Stunning

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As was last Saturday, this day is a stunning and truly beautiful Spring day.

The fact that I’ve just spent two hours walking ’round the house without my cane is both good and bad too.  Good = I can do it.  Bad = I hurt.

At 11 a.m., I have made the first round of the tres leches cake for tomorrow.

Homemade hummingbird nectar is in the feeder, and the feeder is outdoors for the hummingbirds.

The house is swept.  I have one load of laundry left to do.

Some personal notes to others are written and in the post.

The dishwasher is loaded.

Samson has spent two hours basking in the outdoor sun.

New pathway lights are installed out front (oh boy, do I ever love Costco!), and the front porch is swept. And the pansies are growing too.

What’s left?  Sam needs a bath, and so do I. I must make a grocery store run. I have lesson to teach.  I need to dust my room.  And I still haven’t read Morning Prayer on this Holy Saturday, so that is next.

The lilac bush is just ready to burst with blooms.  Give me two more days….

And I have tulips in four rooms of my house right now.  (Oh boy, do I ever love Costco!)

Good Friday

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My friend Todd sent me this link today.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/04/18/why_is_good_friday_called_good_friday_the_etymology_and_origins_of_the_holiday.html

Whether we call this Holy Friday or Good Friday, today the Christian Church remembers the sacrifice that allows us truly to live.  Solemnity and sorrow mix with joy.  And because of this day, Easter comes soon.

A Eulogy for Esther Summers

I delivered this eulogy on Saturday at the funeral for Esther Summers.

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My name is Jeffrey Carter.  Esther Summers was the sister of my grandmother, Ruth.  I was asked to prepare a few remarks for today, and I’m so pleased to be able to pay public tribute to this aunt I loved so dearly.

How does one become a saint?  I’d propose in much the same way that Aunt Esther did.  This woman was happy . . . content . . . satisfied with the life she was given . . .empowered by grace . . . sure in her faith and convictions.

That this childless aunt we all love became the pseudo-matriarch of a far-flung clan of Gutshall descendents is surely no accident of history.  Her role in later life was to be the anchor that brought us together once a year for a birthday party and reunion. She loved us each, even when in her twilight she didn’t remember names, and certainly didn’t remember connections and who belonged to whom.

Uncle John is in the photo to the top right.

Uncle John is in the photo to the top right.

Aunt Esther married Uncle John in 1951.  He had served in World War II.  She was a social worker in Macon, Missouri, 60 miles or so north of Columbia.  They lived in the same boarding house, and she figured out that he was courting others, so she was always working on papers in the common room when he was ready to go out for the evening.  One evening he just stayed and talked with her.  They had 33 years of marriage before his untimely death.

Aunt Esther was gracious and kind.  I suppose riding a mule to school as a child will either lead to extraordinary kindness or bitter resentment.

. . . and she was a wonderful cook, as many of us can attest.

After the death of her beloved husband 30 years ago this coming Tuesday [April 15, 1984], she took on the task of finding her own way in life, but she had already found that way, in working for the State, in teaching church classes, in surrogate parenting grad students who lived in her basement.

Not many years after Uncle John died, Aunt Esther faced the fearsome task of total reinvention in a new place, with new friends, in a much-downsized apartment.  She tackled this task with magnanimity, without any outward fear, and with the clear-minded devotion she brought to so much of her life.  She was methodical in her choices and decisions.

Esther and Ruth were each named after strong Old Testament characters. I have no doubt that their considerable strength of character, exhibited over and over throughout long lives, owes in part to their namesakes from antiquity.

A friend wrote me the other day: “she shouldn’t have a tombstone.  She should have a trophy.”  He was right.  Anyone who hits 101 years old deserves something more than a granite marker.  If she hadn’t already planned for her marker, as she planned for this entire gathering today, I’d suggest we take up a collection and put out the biggest trophy ever!….

Some of my earliest memories are of days – and nights – at Aunt Esther and Uncle John’s house.  My parents and my sister Karen and I moved to Columbia when I was three.  Their house at 110 Clinton is as much a part of me early memory as the first house my parents ever owned  in Columbia.

When my youngest sister was born, Aunt Esther and Uncle John kept Karen and me overnight.  It was on their floor that I threw a bit of a fit over having a new sister, rather than a new brother.  (I’ve since gotten over it.)

During most of the 1960′s and into the 1970′s, my parents had season tickets to Mizzou football games.  We three kids would get deposited with Aunt Esther and Uncle John on Saturday prior to noon.  I’d ‘help’ Aunt Esther cook, and help set the table for dinner.  After a great meal we’d depart for Hannibal, and later for Lee’s Summit.

I first drank coffee, with pounds of sugar and cream, at Aunt Esther’s house.  My parents started taking mission trips with the church youth group in 1972.  I was too young to go then, so I’d be shipped off to Columbia for ten days to stay with the Summers relations.  These were great days!  I’d help mow the yard, learn more about cooking, go to Arrow Rock with Aunt Esther, get books from the library, walk to the nearby Nowell’s grocery store, stay up late watching Johnny Carson, and listen to LP recordings of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Aunt Esther used to tell the story of me climbing up on the ottoman, madly conducting to the sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on the LP player.  I was already honing my craft, but with a wooden spoon from the kitchen as a baton.

Years later, when I was in financial straits, Aunt Esther helped me out.  The dresser and chest of drawers in my bedroom are from one of her own bedrooms, given to me when she downsized and moved to Raymore.

Aunt Esther was an artist.  She made candles at home, big tall ones with plastic flowers in them.  She painted in oils.  Many of us have several of her paintings.  She worked on found objects too, painting me a Tom Sawyer on a wooden trash can, or painting Grandma Blocher’s greenhouse on an old saw.

I’m keenly aware of how much I learned from her about the kitchen.  In fact, next to my mother, Aunt Esther taught me more about cooking than anyone else in my life.  She was in her time a fabulous cook.  I regret now that my taste buds in my teens didn’t extend to things like broccoli and such, since she was a decidely unparochial cook.  Many of us here today have happy memories of Thanksgiving dinners with Aunt Esther and Uncle John at the tidy white house in Columbia.

Me with my great-aunt Esther Gutshall Summers at 96.

Me with my great-aunt Esther Gutshall Summers at 96.

As an adult, I delighted to stop by to see her, and spend the night if I could, whenever I was in Columbia.  I traveled in my college admissions job in the mid-80′s, and I know that Aunt Esther appreciated my visits in her new and unexpected widowhood.

Aunt Esther was a liberal-minded person.  She’s a sainted Christian, for sure, and Baptist to the core, but in the moderate way that I think I remember from my childhood and teenage years, long before everything became so damn polarized.  And until her last slow decline, she still went to church unless the weather was too bad.

Age takes tolls on all of us.  In Aunt Esther’s case, she used a walker, moved slowly, spoke with hoarseness, and didn’t always hear that well.  I loved how she showed me, with a bit of glee, her new motorized buggy last year.  She had a new toy. And her mind stayed sharp, though, until these final latter days.  She read a lot, and she had spicy comments to share about the occasional politician.

George Eliot pens the story of an unsuspecting heroine in the novel MIDDLEMARCH.  The leading character dies quietly, not knowing how her life had fueled good in those around her.

Eliot ended MIDDLEMARCH with these words:

“. . . the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully their hidden lives, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I doubt that, as long as any of us are alive, Aunt Esther will rest in an unvisited tomb.  But Eliot could have been speaking of Esther Summers when she spoke of those who lived faithfully their quiet lives, and through their apparently unhistoric acts provided a growing good in this world.

This is indeed Aunt Esther’s story.  Her influence as humanitarian, teacher, social worker, prayerful partner, and indeed untraditional matriarch has literally reached around the world.

We are all better off for Esther Summers’ presence in our lives.  We give thanks for her today with sorrow, fondness, and love.

Rest in peace, Aunt Esther.  May flights of angels lead you to glory.  You have fought the good fight, and you have kept the faith. Your rest is won.

LSHS Hall of Fame

 

My comments upon being inducted on Saturday into the Lee’s Summit High School Hall of Fame:

To the High School administration, to the selection committee, to those who are with me tonight . . . thank you for this honor, one that has more meaning to me than I expected or supposed.  I am deeply grateful!

There’s a kid inside here somewhere who remembers the smells and sounds of these hallways 35 years ago. (Well, perhaps not this hallway, since this has been built since I graduated . . . .)  That kid played in band and orchestra, sang in choir, dated his school counselor’s daughter, wanted to do more theatre, wrote for the school newspaper, kept stats for four years for school basketball teams.

The Carters have been in Lee’s Summit since 1971.  I went to Pleasant Lea Elementary and was at Pleasant Lea Junior High the first year it housed both 7th and 8th graders.  My sisters opened Meadow Lane Elementary.  My mother taught at Hazel Grove.  My father led the local blood drives, and was a pastor at First Baptist Church.  My mother is buried just up the road at 3rd street and 291.  My father remarried not long after that, to the mother of my high school locker partner and best friend from Lee’s Summit High School.

That kid has deeps roots in Lee’s Summit.

Living over the last 35 years in other cities in Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky and Indiana, he has never strayed far from Lee’s Summit, from this town that helped form him, from the house just off Langsford Road where he grew up, from the First Baptist Church that was an integral part of his upbringing.

That kid tonight needs to mention a few people . . . and perhaps tell a couple of stories.

But first, an apology.

Shannon Lawrence [who was also inducted in the same ceremony]: you are two years older than me, and you always played the French horn better than I did.  In your senior year, I challenged you in orchestra for the first chair seat.  And I got it, for some reason.  That was travesty number one.  The second travesty was the major mess I made of that horn call in Strauss’s Tales of the Vienna Woods, in a solo that you should have had, and in a wreck of a night that left me humbled and mortified.  I think the next day in 4th hour orchestra, I was sitting in the third chair seat when you arrived, which is where I belonged.  I don’t recall that anyone said anything at all about my shame, so obvious was the reason.  This was 37 years ago, and I’m sorry it’s taken so long to say I’m sorry.  But I am.

OK . . . that’s been bugging me for a few decades…..

This many years later, I don’t remember all the names of my teachers.  But I do recall those whose influence has stayed with me, and who in their modeling, their teaching, and their care have helped me be the professor and administrator that I am today.

Kay Ford is simply one of the finest teachers I recall.  Her 9th grade civics class was one of my favorites, as was my freshman biology class with a teacher I only recall as Mrs. Magruder.  She was funny and vivacious and I loved dissecting the frog.

Mark Ballentine opened to me a world of science in his chemistry class my sophomore year.  I think that he was a brand new college grad in 1976.  I recall his moustache, and the magnesium strips we got to burn.

Jerry Voss opened to me a world of literature and connections and cause/effect as part of an elective I took.  We read biographies of great figures and studied them from a social science perspective.  This class, and that teacher, continue to stick with me.

Of course, you would expect that the music faculty are at the top of my list, and they are, almost.  Verna Brummett was my elementary music teacher.  She is here this evening.  Nearly 40 years since I had a class with her, I can still point to her as a key and formative part of my musical life.  That I was in 4th grade in love with Julie Andrews, and that I thought Miss Brummett looked like Julie Andrews, only added to my adoration of her.

Irene Young and Robert Huemann and Richard Miller have moved on to other things and are long-gone from the high school here.  Others like Vance Riffie have gone on to glory.

Russ Berlin gave me encouragement and opportunity and support.  I owe so much to his confidence in me.  Decades ago, he told my parents that I had the only perfect score he had ever seen on the fifth-grade band aptitude test.  And he wanted me to play the oboe.  So did I, if I recall.  But my father had other ideas, and I ended up on French horn, which was well and good and beneficial.  Again . . . sorry, Shannon….

The single most important teacher in life . . . in my LIFE . . . was Sandy Simpkins, with whom I had English Lit and then my senior-year college-bound writing class.  She gave me the only F I have ever received.  And she woke me up to my own fuzzy writing.  I have committed few comma faults since 1978.  I can spot a preposition a mile off.  I wrote for her what she called the most boring term paper she ever read, but with incredible documentation . . . typed on a Royal manual typewriter that was my father’s  . . . and she pointed out for years to other students that I had bored her to tears, but fabulously so.  I stayed in touch with Sandy until her death from cancer in 1996.  I still have the Shakespeare bookmark she gave me as thank you for being her grading assistant my senior year.  And I still say to my own students, as she did to me and my classmates, “Prick up your ears.”

We are each a product of our upbringing and the gifts we are given along life’s journey. This school district, and the piano lessons I received from Hall of Fame member Gladys Alkire, gave me the best musical foundation I could have had.    I am so pleased to see that musical legacy continue in Lee’s Summit schools, and so very glad to be a part of the long line of musicians who got their start right here at LSHS.

I count my time at Lee’s Summit High School as a gift . . . moreso now than I did then, of course . . . but a gift that has allowed me to prosper and grow and help change lives the way these adults and this school helped form my own many years ago.  Thank you, Lee’s Summit High School, for helping me have the tools to live this life with grace and humor and knowledge that I hope has led to wisdom. Thank you for this honor, and for the gifts that have helped set me on my life’s course.  Thank you very much.

Saturday

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Well then. Saturday is over.

What a bittersweet day this has been!

At noon today, I left for Adrian, my mother’s hometown two counties south of Kansas City, for the funeral and burial of Esther Marie Summers. At some point in the next few days I will write more, and post the eulogy I delivered this afternoon, but for the moment, this is still to close.

Karen Carter, Angela and Marie Blocher, me.

Karen Carter, Angela and Marie Blocher, me.

I was delighted to see a first cousin, Angela Blocher, who I have not seen in thirty years or so. She is the daughter of my Uncle Edwin (Mom’s brother). Angela and her mother made the trip from Texas to see off Aunt Esther. After the burial, I took Angela to see the graves of some of our common ancestors, going back as far as a great-great-great-grandmother Gutshall who died in the early 1900s.

After driving back to Lee’s Summit and resting for a bit, I went with my family to Lee’s Summit High School, where this evening I was inducted into the LSHS Hall of Fame. This dinner and ceremony were an absolute antidote to the sadder emotions of earlier in the day.

My boyhood friend Tom Flint was my plus-one this evening. He knows my family well, and we had a great dinner before the ceremonials began. Pop and Jo, Karen and Debbie, Beth and Robert – all were present.

I’ll write more about the induction, and post more pictures, later in the week. For now, here’s a taste of the evening:

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