Dave and Cathy's Family Blog

January 31, 2014

January 2014 – Family Updates

Filed under: Lilah and Luke,Mom and Dad — dave9169 @ 6:25 pm

January Highlights:

More Family and Friends

Last month the main theme was hanging out with family and friends. That same theme continued strong this month as we received visits from Farsh and Mary and cousin Andrea. In addition, I traveled with my sister to Tennessee to attend grandma deWolf’s memorial service where my sister got a chance to visit with family she had never met before including four first cousins on my mom’s side of the family.

Farsh and Mary – Starting the Year with Some Special Peeps
On New Year’s day we got a very welcome visit from Farsh and Mary. We don’t get to spend as much time as we’d like to with them but when we do, we always feel good. Other than the obvious familial relationship between Farsh and Cathy (first cousins), as couples, we now have a history that goes back more than 20 years. Our lives also have many parallels when it comes to significant events: Mary met Farsh shortly after I met Cathy (both of us met our future spouses at school), we all got married in the same year (or close to it – I think), and started our careers and families at roughly the same time. I think I’ve always appreciated the richness that can evolve with long term connections, but 20 years is still special. This visit with Farsh and Mary was also cool because now that our kids our older they are able to entertain themselves, which means we are able to have long conversations again with old time friends (just like we did in our younger days). Thanks for starting our New Year right you guys!

A Visit from Cousin Andrea – Our Big Time Independent Movie Producer 😉
I hadn’t seen my cousin Andrea since my New York trip in 2012 but when it came to conversation we didn’t skip a beat. Andrea also has the same fascination I do with family history and values long term connections as well as she also travels to visit family in Chile every few years. During her stay we covered old ground as well as plenty of new stuff to keep things fresh and interesting. I also invited my parents and my sister so that we could all have a nice get together over Chilean empanadas and salad, accompanied by generous servings of wine. My parents hadn’t seen Andrea in years and were overjoyed to see her and hear about her exploits as an independent movie producer, including a nomination for Best Producer of an independent film.

The film she is nominated for is called Drinking Buddies, a well-acted feature that chronicles the day-to-day lives of two main characters (buddies) who work in a brewery. Keep in mind that the buddies are of the opposite sex, are allowed to drink on the job and have an obvious attraction toward each other even though they are committed to other people. If you want to see how it all unravels, you can stream the film on Netflix.

I’m glad we had a chance to hang out with Andrea and even offer her a place to sleep for a night — Andrea’s parents have done the same for me when I’ve had layovers in Miami so it was nice to return the favor and feel even more like an adult for doing so ;-). The weather cooperated nicely during Andrea’s visit, giving us a chance to take her to Ventura to experience balmy 75-80 degree temperatures at the beach where we enjoyed some great fish tacos at the pier (a typical summer day in winter experience in southern California).

Grandma deWolf’s Memorial
Grandma deWolf is not a person I knew well. Part of it is due to complicated familial circumstances, part of it was not having her geographically close, but I think the biggest part of it was that grandma did not make it easy to get to know her. I normally don’t find it difficult to learn more about people (Cathy calls me nosy), but grandma was always a tough nut to crack. In my one-on-one encounters with her I always noticed she had a hard time elaborating on topics or recalling moments from her youth. I was lucky if she responded to my questions with more than a few words. In a game I played with her where I would ask her one question a week via e-mail in order to get to know her better, her written responses were delivered with the same brevity she showed in oral communication. I started the game with easy questions like where were you born (Buffalo), when where you born (Aug. 20), etc., but as soon as I began to ask her more personal questions like, “What are the warmest memories you have of your mother,” grandma stopped the game by basically telling me she couldn’t remember any warm memories and that she could really recall very little of her childhood. She then added that she wasn’t up to playing this game anymore. From this experience, I came away with the impression that grandma hadn’t lived the greatest childhood.

Later on, as I pieced anecdotes from other family members together, I discovered that grandma was a very intelligent, but idiosyncratic character who was also a bit socially awkward (and that’s an understatement). One reason I know she was smart comes from this passage at the beginning of her obituary (something she wrote her self):

Born August 1, 1920 in Buffalo, NY, Ida May Becker attended the University at Buffalo (State University of New York) for her degree in Mathematics and was immediately hired as a GE employee in their Supercharger Engineering Department doing mathematical equations for the atomic bomb. She and Goeorge Levay deWolf were married in 1946. With the birth of their children, Ida May retired to her status as a homemaker.

Although she never talked much about herself or her accomplishments (actually let me rephrase that – she never talked about herself), the fact that grandma leads off with her mathematics background and work on the atomic bomb leads me to believe she was proud of her endeavors (this was as close to bragging as grandma ever got and she’s not even here to talk about it — so like her). Grandma also had her fair share of quirks like cutting up her lettuce into small pieces and applying dressing to each piece one at a time with a knife (one of many OCD-like behaviors she exhibited). I’m not sure if quirks like these made it hard for her to connect with people or not. She definitely wasn’t the most outwardly demonstrative or affectionate person in the world, but in her own way she showed her family — kids and grand kids — she cared about them by doing things you didn’t expect. One of those things was driving cross country from eastern Tennessee to California to visit us with grandpa when Lilah was just a baby. She was also religious in her observance of family birthdays, sending out cards and checks to everyone by mail on their special day (a practice she kept into her nineties). And if for some reason it took you too long to cash your check, grandma would be on you with a reminder letter or e-mail asking you to please cash your funds so that she could balance her checkbook.

My uncle Glen really does a good job in capturing many of grandma’s idiosyncrasies, as well as grandma’s secret social world, in the eulogy he put together for her. One thing that helped Glen in this task was discovering the diary grandma kept when she was in college. Through the excerpts in her succinct journal entries, my uncle was able to provide us with a rare glimpse of a social creature none of us ever knew — one that went to movies, went biking, went swimming, went dancing, road horses…fell in love. Glen’s eulogy is a great fast read that brought a smile to all our faces — here is a copy for anyone interested in reading more — and humanized grandma in a way that made her more real to us (thanks for putting that together Glen).

In one of those great ironies, grandma herself wasn’t much of a connector, but in death she transcended this weakness by connecting nearly her entire family at her memorial service. All her children were there and nearly all the grandchildren were there as well. For my sister, it was the first time meeting any of her first cousins on my mom’s side of the family, not to mention her uncles. I also met one cousin for the first time and two others should also count as first time meetings as the last time I saw them I was when I was 20 something and they were 3 and 4.

The entire family only hung out for about two days, but in that time I feel we all had a chance to get to know each other and keep the connection going. We all have grandma to thank for that. Grandma also made it possible for my sister and I to travel together on a plane (just the two of us) for the first time since we were teenagers, making for some great bro/sis bonding. In a stroke of luck, our plane flight home was cancelled forcing us to spend one more day together which we took full advantage of by visiting the Great Smokey Mountains National park on a beautiful day just before the snow arrived the next morning.

Everything went so well on the trip that I couldn’t help think of grandma’s mathematical mind. As uncle Glen describes in his eulogy, grandma had a mathematical system for everything. Grandma measured all the ingredients in cooking recipes precisely and she calculated to infinitesimal degrees just how much food to cook so that there wouldn’t be any left overs. She kept a ledger of all the money she and grandpa spent, making sure she accounted for all the expenses no matter how small the amount. On multiple occasions, Glen remembers grandma asking grandpa how he had spent as little as fifty cents so that she could write it down in her ledger. Glen also remembers how every winter, grandma would plan her vegetable garden by taking out a piece of graph paper and, quite literally down to the inch, map out exactly where each vegetable would be planted that year, how many to a row, the exact space for each one, etc.. Perhaps it was grandma’s way of giving order to the world and making sure things all worked out.

In terms of having a system in place to ensure that all things worked out, this entire trip had that spirit or grandma vibe to it, something my cousin Jeanne pointed out to me on our last morning together. We all flew or drove in from different places (California, Michigan, Texas, Georgia) and found each other just fine. Transportation for my sister and I to and from the airport was provided by Audrey, grandma’s dearest caretaker, who was able to share more stories of grandma with us. The memorial and lunch were well attended and things ran smooth and promptly. The stories people told about grandma showed the warmth and affection the people in grandma’s church had for her, striking just the right tone. Same thing with the family dinner later in the evening where we all got to know each other some more and share more grandma stories. We also left the door open to possible more family encounters in the future. Even the unplanned flight cancellation seemed preordained as it allowed my sister and I to witness some pretty spectacular scenery in the Smokey mountains on an absolutely gorgeous day. On the next day, when it snowed, it was just enough of a sprinkling to make for lovely scenery around the lake, but not enough to delay our flight back home.

As Audrey drove us to the airport, she told us how it was very rare to get snow in this part of Tennessee so in a sense we were lucky to have seen it. Yes we were, I agreed. It was a trip and experience where so many things fell nicely into place. Just like if grandma had planned it all herself. And who is to day she didn’t? 😉

That’s all for now…more next month!

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