task of settling your estate!

How dare you leave us all of these boxes of STUFF to go through, leaving us to make decisions that you didn’t want to!

How dare you leave me to make decisions about investments and required distributions and other financial concerns that have to be dealt with!

How dare you not be here for me to call and share the excitement of the holidays!

How dare you succumb to your illness!

How dare you!

It’s been almost five months, and at times it still doesn’t seem real. Will it ever? To the end of her days, my mom remained wistful for her own mother, who died in 1992, and for her mother-in-law, who passed in 2005. Maybe it never gets better.

But if there’s one thing Mom would not want, it’s for me to pout. She’d probably clear her throat in that way she did when she wanted you to know she was being serious, call me Margaret Ellen, and remind me that she trained me to be a “steel magnolia.” After our dad died, leaving her a widow at age 42 with two young daughters, people would remark about how strong she was. “What choice do I have?” she would reply, with a shrug. “The rest of us are still here; life must go on.”

I allow myself to have these moments, because grief is a process, but then I take a deep breath and carry on. After all, I have much to be joyful about, always, but especially this time of year. And even though my first Christmas in a lovely new home** with Steve is offset by the first Christmas without my mom, it’s that first part I’m trying to hold onto.

So: Christmas is four days away, and I still have to bake the sand tarts. Mom didn’t bake a lot, but these were her specialty and if you ask me, it isn’t Christmas without ’em. The dough is made; I just need to roll / cut / bake. And while of course they made me think of her in the past, this year I’ll be summoning Mom’s spirit more than usual. “They’re too much work,” she said of these cookies in her later years. “Someone else can make them now.”

Challenge accepted, Mom. I’m on it.

 

**Did I tell you, we moved? Still in the same neighborhood, much nicer digs. I wish my Mom could see it – she’d approve.

 

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.