Honoring the Body — Remembering Ruth Gold: July 6, 1921 – April 19, 2017

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Beautiful Mom, about 1948.

For most of my life, my mother was my best friend. As she began to leave us, almost a decade ago now, the inexorable blade of dementia sliced her memory into ever smaller pieces. During these years of decline, I often wondered how I would endure, who I would become without her richly textured presence in my life. What I witnessed was remarkable: the very essence of who she was became ever more finely distilled, until only a small but brilliant shard of light remained. Slowly, I began to understand — it was enough. Even though I no longer had access to all the pieces of my mother, the stories and memories I had come to know over the decades, what I did have was lovely. In truth, it was a strange and beautiful gift. Not a gift that either of us would have chosen, but a gift nonetheless.

Not every dementia story unfolds the way my mother’s did, a truth which makes me grateful on multiple levels for this particular and exquisite experience. For the last five years, I have wandered through grief, shed copious tears, railed at God for the cruelty of this growing epidemic in our land and across the world. I have also fallen to my knees in gratitude for the shining core of her, that glorious flame that blazed up and out and into the core of every single person she encountered. As the limits of her world grew larger and darker, as she lost the desire to eat, to drink, to walk — even then, she found a smile, a sweet word of gratitude, an exclamation of complimentary joy. “You look so beautiful today!” she would say. “Thank you so much for your help.” Not one other syllable made sense toward the end, but those words of kindness remained.

Ruth was born in Duncan, a small logging town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, the second child and first-born daughter of Harry and Elsie Hobson. They gave her a long, cumbersome name, which included the names of some female relatives who eventually left mom two small diamonds. She gave those to me — and I managed to lose them both. Mom’s full name was Edith Lemody Ruth Hobson and she was a beautiful baby. They called her Ruthie.

Two years later, the Hobsons gathered up their little family and boarded a train, with siblings and cousins, and emigrated to southern California. Two little boys, my little mom, a second daughter ‘in the oven,’ two parents, three maiden aunts, a cousin or two, and an elderly grandfather arrived in 1923 and settled into a variety of Los Angeles neighborhoods. Mom rode the street car, roller-skated or walked all over what is now Hollywood and graduated from Hollywood High School in 1938. She went to UCLA for two years, and then quit when her family ran out of money; she always regretted never finishing her college career.

Mom’s father was a difficult man, and her mother worked. My mom became a surrogate mom to her siblings and found safe harbor in a local Methodist church. She met my dad there and they married in 1941 when mom was 20. I was born four years later, while they lived in San Diego. My dad taught math and physics at a military academy in that town during WWII — he was deemed entirely too spindly to join the army. In 1947, my brother Tom was born in a tiny town in central California where dad had an in-between teaching job while he waited for an opening at Los Angeles City College. When that job opened, we moved back to Los Angeles and bought our first house — a small, post-war tract home in North Hollywood. I was four years old.

All four of us attended that old Methodist church in downtown LA for the next eight years. I loved that place. My dad was the pianist, my mom sang in the choir, my brother and I went to Sunday School. It was at Trinity Methodist that I began to love choral singing — at the tender age of six. My mom made lifelong friends in that community and was the last one left from the old gang when she died last Wednesday afternoon.

Everywhere we lived, everywhere we worshipped, my mother made friends. Fast friends. I described her to the caregivers where she lived as, “The most flaming extrovert I have ever known.” Her gregarious and compassionate nature made her an excellent neighbor, an even better friend. In the earliest days of her dementia, I discovered that she regularly purchased small boxes of candy to take to her neighbors, to let them know she was thinking about them, to tell them they were loved.

In 1955, when I was almost 11 and Tom was almost 9, our youngest brother Ken was born. One month later, we moved across town to a different valley, from San Fernando to San Gabriel, buying an English Tudor style home in Glendale, CA. I endured (and enjoyed) adolescence in that home, learned to drive on the curvy hills of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, and drove off to UCLA at the age of 17. Wanting to get my youngest brother into what they thought was a better school district, my parents moved to north Glendale while I was in college. That house was never my home in the same way that the previous two had been. I married a year later, graduated six months after that, and then my husband and I sailed off for two years of living and working in Africa.

While they lived in Glendale, my parents were active members of Glendale Presbyterian Church. Each of them served on Session, my mom on at least one pastoral search committee. They thoroughly enjoyed the Sunday school teaching of Paul Jewett, then a theology professor at nearby Fuller Seminary. My mother read widely, with a lively sense of curiosity and a commitment to growing in her faith. She read everything ever written by C.S. Lewis, Catherine Marshall, and Paul Tillich along with a long list of fiction writers. She instilled her love of language, reading, writing and beauty into the core of me at a very young age. 

She was also a ton of fun. She had an earthy sense of humor, loved to laugh, introduced us kids to British humor early on (anyone remember the “Carry On” movies??), and threw grand parties. She also decorated our homes on very little money, made most of my clothes and baked great birthday cakes. One of my daughters said to me last week, “One of my strongest memories of Momma was that she was always, ALWAYS, so happy to see me.” And that was real — she took delight in her family. De-light. Yes, she worried about us (especially Ken, whose life was difficult at many points and who died eight years ago.) But she loved us all and we knew it. Deep down, we knew we were loved. It was like oxygen — something that surrounded us always, something that gave us energy and life.

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Five generations – from lower left – Elsie Hobson, Ruth Gold, Diana Trautwein,
Lisa Fischinger, 
Ben Fischinger — taken in Orange County, 1991

My parents worked hard to create a good home for the three of us. There was one salary in our home, and that one a teacher’s salary, so we didn’t do fancy things. But we listened to all kinds of music on my dad’s home-built hi-fi set (or from his fingers at the keyboard), we camped all over California, and we enjoyed extended family gatherings on both sides, especially gatherings at some of the beaches along the southern California coast.

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Mom, doing what she loved more than almost anything else: boogey-boarding, Huntington Beach,
sometime in the 1980s, I think. She would have been in her early 60s.

Toward the end of his career as a professor and administrator at the junior college level, my dad had some serious health issues that required them to move out of the valley and closer to the sea. They lived in Oceanside for two years, then settled into a lovely town home in Mission Viejo, in Orange County. They loved that community and lived there for about fifteen years. In 2002, we moved them to a retirement community in LaVerne CA. My father died two and a half years later in February of 2005. My mom lived there independently until 2012, when Alzheimer’s put her into assisted living. The next year, we moved her to The Samarkand dementia unit, just ten minutes from our home here in Santa Barbara. 

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My parents, when they lived in Orange County

While they were in Orange County, I took the train south once each month for a long midweek visit. After they moved to LaVerne, I drove south monthly, then twice monthly, and stayed with our daughter, who lived about 30 minutes from there. All of those visits were an attempt to be as present as I could be with the two of them, and then with my mom, while their bodies breathed earth’s air.

Those bodies of theirs were holy to me, often in ways I didn’t fully understand. They had birthed me, loved me, tended me when mildly wounded or critically ill, clothed me, fed me and gave me away to my husband. (Yes, that is an outdated term, one that I no longer use, but it’s the truth of my lived experience in that season of my life.) I was with my father three days before his death, praying the blessing of Aaron over his unconscious, frail frame, telling him how much I loved him and how grateful I was for his care for me. When my brother called to tell me he had died, I asked that his body remain in the room until I could get there. Our bodies are supremely important collections of cosmic dust; they bear the image of an invisible God, they carry our stories, our selves. I wanted to honor him by honoring what remained.

Last week, I had the privilege of doing the same thing for my mama. Her journey took eight days, and every one of those days, I was by her side. Most of the time, I sat in front of a window, using only natural light. I put Pandora onto a hymn station and played it for hours. I finished a large crochet project. I called for more meds, as needed. I got up and blessed her face, stroked her shoulders. I ate the lunches I packed, I took occasional walks. I thanked every one of the Hospice team who came and cared for her so lovingly. One woman offered sponge baths, one offered quiet company, another brought her guitar and sang. The nurses were supremely skilled and compassionate, as were the caregivers at the facility. My pastor came twice, my friend Sherry, Samarkand chaplain for over twenty years, came daily.

Room 62 became holy ground during those long days.

At 4:32 p.m. on Wednesday, Sherry and I stood beside her and my friend said, “Look! Her eyes are open!” Those eyes had been closed for most of the previous five days. Her breathing was quite labored at this point, but as her eyes flew open, the noise stopped. She gasped twice and looked right into my eyes as I blessed her, thanked her, loved her. And she flew. I mean she flew to Jesus in those moments. I had been visualizing my father, my brother, her siblings, her parents and so many of her friends all around that room for days. And I do believe that in that moment, she saw them. And she was not afraid.  

All those dear ones welcomed her home — with love, joy and laughter. This I know, in the deepest part of me, this I know.

We will bury her on Tuesday morning, dropping her earthly remains into the grave plot she will share with my dad. We will hold a special service of worship to celebrate her life on May 20th at 2:00 p.m. in The Chapel at the Samarkand, the place that she called, ‘my church.’

Over and around the fatigue that I feel at this end of the journey, the strongest emotion in my heart is gratitude. It absolutely overwhelms me at some moments. There is sadness, yes, there is sadness. But over and around and in between everything else, there is thanksgiving. For 95 years, she graced this earth, 72 of them with me in the center of that grace. 

Thank you, Mama. And thank you, God.

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November, 2015, last formal portrait

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April 7, 2017

My Hair, Myself — SheLoves, August 2016

A fascinating theme this month — the single word, ‘hair.’ Well. What came to me, as I was traveling nearly 2500 miles on an epic road trip last month, was this bit of stuff about my grandmothers and me. I’d love to hear your thoughts/responses to that topic! Come on over and join the conversation!

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My paternal grandmother, Pearl Scott Smith Gold, at about age 80 (1960ish)

My Gran had long, thin, gray-and-white hair which she wore wound in a bun on the back of her head. It was a style reminiscent of the 1880’s or 90’s, and somehow suited her. For several years after my grandfather died, she would stay with us for two to three weeks at a time and shared my bedroom when she did. Every night of her stay, I would watch, fascinated, as she wound up chunks of that long, thin stuff around leather strips, which served as wave-setters while she slept. Then, in the morning, she would expertly comb and position every strand into a perfect loop, holding it in place with long hairpins.

My own hair at that stage of my life was the bane of my existence. It was almost as white as it is now, as my brother and I were complete towheads until we hit puberty, and it was thin and very, very straight. My mom thought it would be nice to have a curly-haired daughter, so she would periodically put me through the process of a permanent wave, which I considered to be nothing less than torture. The irony was, it never worked. Never. I would end up with frizz on half my head and stick straight hair on the other half.

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My brother Tom and I at about ages 3 and 5 – 1950ish — see?
Stick straight around the bottom, weird curls on top. Oy vey.

I think about us now, my elderly grandmother and my young self, and realize that what we think about, do with and understand about our hair say a lot about who we are and where we’ve come from. I come, on one side of my family, from that tall, thin, southern schoolmarm who married later than most and carried a lot of racial prejudice deep in her bones. On the other side, there was Nonnie, who was almost as wide as she was short (4’11”), lived with serious heart disease for half of her life (which extended 101 years despite that handicap), and began her own, very successful, business in her late 50s. She was an immigrant from Canada, and a very strong woman, though she hesitated to let that strength show, preferring to work underground in ways that were sometimes detrimental to the health of her family. While I knew her, Nonnie’s hair was short and curly.

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My maternal grandmother, Elsie Thompson Hobson, about 1980. She would have been 84 that year.

At this stage of my life, as I am staring at the last leg of my own journey on this planet, I remember with love and gratitude the contributions of those two women to the richness of my story. Gran would be shocked to discover that I served as a pastor in mid-life. I choose to believe that, after some thought and prayer, she would have been proud. She died when I was 18.

Nonnie, on the other hand, died the first year of my ministry life here in Santa Barbara. And as I commuted from the LA area for the first few months of that ministry, I would stop and visit her in the rest home which became her final stop. She grabbed my hand on one of those Thursday mornings and told me, through tears and with a fierce quality to her voice, that I was continuing the journey she never finished, a story I had never heard before that moment. She was headed to Winnipeg at the tender age of 19 to enter ministry training with the Salvation Army when she chose instead to marry the older, handsome man who had admired her singing on the street corners of Vancouver. That sweet moment of revelation provided one of the strongest benedictions of my life.

Each of my grandmothers survived difficult marriages, had their own particular set of strengths and weaknesses, carried within themselves deep intelligence (one educated, the other not) and pretty decent people skills. And Gran’s old fashioned hairdo and Nonnie’s more modern style said something about who they were.

I wonder, what does my own hair say about me?

Read the rest of this piece over at SheLoves today, won’t you?

Just Write: I Never Stop Being a Mama

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It’s the strongest, loudest piece of me, this mama thing. I was surprised by motherhood when it suddenly showed up. There we were, thousands of miles away from home, totally green about all but the basics of married life. 

And then she was born, and the entire world shifted on its axis. And then her sister and then her brother, and then, oh my! three littles in less than four years. And tired? Unbelievably so.

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But here they were and there I was, a mom. Not a particularly great mom, truth be told. Impatient, overbearing, insecure, torn by wondering if I should be doing something ‘more’ with my life than wiping bottoms and breaking up bickering.

But I chose to be there, at home, doing exactly that. And I have never regretted it, not even when my eldest questioned that choice when she was about twelve, wondering why I didn’t have a real job like all her friends’ moms.

The most wondrous thing is this: that as they began to grow up, they each showed signs of independence and quick intelligence and wonderful humor and insight. And I became their student, in so many rich and wonderful ways.

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My children have taught me so much. About humility, first and foremost. About laughter and anger, about love and disdain, about temperament and truth. Each one of them, wildly different from one another, beginning with that first flutter-in-the-womb. And yet so closely woven together. So close.

Yes, indeed, they were mean to one another, on occasion. I’ve learned more about their childhood meannesses since they’ve grown up! But underneath all of that there has always been a fierce loyalty and love, a deep desire for the best in one another, a willingness to come alongside in the tough times and to joyfully celebrate the great times.

I now have a grandson the same age I was when my first child was born: 23. LORD, have mercy! How is this possible? I truly don’t know how time can sprint by in a blink. I can call up elementary school orchestra concerts (on, my ears!), youth group scavenger hunts, early dating experiences, and long courtships for each of them.

And then suddenly — here we are! Three thriving families, eight grandchildren, every one making real contributions to their community, their church, their friends. 

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So I am still learning from them. Every day. And I am still mama at heart, at base, at center. One of them is facing into back surgery; a little grandgirl has a chronic disease; one has been widowed and remarried; two grandkids are searching for ultimate answers, the prayers of us all undergirding their journey. 

No matter what else I have done or will do, no matter how many people I interact with, love, preach to, partner with or direct — these ones, these children, children-in-love/law, grandchildren, along with my husband — these are the community of first commitment and most essential ministry. 

How did I get so lucky?

I haven’t done this in ages, but I so love it when I do. Joining with Heather at EO for her Just Write this week. JUST WRITE whatever comes, then join the community and see where everyone else landed. It’s fun, I promise.

A Granddaughter Remembers — A Guest Post from My Daughter

Visiting the blog tonight is my middle child, Joy Trautwein Stenzel. Joy is exactly what her name says she is – a joy to us. She and her husband Marcus are raising three good young men in Monrovia CA and are both special education teachers, working with blind students across the age span from pre-school to 22. (Our eldest daughter also does this good work.) Our children grew up with their paternal grandparents less than five minutes away and were often in their home, as you will see. I love the way this piece celebrates what some might call the ‘old-fashioned’ virtues. To me, there is nothing old-fashioned about any of it — it’s a heritage we are humbled and pleased to call our own. Interspersed throughout her lovely words are photos scanned for us today by one of our grandsons, Joel Fischinger. Here’s Joy:

IMG_0022Joy, Mama, Lisa – on vacation at Mammoth Lakes, an annual excursion for many years.

Solid, dependable, disciplined, hospitable, thoughtful, committed, consistent. 

My grandmother embodied these qualities.  In an increasingly chaotic and unpredictable world, such characteristics are on the decline.   And for an overly anxious and easily overwhelmed child, the unwavering reliability of my grandmother was a source of familiarity and comfort on which I knew I could rely.

IMG_0104The first in her family to graduate from college, at UCLA in the mid-1930s.

Mama was very steady and measured emotionally—quite the contrast to me.  She rarely (if ever) raised her voice, and I only remember seeing her cry twice—when speaking of a beloved brother who had died too soon, and when her only daughter and her family were pulling out of the driveway to move across the country.   Her level mood created an atmosphere of comfortable predictability for an emotionally volatile child—I knew exactly what to expect when I walked through her door. 

So solid.

IMG_0703Enjoying Crater Lake with Jean and Richard, early 1950s

I knew when I went to Mama’s that there would be no surprises in either her temperament or the physical environment.  Almost all of the furniture, toys, games, dishes, and appliances (no new-fangled microwaves for Mama!) stayed the same in their Wagner Street house from the time I was born until they moved to Santa Barbara. I played with my dad’s old toys, as did my children after me.  I took great comfort in the familiarity of it all. 

So dependable.

IMG_0113One of the last pictures of both Mama and Papa with all of their grandchildren, late 1990s

If we ever spent the night at Mama and Papa’s, we knew what we would find when we walked into the kitchen in the morning:  the two of them seated at their little blue kitchen table, drinking coffee, reading the Bible and praying for family, friends, and missionaries.

So disciplined.

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Same grandkids, several years earlier! On Kauai for M & P’s 50th Anniversary.
We hope to continue that tradition in the summer of 2015 – can you believe it?

We also knew that we would be well-fed when we entered their home.  Mama was a wonderful cook, and hosted frequent meals for family and friends.  She had a small but delicious repertoire of family favorites:  BBQ short ribs, lemon meringue pie, tapioca, homemade applesauce—terrific food served on the same dining room table with the same china, flatware and crystal goblets year after year.  To ensure that everyone would fit around the table, the piano bench served as a seat for the two smallest family members at one of the short ends of the table—no kids’ table at Mama Trautwein’s!  Every leaf of that table would emerge from the closet so that we could all be together.  That dining room set now resides in my own home, where I can only hope to entertain perhaps a quarter of the number of people she hosted so warmly over the years. 

So hospitable.

IMG_0556Gathering around that dining room table, about 1979 or 1980.

When birthdays rolled around, we knew there would be a dinner in our honor at Mama and Papa’s house.   Mama would let the birthday girl or boy set the menu.  We always picked our favorite dishes (which probably weren’t her favorites!):  orange jello packed with pieces of fruit, butter brickle cake topped with toffee pieces and hot fudge.   When we became teenagers, Mama made each of her grandchildren a treasured cookbook filled with handwritten recipes for the family favorites we all loved, complete with personal notes and anecdotes related to certain dishes—a gift we all cherish and use regularly.  My own children have even been fortunate enough to experience the anticipation of an unfailing Mama Trautwein birthday tradition—every year on their birthdays, she has sent them two dollar bills, the same number of bills as their age.  Needless to say, they have amassed an astounding number of two dollar bills! 

So thoughtful.

IMG_0174Not only did she host birthday dinners at her house, she also came to birthday dinners at our house.
We did birthdays up right in this family.
This picture cracks me up because the Birthday Boy almost got cut out of it.
And we just noticed tonight, he’s wearing doctor gear, of all things! And now he wears the real stuff. Go figure.

Mama established countless family traditions which were joyfully anticipated throughout the year.  Every Easter, we knew we would receive a heaping plate of bunny and lamb cookies decorated with pink icing with chocolate chips for eyes.  We dyed eggs every year at that little blue kitchen table, and Mama took us on annual Easter egg hunts at Descanso Gardens.  Mama decorated a Manzanita tree every Christmas with tiny ornaments, and she gave my sister and me our own manzanita branches when we were in college, with new ornaments for them every year.  Each member of our extended family had a stocking that had been lovingly decorated by Mama, unique to our interests.  Mama found a lot of joy in holiday traditions. 

So consistent.

IMG_0515This woman LOVED Christmas! 

IMG_0060And the Easter egg hunts at Descanso continued with the great-grands, too. The four oldest, about 15 years ago.

Mama and Papa also loved to travel.   They arranged annual extended family trips to Mammoth Lakes.  These vacations gave the cousins a chance to bond, and allowed Mama and Papa to share their love of fishing, jigsaw puzzles, and board games with their offspring.  Mama and Papa took exciting vacations without us as well, and invited us over for slideshows when they returned to share their adventures.  They always brought back trinkets and souvenirs for us and sent us postcards from around the world.  And Mama sent our own family off on road trips with boxes of cookies and wads of dollar bills to purchase souvenirs of our own.  She did these things every summer, without fail. 

So committed. 

D-68cMama, Papa & Jean visiting us in Africa, summer 1967.
I was 4 months pregnant with their first grandchild on this trip.

We will miss Mama, but many of the traditions she established continue in our own families, keeping her memory alive.  We have been blessed indeed to have such an amazing woman so actively involved in our lives, setting an example we all aspire to follow. 

Solid, dependable, disciplined, hospitable, thoughtful, committed, consistent. 

Old-fashioned qualities?  Perhaps.  But never out of style. 

Thanks so much, Joy. Beautifully said and right on target.

IMG_0103Kathryn Trautwein, in the early years at the Samarkand, before dementia.
A truly lovely lady in every way I can think of, a good, good woman.

Milestones… Archive-Diving, June 2009

Reflections on our eldest grandson’s graduation from high school – now THREE years ago. 

Well, it’s here. We are officially OLD. No matter that we started ‘young,’ having babies in our early 20’s and grandchildren in our mid-40’s. Because now, we have a high school graduate. Yes, our eldest grandson, Ben – age 18, a generous, kind, smart, talented and funny young man – has graduated from Oaks Christian High School. Wow. And weird. 


I distinctly remember, like it was yesterday, the anxious early morning phone call: “Come NOW, Mom. My water broke!” Driving to the Burbank airport to catch a nearly empty flight to Oakland, landing in the densest fog I’ve ever seen, hitching a ride from complete strangers to get to Lisa and Mark’s little house on Abbey Street in Pleasanton where I could pick up my own car, left there two weeks before, and driving to the hospital. Where Ben decided not to come, thank you very much, requiring an emergency c-section and then weighing in at 10# 5 oz. Started setting those milestones early!

He was an absolutely fearless toddler and little boy, climbing everything, jumping from dizzying heights, constructing fabulous inventions, painting early masters, figuring out how things worked. Towheaded to a blinding blonde color, blazing blue eyes, energy out his fingertips – he was a wonder to us all. Our first grandchild – nothing short of a miracle.

He grew up in much the same way he began – fearless, inquisitive, capable of amazing technical expertise and with a wonderful artistic eye. When he was 13, he showed interest and ability in photography. So I gave him my original SLR film camera when I bought my first digital.

Immediately, he figured out more things to do with that camera than I ever dreamed about. The kid had talent – real talent. And the school he chose to go to aided and abetted that talent in a big way.

Oaks Christian is an anomaly in education – a huge endowment from an invested grandparent created a magnificent campus, drew gifted administration and faculty members, and made possible absolutely top of the line technical resources. And all of it anchored in solid commitment to discipleship, commitment and mission.

Ben took every class that was offered in both photography and videography, successfully mastering every challenge. His work won first place in multiple shows and he was in demand as the videographer of choice for most of the faculty, from football coaches to dance instructors. He did good! Real good. And we are all so very proud of him.

A tableau of graduation accoutrementes -(clockwise)
robe & stole, fabulous $$ lei made by Ben’s other grandmother, the senior award certificate, diploma and medallion (well the ribbon shows, at least.)

His graduation ceremony was last Thursday afternoon and I drove down to Westlake early in the day to help Lisa with flowers and errand-running. She, as usual, had everything organized to a fare-thee-well, having accomplished both a new roof and a complete re-landscaping of their backyard in preparation for this momentous day. It was a day rich with deep emotion as Mark’s presence was strongly felt through every moment of it. And how grateful I am that Mark was able to participate as fully as he did in his sons’ lives right up until the day he died last fall! He is, I am sure, so proud of these remarkable young men.

Family came from all around southern CA to attend the ceremonies and/or the wonderful dinner party Lisa hosted afterwards. Lisa and Joel, her youngest, held onto 3 rows of seats (Luke, grandson #2, was playing clarinet in the orchestra) and was soon joined by one great-grandmother, a great-uncle, two great-aunts, two sets of grandparents, two cousins on Mark’s side, an uncle, two aunts and two cousins on Lisa’s side – and those 3 rows filled right up! It was a great ceremony! Good speakers, a suitably (and intimidatingly!) impressive valedictory address and a lovely setting.

The big surprise, that hit us all in our communal solar plexus, was that Ben was one of 5 seniors honored with a special award! We knew that he had won the departmental award in art the previous week, but this one was completely unexpected. The 3 ‘prongs’ of an Oaks education are: Leadership, Athletics, and the Arts – and Ben received the medallion and certificate in the Arts.

It was just so lovely to hear the tribute offered by the head of the department, based on the comments of all Ben’s teachers and on Ben’s own fine work and many contributions to the school through his technical and artistic gifts. He proudly wore the medallion for the picture above and it’s inscription is shown in the one below. The actual introduction is printed in italics below the picture. It was written by Ryan Kelley, Chair of the Arts Department at Oaks.

The recipient of the Dallas Price Van Breda Fine Arts Award is a wonderfully talented visual artist. This fine young man has a passion for photography and film that he has shared with all of us at Oaks Christian School. His exceptional photography was recently featured as the cover of our poster and program for our high school art show and his marvelous film work at our dance concert, Define. His creativeness and technical expertise is only surpassed by his generosity. He never turns down a
request to help others; this includes producing numerous football highlight videos, helping teachers with various video needs all the while making full use of our incredible media studio. He is creative, inquisitive and is always the first to try out a new technique. I have no doubt that we will hear his name again – probably announced at the Oscars for best cinematography. And we are all certain that your father is as proud of you today as we all are.
The winner of the Dallas Price Van Breda Fine Arts Award is Ben Fischinger.

The party itself was grand! A great celebration – with another great-grandmother, great-uncle, two more cousins and multiple friends of all ages. And to top it all off, that day happened to be the 15th birthday of Ben’s brother, Luke, another stellar student at Oaks Christian High. It was a rich day – tiring! – but incredibly blessed. We are all full to the brim with gratitude for God’s good gifts of family, education, beauty, love and laughter.

What Does It Mean to Be Blessed? Reflections on a Life

My mother-in-law, Kathryn Trautwein, with my mother, Ruth Gold. Picture taken at Easter 3 years ago. Today they are 96 and 91 years old. 

She was sleeping today.
She sleeps a lot.
When she’s awake, she is often unhappy,
confused, disoriented.
But once in a while, when I stare into her hazel eyes,
I see her in there.
I see the Mama I’ve known for nearly 50 years,
the woman who bore my husband,
who welcomed me into her family,
who blessed my children with her loving care.

I see brief glimpses of the 
quiet feistiness that empowered her
to stand against the strict requirements of her
family’s faith.
She kept her hair short.
It was easier, she liked it and she didn’t 
want to deal with the prayer coverings 
that all the women in her family wore. 
She shared their faith – she lived that faith
every single day of her long life.
But she did not share their restrictive way of
expressing that faith.
So she went her own way,
without angry words,
without an ‘I’m-right-you’re-wrong’ attitude,
without open rebellion.
She simply made quiet, thoughtful shifts on the inside
that began to show on the outside.

She took me clothes shopping before we left for Africa, 
so many years ago. 
We were going there to live and work for two years,  
teaching school in a small Zambian town. 
She very carefully and gently advised me on 
skirt length, sleeve length, 
the best kind of shoes (closed toes), 
the simplest kinds of fabrics.
She knew.

She knew that I would feel woefully out of place
 and would wonder why on earth 
I had come to serve with people 
who looked and lived so dramatically differently 
from anyone  I had ever before encountered 
in my Christian life. 

She did not advise me to change who I was – 
she was far too wise for that.
But she did advise me to be more aware,
to honor those with different lifestyle values
while still being true to my own.

Mama was not one to offer advice very often,
preferring to keep most of her opinions to herself.
But she found us our first house to buy.
And she outright put her foot down when we got ready to
move from that house to another, 
 one where the entire backyard was a swimming pool.
She never learned to swim, you see.
And we had two toddler girls and a baby on the way.
No way, José. No way.

Even when we moved here to Santa Barbara,
our kids all grown and married,
she carefully let us know that she preferred  
one house we were looking at over another.
Always subtle, gentle, non-intrusive.
But there was steel there.
The good kind of steel.
The kind that holds things together.
The kind that adds form and shape to life.
The kind that stands firm when the ground shakes,
or the wind blows,
or the fires rage.

She is 96 now and suffers from dementia.
She’s fallen twice in the last four days,
her speech is suddenly very slurred,
her appetite way down.
Maybe the end is beginning.
I don’t know.
I just know that today,
as I stood in front of her recliner chair,
watching her sleep and dream,
I thanked God for her.
I prayed the blessing of Aaron over her.
And I wept at the memory of her laughter,
her generosity,
her kindness,
her lifelong faithfulness.

You ask me what it means to be blessed?
I’ll tell you this:
to be blessed is to have a second mother
who loves you no matter what;
who doesn’t always understand you, 
but who always, ALWAYS supports you;
who lives Jesus day in and day out,
mentors younger women,
leads Bible studies,
keeps your little kids at a moment’s notice,
adores her children and their children, 
understands why her husband reacts to life the way he does
and loves him like crazy anyhow.

This is blessing to me today.

This woman of God,
this mother to my husband.
This woman who came to tea one day long ago,
driving 40 miles across town, 
sitting in the living room of the house where
I lived while attending UCLA,
and letting me know that if I was serious
about her boy, then I was welcome to his whole family.
And I was.
Other than the family I was born to,
this has been the greatest of God’s gifts to me.
I am blessed.
And I am grateful.

Joining with Em’s synchro-blog today. You can find other entries here:
http://www.emilywierenga.com/2012/08/what-it-means-to-be-blessed-synchroblog.html
Also with Ann and her gratitude linky:

and with Jen and the sisterhood.





The Gift of a Good Dad


We were late for dinner and I was struggling to finish getting dressed to join my husband, his parents and his sister who were traveling with us, each of them now patiently waiting for me to put myself together. I took a deep breath, and quickly pulled out a beautiful crystal borealis necklace, one of my favorite pieces of jewelry during those late years of the 1960’s. As I attempted to join the clasp behind my neck, the thread snapped, sending the beads rolling like wild things, straggling into every corner of our hotel room.

And I burst into tears.

I was about four months pregnant at the time. And I was 14,000 miles away from our home in California and about 1500 miles away from the temporary home my new husband and I had created at Choma Secondary School in Zambia. There are all kinds of understandable, even semi-rational reasons for this sudden outburst.

But the real reason for those sobs was this one: those beads were a 20th birthday gift from my dad, the last gift he gave me as a single woman, as the daughter of his house. 

I loved those beads because they were beautiful. But most of all, I loved them because Daddy gave them to me.

He did that every year. For each of the years I lived with my parents, I received a special birthday gift from my father, something that he picked out, just for me. And I always, always loved whatever it was. I remember a sweet, small figurine of a January birthday girl. I remember perfume, and dainty handkerchiefs and fancy writing paper. 

And I remember those beads.

But most of all, as this Father’s Day approaches – the 7th one I have lived without my dad here – I remember how much he loved me. The longer I live, the more hard stories I hear, the deeper my appreciation for that central truth, for that gift. 

Nearly 50 years after my birth, my dad wrote me a special letter. A good friend had organized what she called a “Clearness Committee,” a group gathered for the purpose of discerning God’s will for another. I had just finished four years in seminary and was seeking the Lord’s guidance about what might come next. 

Anita wrote to about 30 people who knew me well, asked them to write me a note of encouragement, noting the particular gifts of God they saw in me. That was a wonderful, humbling and deeply encouraging experience at a time in my life when I felt both exhausted and uncertain. One paragraph out of all those lovely letters stood out for me, a paragraph written by my dad:

“On the day you were born, I took one look at you and learned who God is. If God could give me something so wonderful, He could give me other things I needed in my life – self-confidence, for example, and the ability to face up to life’s challenges. He has used you in my life ever since.” 

When these words arrived in my mailbox, I was stunned. My father was a kind, good and gentle man, but he was not what might be called effusive. He was very quiet, seldom speaking. Yet whenever he did speak, everyone listened. He was extremely smart (he co-authored a statistics textbook – yikes!) Perhaps even more importantly, he was also wise. And quite funny, when he wanted to be! I always knew that he loved me deeply, but he seldom told me so with words. Certainly not with written words. So the typewritten note in the photo above is a treasured possession. I took it out today, just to read it one more time. 


There is also another letter in the photo, this one handwritten rather than typed, scribbled in haste in my dad’s inimitable quirky handwriting. After Dad died in 2005, his older sister gave it to me. My father had written it to her and my Uncle Bob about four days after I was born. 

I want to type it out here as a testimony to the amazing, strong-from-birth bond we enjoyed. I also want to remember, and to note in this public space, who Ben K. Gold was in 1945 – a guy too skinny to be accepted into any branch of the armed services, so he taught cadets at a military academy in San Diego. He brought my mom there after their wedding in 1941 and I was born four years later. This little epistle is dated 1/27/45 and it says a lot about my dad’s personality and the terror and the joy that surround the birth of a first-born child. It also speaks to how times have changed:

Dear kids:

I’ve been trying for 3 days to get to giving you the details but got so behind I just haven’t sat down except to write Mom once.

I was going to wire you but Mom suggested she do it and I let her as I had others to call and was having trouble getting the operator. 

I have just come from the P.O. with the bond you sent. I won’t try to tell you how we appreciate both the gift and the thought. It was certainly unexpected and a very thoughtful thing to do. 

I am still walking around in the clouds. Boy, there’s nothing like it. Well, I’ll try and give you an outline of last Tues:

9:00 AM     I start teaching Solid Geometry
9:20 AM     Capt. Parker (who lives upstairs) meets me at the classroom door and says, “You better go home. I think you’re going to be a father.” 
9:20:10       I get home.
9:21             I get my wind back and ask Ruth what happened.
9:25             I phone the Doc; he is out so I wait while the nurse gets him and phones back with the message, “Dr. Graham says for you to take her to the hospital.” 
9:45              I return home and we get ready.
10:00           We leave.
10:30            Arrive in hospital, pay bill & kill an hour while they get Ruth ready & put her in bed.
11:30             I find Ruth in bed. Now for the wait. No pains as yet. (The signal to go was a slight menstrual flow.) 
12:30             I go out for a sandwich. It certainly was uninteresting. 
2:30               Pains start slightly every 4 minutes. 
4:20               Pains getting slightly stronger.
6:00               I go out for a tasteless bite of dinner. 
7:00               Pains getting stronger.
7:30               Peraldehyde administered, Ruth in a semi-coma from now on. 
8:55               Nurse kicks me out & Ruth goes to delivery room. I go down hall to waiting room.
9:20               I hear a baby cry & get excited. I hear another & get scared. I hear a 3rd & get panicky. Finally I find out it’s feeding time & they woke up the whole floor. 
9:30                I start thinking unimaginable thoughts. Whew! 
9:39                Diana Ruth Gold arrives. 8 lb. 12 oz., 21 inches long.
10:00              I am informed I have a daughter & both are doing well. 
10:00:01        I practically pass out.
10:15               I see doctor & am assured everything is O.K. First look at Di.
10:20              I find out weight, etc.
10:25              Phone calls.
11:00              Leave hospital with a feeling impossible to describe. 

Well, that’s it, Bob. There’s nothing like it. 

Diana is without question the prettiest girl in the hospital and the smartest. She will be a mathematician. Look at her birthday 1/23/45. (Note the sequence). 

Ruth was in the middle of the dishes & I still haven’t had time to finish them. She is at the Mercy Hospital, Room 518. I think they will be home next Friday. 

I have seen Diana for a grand total of about 2 minutes, & for 1 3/4 minutes of that time she has been improving her lungs. She has a slight amount of brown hair, is fat faced & long legged. Ruth’s roommate thinks she looks like me so I’m happy. I can’t tell much yet but once I thought she looked a little like Mom, & again like a Hobson. I’m anxious to get her home & get acquainted. 

Well, I’ll sign off. As you can see, I am quite a doting papa. 

Thanks again for the bond & the card which is very cute. Too true though. 

Love,

Ben 


Thank you, Daddy, for your unconditional love for me for 60 years, for your faithfulness to Mom, for your commitment to our family, for your deep and searching faith, for modeling for me so beautifully the Father love of our God, for your encouragement of my journey all along the way. As you know, I never did become a mathematician! And now my hair is almost all white – just like yours. Today my granddaughter Gracie graduated from kindergarden – how I wish you could know her and her little sister! But then, I see a whole lot of you in their dad – so maybe…if they’re really blessed, they know you very well indeed. 

Happy Father’s Day. 

Joining this one with Emily, Ann, Jennifer and maybe with Duane, because I’m blessed that my dad showed me the unconditional love of a father, putting flesh on the promises of the gospel.

 


 


Family Portraits #6: Uncle Chuck

This series began as an invitation from The High Calling to write a short, descriptive word picture of someone from our childhood who had an influence on us, either for good for not-so-good. I so enjoyed that invitation, that I kept going. Then Thanksgiving was upon us all, and my Wednesday Family Portrait page (I wish for the life of me I could figure out how to ‘do’ pages on this blog!) has been seriously slighted for several weeks now. No longer! I am back at it, with a list of names still to be written about. Trying to keep it to 5-600 words has been a challenge, but a worthy one. Here is the latest entry in the log:

He was a larger-than-life person to a little girl. Dark hair, swept away from his face, jowls that made you think of Santa Claus – without the beard or the white hair – and a laugh that invited you right on in. He was handsome, he was charming, he was fun and he was crazy in love with his wife and family. I loved to be around him.
And that’s a good thing, because in my earliest growing-up years, we were around him a lot. Chuck was married to my mom’s sister, Eileen (the first in this list of family line drawings). They were young when they married, and he had a little girl who was two years old. Then they had another girl and then a boy – very close in age to me and my next youngest brother. And they lived 3 blocks from us for about eight years. Many days after school, I would stroll over to their place as easily as I would my own.
We had meals together every so often. We went to Daily Vacation Bible School with their kids. Chuck met Jesus as an adult, a dad who loved his kids and wanted a good life for them. And he decided that the best life to be found was that of disciple. For years, our little family was the only one in my mom’s extended family that went to church, committed to following in the Jesus way. Then Chuck and Eileen stepped onto the path. And off again for a few years, when their beloved pastor was mistreated by his congregation. Chuck was a tender man underneath the laughter and the joie-de-vivre. And injustice was very hard for him to grapple with.
Chuck worked in the grocery industry and he worked hard. Long hours, some traveling, worries over the bottom line – these added lines to his face and stress to his life. But whenever our families gathered, all of that faded away. And we laughed together, we sang together (my mother and her sister used to sing a duet of “Whispering Hope” that wildly embarrassed their children!), we played games together. And we took some vacations together, too. I remember getaways to Rick’s Rancho Motel in Santa Maria. And I remember wonderful times at Newport Beach and Balboa where we would rent a house or apartment for the whole tribe of us.
After all of us grew up and began growing families of our own, Eileen and Chuck and my mom and dad took some wonderful trips, just the four of them – to Europe, to the British Isles, to Canada, to the northeast to see the fall colors, to the south to see the Outer Banks. And they had such a great time. Their love for each other, the fun they found together, their shared sense of adventure – these are the things that marked me deep, as a kid and as a grown-up. My father was a quiet man, very reserved and private. But he loved Uncle Chuck’s gregariousness, his social ease and his ready sense of humor. When Chuck became suddenly and seriously ill about 8-10 years ago, and then died within a matter of weeks, my dad suffered greatly. In truth, I think Chuck’s death hastened his own, which came just a few years later.
I miss that laugh. I miss the sweet singing, and the dancing that often went along with it. And most of all, I miss all that love.

Family Portraits #5: Uncle Harold

It’s been a weird week – lots of travel, with many hours spent in the car. And intermittent problems with internet connections several times this week, too. So I am late with this post. And I completely missed posting on Sunday’s service, something I will try to rectify very soon as we heard a magnificent sermon at our daughter’s church, one that we’ve been pondering ever since. 

With this week’s word portrait (500 words, lots of detail), I’m moving back to my mom’s family after a couple of weeks with dad’s siblings. One more uncle next week, then a few reflections on more distant relatives before circling round to each of my grandparents. I highly recommend this kind of written memory work – it helps to pull together some of the threads of your life and serves as a kind of living gratitude journal. Try it – I think you’ll like it!

My mother with her kid brother, at Mom’s 90th birthday party last June.

Fifteen months younger than Mom, my Uncle Harold – like all the Hobson children – was a beautiful baby. Now in his late 80’s, he is an adorable old man. In between, he was a heartthrob teenager, an emotionally wounded soldier, a man who dealt with some personal demons, and a devoted husband and dad. Like all of us, Harold’s personal history is a tale that is complicated and uneven. But in my life, as a little kid and through all the stages of adult life, he has been a steady, fun-loving, kind and affectionate presence.

During most of my growing up years, my grandparents owned and operated two nursery schools in the San Fernando Valley. They lived at one of them. I have clear memories of family gatherings there – with the play equipment in the yards and no furniture in the house. Instead there was a master bedroom, where my grandparents lived, and there were assorted cubby-shelves, small tables and chairs, toy baskets and napping cots spread throughout what would have been a living room, dining room, family room and additional bedrooms.

Both of my uncles worked for their parents, but one of them always felt like the low man on the totem pole. I am sure my grandparents tried to balance the complicated dual relationships that so often show up in a family owned business, but they were not terribly good at it. I spent a week or two assisting my grandmother during summer vacation from high school and I saw those hurt feelings erupt into bitter confrontation. At the time, I found that puzzling and troubling.

As I’ve gotten older, I have understood more about it – and I have been able to see my grandparents in a more realistic light. They did play favorites, they did keep secrets, they did undercut their middle son and it was not fair, it was not right. And I am sorry for the pain of those years and for the scars that were left, scars that lasted a long, long time.

But here is what I have learned from watching my Uncle Harold live his life: by the grace of God, we can choose to let go of the pain, we can choose to learn from it, grow through it, be transformed by it. Like my mother, Uncle Harold suffers from macular degeneration and is almost completely blind. He lost the love of his life to a rare form of cancer, he lost one son at a young age to the ravages of drugs and another to a long lifetime of sad choices. He lives alone (enjoying dinners out with a kind lady friend most days), he has two beautiful, courageous daughters whom he adores, and he is one of the sunniest, most cheerful people I know. He thanks God for his life, even for the hardest parts of it. And this small man with the twinkle in his eye, well… he literally radiates good cheer wherever he goes. For me, he epitomizes growing old gracefully and I am grateful.

 

Family Portraits #4: Aunt Frances

I must admit that I am finding this series to be both fun and moving to write. It is a good thing to remember the people who influenced me in my early life – a very good thing. This week’s installment is about my dad’s older sister. Keeping these essays to 500-550 words greatly limits what I can say, so it’s interesting to note that what rises to the surface are all the truly positive things I recall – and usually one or two interesting, even quirky memories. There is no room here for complication/implication/criticism, and each of the people I am remembering was (or is) a very complicated person, living lives filled with both good and bad choices – like we all do. My thanks once again to http://www.thehighcalling.org and Ann Kroeker and Jennifer Dukes Lee for designing the original series from which these ongoing Wednesday reflections flow.

The fountain at Laity Lodge, where I met both Jennifer and Ann.
Like my dad, Frances was born in Arkansas, and traveled as a toddler to Los Angeles where her parents, grandparents, and other assorted shirttail relatives settled in adjacent neighborhoods. Both Frances and Dad were born in the midst of World War 1 and grew to adulthood during the Great Depression. Sepia-toned photos show her with a brown bowl-cut, a huge bow on her head and a large, heavy-looking jaw. Her eyes twinkle, looking out at the world with intelligence and curiosity.

When she went to UCLA, she studied hard and excelled, also working a part time job to save money for jaw surgery and orthodontia. It is hard for me to imagine such female determination in the 1930’s, especially growing up as she did in a very conservative Methodist home. But education was highly valued by my dad’s entire family – my grandfather had an accounting degree, my grandmother a teacher’s certificate and all three siblings were college graduates, two earning doctorates. ‘Looks’ were definitely not a high value. I don’t think it occurred to my grandmother that Frances felt self-conscious about hers. 
After college, she married a big, blustery Norwegian named Bob and together, they set out to change the world. Literally. My Uncle Bob was a local politician, working in city and county government until his death from cancer about 35 years ago. And Aunt Frances? Well. Frances Gold Anderson was the driving force behind two county-wide Sunday school organizations – G.L.A.S.S. and B.R.A.S.S. That first acronym stands for Greater Los Angeles Sunday Schools and the second for Bernardino Riverside Area Sunday Schools.

Let me tell you, from the 1950’s up until about the 1990’s, those organizations were a very big deal in southern CA evangelicalism, and lots of people knew and deeply respected my aunt. To me, however, she was just another member of my dad’s quirky family – a gifted, sincere, big-hearted soul. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I realized that Aunt Frances was a Big Deal.

This is what I know about her: she loved the Lord, she loved the church, she loved her family, but she also really, REALLY loved her work with para-church ministries. In truth, I would say that she was a very driven person. In her later life, she added a ministry area and worked to build California Baptist College into a university with a growing reputation for excellence.

And she knew how to throw one heckuva bridal shower. She did that for me and for each of my three kids at her sprawling home in Riverside. Everything was always carefully, creatively and deliciously done. She did not have my mom’s flair for beauty and décor, but she was great at clever games (so was my dad, actually), really thoughtful about family history and a gracious hostess and concerned aunt.

Every single Christmas, she sent out a long family Christmas letter, almost always written in rhyme. Yes, that’s what I said – rhyme. Oh my, we giggled over those! But we also looked forward to their arrival and secretly sort of admired her chutzpah. She was a widow for a long time and was the last of her siblings to die. I didn’t always understand what made her tick, but I admired her a lot. And I loved her, too.

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