This weekend I went to Southampton, Long Island to attend a memorial service for the mom of one of my friends. My friend, Marie, is living in Germany right now and since she and her husband flew back for the service I got to see Marie and John and offer my condolences in person. Sometimes when I attend a memorial service, I learn things about someone I have known that I never knew before. These things may come from a different time in the life of this person. We do get to know our friend’s parents but, perhaps, not to the same depth that we know our friends.
I have my memories of Marie’s mother Alice. I visited Marie and her mom in Bowie, Maryland some years ago and they treated us to a day of museums and sightseeing and dining in Washington, DC. It was one of those perfect days where everyone gets to see just what they wanted to see. I loved the rock and mineral exhibit at the Smithsonian and the monumental, light-filled Bierstadt paintings at the National Gallery. I loved the crushed stone pathways used to get from place to place in Washington. We drove through Annapolis, all spit and polish, looking very nautical. We ate a really excellent Asian Fusion dinner in a tiny brick restaurant in Georgetown which had a tree growing up through the roof of the dining room. Throughout all of this, Alice who was probably in her 70’s, was energetic and cheerful company. She was indomitable, and had a wonderful smile on her face throughout the day.
Alice was, of course, not perfect, as none of us are. I spent another weekend at her home in New Jersey and I learned that Alice’s husband died when her two daughters were fairly young. She had to have the family home divided into two flats and rent out the top floor. She had to work hard to support her daughters and herself. I’m sure she despaired sometimes in her grief and as her new responsibilities piled up. She built their new life and did what she had to do. However I also learned that she paid a price for her strength. She became a little stern and critical because she wanted her daughters to grow up to be good, strong women. She succeeded. Marie and Jeannie have each taken charge of their own lives in very powerful ways that affect everyone around them positively. Although we don’t always enjoy sternness, a little bit of steel makes a strong person. So Alice sometimes forgot that her daughters were all grown up and continued to hector them from time to time. But there was something about Alice. She was way more than her flaws. She was also charming and never faded into the background. And she had a wonderful smile that it was well worth coaxing out of hiding.
At the memorial service I learned that Alice was even more than this. Alice was born in Luxembourg. When World War II came along and Hitler was putting Europe into a stranglehold one country at a time, Alice was a young woman living in the middle of this chaotic and frightening Europe. She could have sat demurely at home under the protection of her parents but she didn’t. She and a number of other young women joined the Resistance to work against the Germans. Since they moved about the countryside on their bicycles they were assigned to carry messages among Resistance members. This was a very dangerous activity for a young woman and required great courage. It also required a cool head because the Germans did stop Luxembourgers all the time to check papers and search people. Alice was stopped once when she was carrying a message, but since she was young and quite pretty, she flirted her way through the situation and was sent on about her business. She went on with her message and made it through to a safe delivery.
I loved learning this about my friend’s mom. There was very large roomful of people to celebrate the life of Alice even though she had only spent the last decade of her life in Southampton. Her excellent daughters were both present and we were wined and dined in the event center owned by one of her daughters. There were many speeches and they were all good. Alice was 90 and she died peacefully. What a great life! Now we will go on and live our lives in a world without Alice, but we still have her legacy, my lovely friend Marie and her family, her beautiful sister Jeannie and her family. It was a long trip to Southampton but it was worth it.