john of salisbury (policraticus) wrote,
john of salisbury

April 14,1907-May 13, 2003

Dear Aunt,

Thanks for your e-mails. I had a whole other note finished for you, but decided to rewrite it after Dad called with the news of Grandmom's death. I spent yesterday with Mom at her bedside. She seemed comfortably asleep, breathing slowly, but without great effort. We were great friends, she and I. I am glad there was nothing left to be said or done. I hope tonight she is baking Uncle N. a hot milk cake and remembering for the first time in a dozen years to add the baking powder.

I remember when we buried Pop, how Grandmom didn't really cry. She may have cried in private, or maybe she was sneaky about it, but to my 12 year old eyes, she seemed rather unconcerned for someone who had just lost her love of 50 years. Much later, when I was in college maybe?, I asked her why. She told me, "People just die. Everyone has to die. If they didn't, where would we put all the people?" That summed up Grandmom's philosophy and is a good example of what Dad means when he says she was uncomplicated. Grandmom didn't sweat the little stuff and had the big stuff placed firmly into perspective. People often use the term "simple" as a pejorative, but it is not. She was simple the way the arch is simple, the way a lever is simple, the way Shaker furniture is simple. Simplicity is the hallmark of the best in creation. Balance, moderation, focus, humor and strength directed towards a purpose. That was Grandmom.

I have been thinking about a Scripture passage and would like your opinion on a few. My first inclination was to use a passage more often used at weddings, Corinthians 13:1-13. Paul's description of love in verses 4-7 seem to me to mirror Grandmom's character quite well. Patient, kind, humble, selfless, generous, honest, but also determined and strong, enduring. Its funny in a way. She was not an overly expressive person, not your typical cheek pinching grandmother, but considering how well Paul's description fits her it was love that clearly motivated her, it was the touchstone of her life, it is the thing I will always remember. It also seems to me that her life is a good example of what Christ was talking about in Matthew 6:1-6. Her life was not lived to impress anyone, there was no pretenses with her. What she did, she did because it was the right thing to do and that's that. The passage in Proverbs 31 is indeed a good description of her crafty Scottish disposition and mania for thrift. Few could grow two pennies where one was before like Grandmom. Indeed I am sitting in the lasting monument to her economy as I write this. I have also been reading 1 Peter 1: 3-9. If ever there was a person who passed through a trial into life it was Grandmom in these last years. But I think this is more of a comfort for me than a testimony to her life.

About the poem. I must admit that I have very little patience with Lord Byron. Perhaps I have never gotten over my 9th grade encounter with "Childe Harold." Nevertheless "She Walks in Beauty" hits the nail on the head. "The smiles that win, the tints that glow,/ But tell of days in goodness spent,/A mind at peace with all below,/A heart whose love is innocent." I have been rereading John Donne recently and so Holy Sonnet 10, "Death be not proud" is in my mind. "One short sleep past, we wake eternally/And death shall be no more; Death thou shalt die." Sadder and more beautiful is Shakespeare's Sonnet 60. "Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,/ So do our minutes hasten to their end;/....And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,/Praising thy worth, despite his [Time's] cruel hand."

Well, for all this I don't really know what I want to do yet. You have had by now plenty of experience and I defer to your wisdom. But I do know this: tomorrow I will be baking a hot milk cake and eating it with a cup of hot tea made with a used tea bag.

It is the very least I can do.


Your Nephew
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