Eulogy: Ode to Joy (Dec 31, 2011)
Long before I knew you, we connected on the war-torn fields of my native land. Your patriotic father, Army Lt. Lester Gwin, serving his nation while freeing mine, made time to exchange snowballs and do some sledding with my friends and me during the winter of 1944-45. As a five-year old, I was awe-struck by the friendliness, generosity, selflessness and compassion shown to us the perfect strangers who had been occupied by enemy forces for four hellish years. Though we did not promise to keep contact after peace and freedom were assured, fate led to our meeting 21 years later, thousands of miles from my homeland in a new place called America, my new and permanent homeland.
It was love at first sight when, in the offices of an auto manufacturer in Detroit, our paths crossed and love inexorably bound us for a lifetime. Courtship wavered between certainty and uncertainty…. not on your part, but my foolish part … until almost seven years later when the knot was tied, and only after a few jocular threats of a shot-gun wedding befitting only a serious Okie like your dad. How could I resist your overwhelming charm and beauty, especially your sweetly accented manner of speech, combining to make me swoon and blissfully engage the life of my dreams?
Our life together has been blessed in so many ways: two wonderful kids, Bob and Chris, made of solid American character, love of family and God, true citizenship, and most importantly, committed to the care and feeding of their aging parents.
Oh how we traveled the world. My global career provided many opportunities for us to visit magical places in Europe and Latin America. Your love of history provided a framework for the places to visit and absorb: from the Louvre museum and a thousand other places within Paris, Julietta’s tomb in Verona to mystical castles in Bavaria, and Heidelberg on the Rhine. Remember the magical flower gardens in Giverny where Claude Monet transformed his impressionist paintings into real life? Remember the fun you had in Athens while I was sick and left behind in the hotel room? Remember Chrissy’s complaint somewhere between St. Moritz and Verona that America does not have thousand-year-old castles, nor famous couples like Romeo and Juliette, except if you consider Bonnie and Clide as a couple… the sadness on her face when it was time to leave the sound-of-music magic of the alpine region where cowbells were the only noise to be heard in the early morning mist, spoiled only briefly by a mean chain saw buzz; the fun of exploring the thousand year old casemates of the place of my birth. Lots of cute places we saw, spots I enjoyed visiting with you much more than when I lived among these history-book places.
But we also explored the new world of the Americas, north and south. We traveled together to Montreal and Quebec, accompanied by your sister Anita and her husband Dennis. You enjoyed telling the world that you understood the odd “French” of French Canadians better than I with my French-French; how embarrassing for me! But a good laugh for whoever heard your story multiple times.
Chrissy accompanied us twice to Buenos Aires Argentina where we have excellent friends and where she learned to swim in the 110 degree heat at Christmas time in 1982. You had Chrissy hold a baby tiger in her hands at the Buenos Aires Zoo, making daddy a little nervous. Nervous we were all when we took to the top of the world in the Alps of South America, the sky-high Andean peaks at Bariloche. Two rickety open stretches of ski-slope lifts made us all a little anxious, but left us with great memories. Chrissy unknowingly went with us to Mexico, carried by a pregnant you. Our son Bob, the self-appointed fuddy-duddy, never wanted to join in this globetrotting, but did have to travel on business with me once to Germany where at least he could taste legendary locally-brewed beer, which he does remember well.
But Chrissy’s good friend and sister-in-law Laura Wykowski did accompany you and me twice to Europe. Boy, did the two girls enjoy the scenery, including some of the young males on the Champs Elysees and other European boulevards….but especially shopping at the famous (famously-expensive) Galleries Lafayette in Paris. Laura had already become our virtual daughter even before marrying John Wykowski, the brother of Chrissy’s husband. She still remembers that all it takes to sleep in a better hotel is just a few more dollars…… You’re right, we have another virtual daughter: Jenn Poncher with whom you had a few loving mother-daughter sessions. She won’t forget you either!
The brightest star in your relationship constellation is of course Pat Winkelman, your best friend of several decades. You two horticulturalists produced gardens in our respective backyards that rival Monet’s and those of the castle of Versailles. Her support and solid friendship have made you a strong and persistent individual, and perhaps a little craftier… That crafty side probably is due to Larry the”husband guy” who is still today in your dog-house for a mean April Fool’s joke in 1987. He remains condemned to a life sentence in said dog house. I’ll make sure of it.
Yes Honey, you are also thinking of Bill Farrell and Delores Fortuna who became best friends since our move to Galena when Bill tailed my trailer back from a motorcycle event. No, he ain’t bashful…Both are expert potters and are intent on capturing your “feisty” spirit in one of their personalized creations….
Oops, I almost forgot our London stay at a place on Cockfosters Road; why do I remember the street but not the name of the country hotel? You and Chris ventured into the “Tube” often not knowing where it was taking you….but you always found your way back to …. Cockfosters Road…
The one activity I was unwilling to accompany you in was this card-playing business called “bridge”, but you had three excellent partners for over 30 years. This wild-women gang made up of Pat Winkleman, Cindy Gira, Debbie Laughery and you would meet for “Monday Night Bridge”, faithfully, addictively and noisily. This became a quarterly event after we moved to Galena. I miss the noisy gang so much…
My beloved Joy, the joy of my life, the family that you created, or should I say managed and organized, loves you dearly and gratefully. All of us have been properly trained by your loving hand to do things a certain way, the best way, your way, and there shall still not be any arguments about what is right… least of all now that you have infinite power with which we could not and dare not argue.
It is only this memory of you that softens the pain of your departure from this life. I am sure to follow you….. sooner or later … though I prefer later rather than sooner.
I, Chrissy, Bob, our son-in-law Jim and Anna our daughter-in-law and grand-daughter Kristin, our great-grand-kids Peyton, Dylan and Caleb, but also your 91-year-old mother and the rest of the family remembers you, misses you and loves you inexorably.