Saturday, January 20, 2007

How I Want to be When I Grow up

I went to a memorial service today, or more appropriately to a celebration of life. Miss Beryl died on Christmas Eve morning 6 days after her 102nd birthday. She was an amazing woman who had an incredible impact on those around her and today was a testament to that. Miss Beryl (as everyone called her) was a journalism student at The Ohio State University in the 20s, she dropped out after 3 years, when asked why she told her son that journalists were supposed to ask lots of personal questions about people's lives and that just wasn't for her. She left OSU and went to NYC and joined the Russian ballet. She danced there and in burlesque shows for several years. She talked fondly of her days as a dancer and said when she died she would go to heaven to dance with the angels. She met her husband in NY, got married and had two sons. In 1945 she and her husband divorced and she ran a medical practice until she retired in 1969--the year I was born. Her son read a letter from one of the patients in that medical practice whom Miss Beryl befriended, they became friends and their families remain close today. I can't imagine that life was easy for a woman alone with two children in the 40s, 50s or 60s but obviously Miss Beryl let nothing deter her. She had an affinity for everything Russian and spent ten years learning it. She traveled to Russia and over much of the rest of the world. Miss Beryl came to Maryland to live closer to her son and settled into a housing complex for seniors near our church and became a faithful attendee and entered the lives of so many people I am close to today. From the moment we started attending church there I remember people storing up things Beryl had given them, or she had donated to the church yard sale or auction and they had quickly bought. People realized Miss Beryl wouldn't be with us forever and wanted to have some way to remember her.

When she first moved from her senior complex into the independent living part of an assisted living center I had the privilege of becoming part of the Beryl brigade picking her up once a month to bring her to church and take her home afterwards. Although it was no more than 10 minutes each way I loved hearing Miss Beryl's stories about what ever it was she decided to share each time, often it was about Ohio since we'd both grown up there.
Here are just a few of the stories that were shared:
  • In the mid-80s Miss Beryl got a computer and asked our friend Mr. Don if he thought her processor was fast enough to run this new chess game. Mr. Don told her he just wasn't sure. Miss Beryl told him she'd find out then, and let him know.
  • Miss Beryl really like Mr. Don, so much that she told all of her friends when she introduced them to him that if they ever needed anything, just to call him. She did call him and he said he never hesitated to go immediately and do for her whatever it was that she wanted, the way that she wanted, no matter what.
  • Our former minister relayed a story about a Sunday after a blizzard. He had walked to the church and there were 6 other people present, one of them being Miss Beryl. She told him she used two canes that morning instead of just one. After the service he walked her home. She told him that she loved the snow, it was so beautiful and as a child she'd made snow angels. At 90 years old she got down on the ground and made another one right in front of the church.
  • Many people relayed stories from visiting her in the last 6 months, Miss Beryl was very hard of hearing and slept much of the time and it was difficult to wake her. So she made a giant sign and hung it by her head--WAKE ME UP, I WANT TO TALK TO YOU and they did, lest she find out they were there and she hadn't seen them, word would get back to them that they best go back to visit and wake her up this time.
She was a person who embraced life and all that it threw at her. She had the power to touch people and make them believe anything was possible. Many people shared things that she did or said that have stuck with them for years. I wish I'd known her better. I didn't take advantage of my opportunities to go visit her the past few years, the last time I saw her was her 100th birthday when she came to church. I sent cards on her birthday and flowers with someone going to visit but I never went to visit myself, definitely my loss.

When I grow up I only hope I can be a small portion of the woman that Miss Beryl was. I know that today she is dancing with the angels and making sure we are all awake and experiencing our lives the way she did hers.


g-man said...

Very nicely said. Beryl was a pisser! I'll miss her too.

Esmerelda said...

Oh, how very cool. Everyone needs a role model like that. I'm going to remember that sign. Given my family's proclivity for sleeping and my need for socialization.....

TxGambit said...

That is so sweet and so cool. (sniff, sniff)

Thanks for sharing.