Distilling a Life…


How to distill a life onto a piece of granite? Should there be a quote? A picture? Does “beloved” go up top or at the bottom? Early drafts had a ballet slippers but they were stiff and ugly. Sabrina and I were determined to find something better. As you see we settled on a tutu-ed ballerina on pointe. Simple. Elegant.

Having spent time lately at the cemetery we know how easy it is to get lost and so we also put RAY in big letters on the back of the stone. To help our great-grandchildren when they are lost.

This might be a good time to share what I said at her service back in July:

“When people ask me to describe Mama I say that she moves all day at Mach II and until she collapses in exhaustion an night. The next morning she bolts out of bed at Mach II and starts all over again.

“The words “rest” and “relax” did not exist in her vocabulary. Nor did she think rest or relaxation necessary for anyone around her.  Always too much to do. Dances to choreograph, meals to prepare, birthday cakes to bake, special gifts to think about, good deeds to do…. relaxing? Not really. At Christmas this year she even woke Sabrina up at 3 a.m. to help her wrap Christmas presents, saying, “you can sleep later.”
Mama was never satisfied unless she was burning the candle,  not just at both ends, but several places in the middle as well.

“But whatever she did, however many people she helped, Mama was never content. She always wanted you to point the toes a little harder. Jump higher.I knew Mama was really sick when she stopped giving me advice on how to wash the dishes. And I knew she felt better when she went back to telling me how to separate her laundry.

“Back in the Dark Ages, when I was in high school, Mama got the crazy idea to take a group of dancers to Japan. Crazy. We didn’t have any money, I knew that. We ate turkey dogs for dinner the last ten days of every month. I always hated school field trips because I had to ask for two dollars for the trip fee.
But Mama kept talking about  the “charity tour.” She choreographed ballets and we rehearsed. We had car washes and yard sales to raise money. Always yard sales.We got passports: all five of us kids on the same passport with Mama to save money. They let you do that back then.

“We were to sleep on the floor of a Shinto Shrine. Crazy, I thought. Never gonna happen. We would have pit toilets and the Japanese people would take us to traditional baths a couple times a week. And hardly anyone in Northern Japan where we were going spoke English. But I didn’t worry about it much because it wasn’t going to happen.

“It was only as we were driving to SFO that I thought, I guess we really are going to Japan.

“Every year, the day before Thanksgiving we had “dollar dinner.” Each of us got a dollar and we had to come up with dinner for everyone–Kool-Aid and Macaroni and Cheese were big on the menu. And Mama donated to the Salvation Army what we would have spent on dinner for ourselves.

“No County fairs or recitals for her dancers. Instead we performed at reform schools, old age homes, and state hospitals. For a long time we did four performances on an afternoon at different wards at the State Hospital.

“Mama had no patience with tardiness or deception of any kind. If a store clerk made an error in her favor, she would point it out. And then ask the clerk about her family.

“For almost thirty years Mama and Daddy have been sponsoring children through Compassion International. They don’t just sponsor, them, however, they become involved in their lives. Mama wrote lots and lots of letters. Inside of her Franklin planner is a code showing when she wrote to each child. And they visited too. Daddy brought one little boy in Ethiopia a graphing calculator and taught him how to use it. Mama took Danny on one trip to the Dominican Republic to visit her children and Jessamyn on another trip. Always, she brought boxes of shoes, and soap, and school supplies. Long after all of us were grown Mama knew to stock up on school supplies for “her” kids every August.

“Mama and Daddy were in the Dominican Republic when Compassion asked Mama to change her support. “Miguel is no longer going to be in the program,” they told her, “would you be willing to switch your support to Pedro?”
Mama paused. “I will support Pedro,” she said, “but you have to explain to me why Miguel isn’t going to be in the program.”
They told her that Miguel said a bad word to the headmaster. That was simply not acceptable behavior and so he was being kicked out of the program.
Miguel was eight.
“Well if you had the kind of life Miguel did, maybe you would talk back to the headmaster too! You give him a scolding and then give him another chance.”
Miguel never had another problem again.
My parents supported him through high school and then figured out a way on their own to put him through college. Miguel is a civil engineer now and Mama and Daddy saw him when they visited the Dominican Republic last January.

“A few months ago a friend was summarizing for Mama many of the wonderful things she has done for so many people over the years.
Mama just shook her head. “All that does is make me want to do more. It’s not enough. Never enough.”

“Mama was right in a  great many things in her life, but not in that.
It was enough.
It was more than enough.

“She was more than enough.
For us. And for the world.”

About Karen Ray

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1 Response to Distilling a Life…

  1. Pingback: Prima Ballerina | Bikini Wax Chronicles

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