Gathering

They’ve gathered by the hundreds and thousands and the hundred thousands today all over the country to say, “Never more!” Enough young lives and old lives have been taken in horrible events across this land. On another day, I would have stood there with them.

But today marks five years.

March 24, 2013, my brothers and sisters lost one of us in a way no family should. Our baby sister, Cathy, who should be living life as the 53-year old she would have turned last December 7, was taken by a stranger who sits locked up in Riverside, California.

So we gathered today to remember Cathy. To put purple flowers and dried Russian sage in the vase in Calvary Cemetery that is centered between her marker and the marker of our mom who left us March 27, 1966, not yet 34 years old. Mike and Barb burned some sage and offered beautiful words as the scent ascended among us. As for me, in the quiet of my heart, I heard these words: Dona eis requiem sempiternam…give them eternal rest.

Mike and Barb light the sage as Jana watches.

We took pictures as we do every year when we gather here to share with Susan and Sally and George. We once were seven…

Cathy and Mommy are not in this place where the markers are set and the flowers are laid and the sage has been burned, but this is where we gather to mark the day.

We gathered by the ones, remembering the ones we love.

We Once Were Seven (March 29, 2013)

In sixty-four on seventh December
She joined the family
Myself I really can’t remember
But there she was, our Cathy.

Number seven was her place
In order of our births
You can find some larger clans
On this planet Earth.

From one to seven we arrived
In four months and eight years
Year by year we each arrived
Like steps in a flight of stairs.

First was George, named for our dad
The one who is the namesake
Then came Jana as number two
Who stirred up a mighty wake
Julie came in fifty-eight
The “good one,” it is true!
Then number four was Susan Marie,
We never called her Sue.
And Mike was next, our firebug,
At least that’s what aunties said
And Sally followed after that
With blue eyes and curly head.

As I said before the last one came
And that was Catherine Gerard
Although we wanted more for her
Her life would be so hard.

We lost our mom when this youngest one
Was just three months past a year
It was hard for each and every one of us
But especially so for her.

She searched in ways throughout her life
To find the ties maternal.
And maybe now she has her answers
As she’s gone to life eternal.

I like to think she’s with our dad
And also with beloved mother
I do believe her pain is gone
That she’ll never feel another.

While walking through her days on earth
There was no solid ground
I’m thankful now that where she walks
There is peace that she has found.

Where once was seven, six remain
To hold each other near
My prayer for us as the days go on
Is to hold her memory dear.

 

 

 

 

 

The Tree

The hole in the maple tree, framed by the window of the addition, August, 2014.

The hole in the maple tree, framed by the window of the addition, August, 2014.

President Gerald Ford died December 26, 2006. One of the things my dad and I agreed on in the realm of presidential politics was that we both had great respect for this man. I wasn’t old enough to vote for him in the 1976 election because I didn’t turn 18 until December that year. And at that time I would have doubled my dad’s vote by voting for Gerald Ford. (For the sake of honesty and self-reflection, four years later I voted for Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter and have always regretted it. I beg forgiveness to this day from my liberal friends. What did I know? My dad thought Reagan was the guy and that was good enough for me.)

But I digress. I remember that date because my dad and I reminisced about his presidency in those days after Christmas and the way he served humbly in that office after the resignation of Nixon and the scandal of Watergate. He was a good man, born in Omaha, a veteran, and just a quiet servant. He and my dad shared that same story. We both wanted to watch the funeral services that were carried on the national media in the days after his death.

I also remember those last days of 2006 because of the tree. We had a large double- or split-trunk pine tree that grew right outside of our family room on Happy Hollow. It must have been 75 feet tall. It was majestic. It shaded that portion of our patio and house. It used to have a twin right next to it that split in two during a summer storm in 2003, which we had to take down after that. But this magnificent tree stood in that spot until December 31, 2006.

Steve standing by the root system of the pine tree, January 1, 2007.

Steve standing by the root system of the pine tree, January 1, 2007.

It had been a very wet end of the year, mostly rain, and I’m sure the ground was not frozen. Sometime during the night or early morning as the calendar page turned to a new year, there was a large crashing noise outside. Due to the darkness, we couldn’t see a thing so we went back to bed. The rain had turned to snow overnight and in the morning, the pine tree was stretched out its full length to the south. It must have had enough extra weight in its boughs and branches – so many drenched needles! – that gravity just said, “You can’t stand here anymore.” Gravity being a law and all, the tree obeyed. Uprooted. The path of its fall was toward another pine in the corner of the yard, and the two trunks of the large tree lined up on either side of the smaller tree and took off all its branches…and also took out part of the neighbor’s fence.

The uprooted pine, the stripped pine and to the left of the tip of the tree, the neighbor's damaged fence. January 1, 2007.

The uprooted pine, the stripped pine and to the left of the tip of the tree, the neighbor’s damaged fence. January 1, 2007.

A fence can be fixed, and we did repair it. The trees are another story. I weep at the thought of a tree that large that had probably seen years back to the administration of Warren G. Harding. It had stood through storms that had lashed it and pulled off branches, distributing pine needles and pinecones all around. But that night of continued rain-turned-to snow and small winds had finished it.

Jana and I watched Gerald Ford’s funeral services on January 2, 2007, as a local contractor cut up the tree and hauled it away. Such sadness on two counts, I called my dad and we shared our sorrow.

On April 23, 2007, my dad George passed away, with six of his children by his side. We sat with him for his final thirty hours on this earth, listening to every breath until there was only one more and then it was done. He passed quietly in the early morning hours. There was no crashing sound like the tree had made. Just no more breathing and he was gone.

We had a wonderful memorial service for him three days later and I had the privilege of sharing about his life. I had great notes in front of me, but I improvised the beginning a bit to stop myself from crying too hard. I told a joke we had shared with him over and over during those thirty hours. “Where do you find a turtle with no legs?” And I shared about our mutual respect for Gerald Ford who had died just those three and a half months previously. It was a wonderful farewell for the best dad ever.

And then we planted a tree, a maple, in that spot where the pine had stood. In seven short years it has grown into a majestic forty-foot tall giant that provides that same shade to the patio and family room. It seems impossible that it could have grown so big and tall in seven short years, but it has.

Two years ago, another summer storm came barreling through. The rain poured, thunder crashed, lightning flashed, and the winds blew cruelly. A huge crash in the early evening took us to the window. Oh, the horror! A huge limb had cleft from the trunk of this memorial maple and was draped across the fence. I just cried. “My dad’s tree!”

That's the maple. The hole is on the other side and there is not enough room between the tree and the addition.

That’s the maple. The hole is on the other side and there is not enough room between the tree and the addition.

Now, two years later, it seems that we have to take the tree down. It’s too close to an addition we are adding on for Jana. Where that branch came off – even though it appears to be healing itself – there is a hole where insects and rot have started to kill it from the inside. At some point in time, gravity will call it down from the weight of its beautiful, full top. I know I will weep again at such a loss and remember my dad and how we remembered Gerald Ford together.

But I know both of those men are in a better place, telling stories of their younger years together. Mr. Ford is probably saying to my dad, “Couldn’t you have kept that girl as a registered ‘R’? Why did you let her drift so far to the left? Tree hugger…” My dad will probably just smile and say, “That’s the irony. We raise them to make their own choices…and they do. But she did like you!”

And then I will think, “Where do you find a turtle with no legs?” And I will answer, “Right where you left him.” Tell the joke. FInd the laugh. Memories bring smiles. Life goes on. Storms will continue to rage, literally and metaphorically.

And we will plant another tree.