Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ninety and counting

I haven't posted in a few days.  We spent the weekend out on the penninsula, helping Beve's stepmother celebrate her 90th birthday, which is actually today.  In her ninety years, Thyrza's seen a whole lot of changes in this world.  She was born in a sod hut on the barren prairie of Saskatchewan, where her father trained  wild horses, and tried to make a living eeking out crops on forbidding land.  When the winter snows came, the children (Thyrza is the middle of seven) went sledding off their sod roof, the snow that deep, the cabin itself the only 'hill' on the barren land.  Eventually those crops failed, and the family returned to Michigan via train, where her parents had grown up, met and married.  On the train ride 'home', which happened in the dead of winter, Thyrza and her closest sister stared out the window at the 'sticks' standing up along the train tracks.  They asked their mother who had planted those sticks, and she had to explain that trees lose their leaves in winter. They were amazed--trees! These were the first trees--leaves or not--they'd ever seen.

Thyrza was bent toward education early.  While her sisters and brothers played (a favorite game was re-enacting their train trip on chairs in their parlor), she sat at the table studying.  Thyrza became a teacher (graduating from the teachers' college in Ypsilanti, Michigan--Ypsilanti is part of my history as well.  We lived there for 4 years while my dad got his PhD in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan, and my mother took education classes at the same teachers' college Thyrza graduated from).  She met and married her first husband, Alex, who was a language specialist for the army.  During WWII, she stayed in Michigan while Al was off soldiering, but after the war, the family--now with three children--moved to Germany, California, Okinawa, Japan, Maryland, back to California. All along the way (except in Germany) Thyrza taught school.  When Alex finally retired, she did as well, and they moved to Sequim, WA, where she's lived ever since.

I got to know Thyrza before I ever met her, actually. When Beve's parents were thinking of retiring to Sequim, they found a home to housesit in for an extended period over the holidays.  That home was Thyrza and Alex's, who had gone off to Australia.  We celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in Thyrza's home that year, and I learned a lot about her.  Mulit-leveled, comfortable, easy, with a lot of nooks and crannies where our two-year-old E and her cousin Nico loved to hide.  I enjoyed the books in the room in the basement where we stayed, and the giant green naugahyde 'barcolounger' that had both a heater and a vibrater in it.  That giant chair is now in our basement--Thyrza gave it to my little brother, D, when she was moving from that house, but D, now in Massachusetts, has left it here to grow old with other cast-offs.

Four years after that housesitting stint and their subsequent move to Sequim, Beve's mom died after a year-long battle with cancer.  Two months prior to her death, Thyrza's husband had also died.  That fall, it was natural for Grampie and Thyrza, already good friends, to comfort each other, be companions.  They married the next spring.

I have to admit, it wasn't an easy thing when Grampie told us he was going to marry Thyrza.  Not because of her--whom we all knew and definitely loved--but because it had happened so quickly.  He told us, though, that he'd been mourning Beve's mom for the whole year she was dying.  And Thyrza had been in a similar situation.

Once we got over our shock, it was easy to see that they were a very good match.  In fact, without being disloyal to Grammie, I will say, that in many ways, Grampie and Thyrza's relationship has been healthier.  There aren't the old ways of being that either of them had with their first spouse.  For Thyrza, Grampie is a prince, after something of a difficult first husband (though it's really not in Thyrza to complain--except about her own failing to love and be kind!). Grampie, for his part, calls Thyrza his bride, even after now 15 years of marriage.

Thyrza has been a wonderful grandmother to our children.  When we lived a mile down the road from them, the kids often stayed at their house when they were ill and I had to work.  They were so comfortable in their home, that they'd slip off their shoes right at the door, and climb up onto stools at the counter, waiting for whatever treat Thyrza and Grampie would give them.  Thyrza loved them, treated them as mature adults, even as children, and felt that God had given her this gift of grandchildren because she had lived across the country when her own grandchildren were growing up.

As for me, I love Thyrza.  We have great conversations, good laughs and a true sympathy between us.  These days, she spends most of her days, trying to keep Grampie in line, but still finds time to be the residents' president of the retirement apartments where they live, a member of Presbyterian woman (she makes baby blankets, other things for their projects), and take care of her bonsai. 

Ninety years old--and she's seen a lot of the world, and lived through many adventures.  I'm grateful for her steadying influence on our lives, her innate charity, and positive outlook.  After walking with Jesus a long time, her face and gleaming crown of white hair are illuminated with His Spirit.  I'm better for knowing her, better for her words of wisdom, her gifts of unyielding kindness.  I thank God for her.

So happy Birthday, Thyrza.  It's apt that you were born on Armistice Day.  She's a true veteran of the battle of living, a quiet hero in my life.

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