It’s another stormy morning and as the rain comes down I find myself feeling pensive. It’s been a quiet week after my vacation. I came home tired from the long drive and never really got back into the routine of things because I was almost immediately scheduled to visit my oral surgeon to have my implant set in place. I spent time catching up on some phone calls that I had been unable to make in the mountains. One of them was to my cousin who had suddenly and tragically lost her nephew in an accident. Her beloved Chris and his wife had gone on their dream trip to the Florida Keys. One moment they were joyfully riding on a rented scooter and the next they were hit head on by the driver of a Ford Explorer. The young man died instantly. His wife was sent to the hospital in critical condition. When the calls came to the family back here in Houston there was a sense of disbelief, as though it was all somehow a terrible mistake.
I had heard my cousin speak of her nephew countless times. It was apparent just how close she was to this young man. The two of them had shared a special bond from the time that he was born. They understood each other in ways that nobody else was able to fathom. His very presence always brought her peace of mind and a sense of security. Now he is gone all too soon and she is bereft. My cousin still wonders if perhaps this has all been just a nightmare but she knows that her wishful thinking will not change the truth. There is a void in her life that will be impossible to fill. Only time will heal the gash in her heart.
I also learned this week that the mother of a school friend, Eileen, had died. I was surprised to learn from the obituary that Eileen’s mom was born in the same year as my father and that like him, she had attended Reagan High School. I found myself wondering if in some long ago time they had known one another. Had they been in classes together? Had my dad noticed how lovely she was? Did either of them imagine the lives that they would eventually lead?
Unlike my cousin’s nephew and my father who were taken from the world at such young ages, Lois Brochtrup would lived a very long time until she ninety two years old. Hers would be a good and faithful life. She was one of the many women who influenced and inspired me in my youth. The image of her that comes to mind is of a happy woman whose eyes always seemed to twinkle. I never talked to her much. Teenagers rarely engage in conversations with the moms of their friends. I just know that she was one of those people who somehow made me feel comfortable. Just being around her was calming.
Lois had a large family. She and her husband, Leo, lived just down the street from Mt. Carmel Church and it was there that their lives centered. I remember seeing them with their brood on Sundays when I attended mass. They were a constant presence at church gatherings. Lois somehow found time to teach Sunday school and to work with the parish Women’s Club. Mostly though she was devoted to her family and somehow managed to keep a perennial smile on her face. She had the most beautiful blue eyes and I remember thinking that they marked her as a compassionate woman. There was no mistaking the kindness that lay in her heart. Just one look into those indigo eyes showed the content of her character.
Tonight family and friends will gather at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church to remember the life of Lois Brochtrup, a good and faithful servant. She will join so many of the other deceased Mt. Carmel moms who back in the fifties and sixties were the core of my childhood universe. I have been thinking about all of them in the last few days. They were wonderful women who had a true sense of who they were and how they wanted to live their lives. My own mom was one of them.
There was Mrs. Barry, my mother’s best friend, who anchored a family of six children and did so with such panache. She managed to create a space for everyone in a three bedroom home. Watching her cook the nightly meal was better than an episode on the food channel. She sliced and diced a ten pound bag of potatoes in record time. She made the long table that crowded her kitchen seem like the warmest place in town and she always had room for just one more stray kid like me. When I most needed the love and guidance of an adult when my mother first showed signs of her mental illness it would be Mrs. Barry who would come to my aid. She will always hold a very special place in my heart because I had felt so abandoned and alone when she stepped forward to help me and my family. She was an angel.
Mrs. McKenna had the most beautiful voice of anyone in our parish. She was a star in the parish choir and I so loved attending the services when she sang. Each year there would be a special Christmas program and her solo was always the highlight of the event. She was so lovely and refined. I always slightly envied my friend, Susan, for having such a talented person right in her own home. Sometimes when I would go to visit their Mrs. McKenna would be playing the piano. The sounds would echo through the house and I was enchanted. The fact that she was always so open and welcoming to me only made her seem more special.
Mrs. Cash helped with my Brownie troop. She was another highly attractive and talented lady. She was mother to a set of delightful twins who inherited her contagious smile. There were times when I felt a bit awkward and shy around the other kids. Mrs. Cash lovingly and quietly noticed my distress. She made special efforts to include me in all of the activities and to help me to feel more at ease. She did so without drawing attention to my discomfort. I thought that she was one of the most incredible people that I had ever met.
Mrs. Loisey was also the mother of one of my classmates and my sixth grade teacher at the school. She was one of the first educators to really inspire me. I found myself wanting to be just like her. She was a masterful teacher who somehow made every subject come alive. She gave the impression that each of her students was unique and special in her eyes. I can’t say that I have ever felt as comfortable in an educational setting as I did in her classroom. When I became a teacher I often thought back to the methods that she had used to motivate us and adopted so many of her skills. I always imagined that she was somehow watching over me as I taught my students. Her spirit guided me to be as kind and understanding as she was.
There were scores of magnificent women who were an integral part of my childhood. They protected all of us as we grew in wisdom and age and grace in the little island neighborhood known as Overbrook. I took them for granted at the time. Now that they are one by one leaving us for their heavenly rewards I find myself remembering their elegance and their love. Only a few of them are left. Mrs. Daigle is still as beautiful as she ever was. Her loving daughter, Linda, cares for her each and every day. She is in her nineties and having trouble with her memory but still lights up a room when she smiles.
I learned so much from all of the women who passed through my life. They were good and strong and selfless. They didn’t worry so much about possessions or titles. They were filled with faith and an abundance of love. They taught me and my childhood friends the true meaning of a good life. It is sad to see them slowly go away but it is the way of the world. I suspect that they are all quite happy now in heaven.