My mother recently died and the task of talking about her life fell to me at the memorial service. Though it is off topic even for a blog a wildly diverse as this one, I think she would have wanted some kind of permanent written record of her life (beyond the inevitable birth and death certificates that in the end are often all that survive). I certainly would if it were me.
Of course the question arises whether a blog offers any real permanence in the long term. It is a new literary form with evolving norms, but my guess is that many blogs will survive, possibly in third-party “way-back” style archives and probably because heirs may be reluctant to turn off and discard blogs when their authors die. I think it might become common for heirs to keep paying the small bills to keep the blog running as a memorial. And even if not, survivors might well copy at least some of the blog to other web sites.
So here is Lorraine Simonoff’s eulogy for posterity. Below that is another short eulogy I gave ten years ago for R. Leonard White, my wife’s father.
Lorraine Adcock Simonoff
(March 2, 1934 - February 27, 2008)
Lorraine was born in 1934 and her 74th birthday would have been last Sunday.
She did not quite make manage it, having died the prior Wednesday. But she did manage a lot of other things fairly well, including her illness, which she survived in reasonably good health more than twice as long as her doctors expected and then managed to decline through the really bad parts in just two weeks. In fact, I think we can sum a lot of her life up with two words, she always “managed” and she was always pretty “independent”.
This happens to be my second eulogy because I said something at the funeral for my wife’s father some years ago. My point then was that the duty for survivors is to remember the deceased not as he or she was when they died, but as they lived years and decades before. It is easy to remember someone frail and sick. It is harder to remember them as they really lived.
Unfortunately, most of us here did not really know my mother, especially before her illness. I’m not sure I really did either. But our job here is to try. Our job is to remember Lorraine as she lived rather than as she died.
The first thing we need to remember is that she liked to choose her own name. Christened “Mertie Lorraine Adcock” after an ancestor, she first chose to be called “Lorraine” and in latter years became “Lori” professionally. Even later, she attempted to rename herself from “Grandmother” to “Granda”, an appellation that I for one resisted, believing that names are best chosen by the namer and not the namee.
Lorraine was raised on a small farm in Mesquite Texas, just east of Dallas. The I-635 inner loop around Dallas now runs through what was the Adcock farm. So the place of her rural youth is now pretty urban. She was the middle child of 5, with two older sisters and two younger brothers.
She attended Mesquite Texas schools and was active in 4H and her high school marching band, where she played clarinet. Though of course a lot of her time was spend helping run her family’s depression-era and fairly poor farm.
I tend to think of her as a child of the Great Depression and as part of the World War II generation that became the parents of baby boomers such as myself. But that turns out to be not quite true. Being born in 1934 means that she was only five years old when Germany invaded Poland. So in reality, she was more a child of World War II and a young adult during the 1950’s of Eisenhower.
Being quite a bit more liberal than I am, I always thought of my mother as a FDR Democrat. She may nor may not have agreed, but I now believe that she originally voted for Eisenhower and only latter became disillusioned with him, and possibly with the Republican Party as well. So at least here and so possibly in other areas, my history may already include mythology rather than pure reality.
Lorraine was raised a Methodist. Her family and especially her father were very strict. She married at age 16, probably as the result of a fight with her father, and was forced to leave home and high school, living with her husband and working for Dunn and Bradstreet in Dallas.
Soon after, she followed that first husband to San Diego, California where he shipped out in the Navy. She divorced him almost immediately, but stayed in Los Angles working for Dunn and Bradstreet. She married Ely Simonoff, my father, in LA a couple of years latter. Lorraine was the only Adcock sibling to ever move away from Texas.
Possibly her real reason for moving to Los Angeles was a hope that she might somehow be discovered by the movie industry, because by all accounts she was a very pretty woman. If so, I am truly a child of Hollywood even though neither parent ever worked in movies. That is because my father also ended up in Los Angeles because of Hollywood. His parents moved there from New Jersey to foster his sister’s dancing career while he served overseas in the Korean War.
We moved to Culver City, which is surrounded by west Los Angeles. Culver City was home to several studios, including MGM, and was possibly the real birth place of the west coast movie industry.
There Mom was very active in the community and especially in my grade school PTA, serving in a variety of positions including PTA President.
A decade later, our family moved to the Chicago area when my father was transferred there. But within a year, Lorraine and Ely separated.
At the same time, my mother began working again. She became first a bookkeeper and latter a loan officer and bank executive, learning these trades almost entirely via work experience and intelligence. She eventually worked at the Vice President level at a number of banks around the country, including Wells Fargo, and specialized in commercial lending.
Even though a high school dropout, my mother was quite intelligent. She was an avid reader and knowledgeable in a variety of areas.
There is a theory that intelligence may mostly be associated with our “X” chromosome, because while men and women have pretty much exactly the same average IQ, male IQ scores tend to have higher standard deviation, with more really smart and really stupid men than women at either end of the scale. That could be because men only have a single “X” chromosome, while women have two which probably average each other out intelligence wise. I mention this theory (which I read somewhere long ago), because once I mentioned it to my mother and she immediately concluded the obvious corollary with some pride: that whatever intelligence I might boast may primarily be inherited from her. For men must always inherit their “X” chromosome from their mother.
I cannot resist briefly digressing by adding that the theory that fathers may be unable to easily pass their intelligence to their sons may go a long way toward explaining the instability of most ruling dynasties throughout history in a male-dominated world.
My mother proved to be a restless spirit. She moved us back to Los Angeles after four years north of Chicago. Then she frequently changed jobs and cities in the period after I was grown. She worked at firms in Los Angeles, Orange County, Washington state, Sandpoint Idaho, Dallas Texas, Eugene Oregon, suburban Chicago, and probably other places as well that I have forgotten. And she held positions at a number of different financial institutions, and not just Wells Fargo banks.
I remember that she admired characters played by Mary Tyler Moore, probably because Ms. Moore (or is it Ms. Tyler-Moore?) often played strong and independent women. She loved the “Man of La Mancha” musical and the Don Quixote story, because unpopular quests, impossible dreams, independence, and perseverance appealed to her.
Lori held many feminist ideals (though she might not have liked that label) and apparently was often at odds with her male superiors. I sometimes got the impression that she never met a boss that she liked. Though it could not have been as bad as I imagine, since I don’t believe she was ever unemployed.
She never re-married after divorcing my father some 40 years ago.
Mom retired as soon as she qualified at age 65 and began what is probably the most remarkable chapter of her story. Instead of settling down in one place, she purchased a small motor home and traveled around the United States.
For a number of years she had no home or apartment other than her vehicle. Her home base was a rented mailbox in Eugene Oregon and a cell phone that we gave her.
And she traveled pretty much all by herself, though she did make a few friends along the way. Her guiding spirit was a 1970’s autobiographical story of lonely journeying called “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat Moon. Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie” was also a favorite of hers.
Lorraine traveled to see the country. She also traveled to learn more about US history, since she always had an interest in both history and historic fiction. Finally, she traveled to research her own genealogy (or as she would say, her “roots”).
She visited many grave yards and ghost towns throughout the south and mid-Atlantic, looking for ancestors and building a family tree for both the Adcock and Smith sides of her family. I cannot give you many details other than the fact that her ancestors came to America in the 1700’s, impressively long ago compared to my father’s family, who emigrated here in the early 20th century.
She never completed the search or organized her findings, but has given my wife and I her records so that we may one day either write the story or at least pass it to our children.
I could speak of her illnesses in recent years. (There were at least three separate ones.) But I will skip that because it does not serve our goal of remembering her life rather than her death. Though I will mention the obvious point that smoking can definitely kill you.
Finally, I will also mention that, though I stayed at her hospice bedside almost all day last Tuesday, it was only very shortly after I told her I was going to get some sleep in a nearby room at 12:30 AM Wednesday morning
that she died. When the Nurse next visited her room around 1:00 AM, she was gone. As my wife commented, in the end she apparently wanted to die on her own and by herself.
Lori was nothing if not independent.
R. Leonard White
(May 22, 1921 - May 1998)
I recently watched an interview where a doctor of internal medicine made what I consider a rather profound statement. His practice must often deal with dying patents, and he observed that the way a person and his relatives cope with the process of dying is very important since it often how that person is remembered.
With this in mind, we must admit that Dr. White’s last few years were particularly tragic since they threaten to rob us of a favorable impression of his life as a whole. We must all make every attempt to avoid this. Dr White suffered though what I consider to be the most trying and degrading experiences possible. And he did it with much more courage and perseverance than I think most of us, including myself, could ever hope to muster.
But the real point is that our duty is to remember him not then, but for his earlier life and triumphs. We must endeavor to remember the Leonard White who worked long hours to become a superlative and caring doctor and surgeon. We must remember the man who was a kind and generous host who counted a great many people among his friends and acquaintances. We must remember the person with many sides who excelled an impressive number of hobbies and activities from sailing to golf to wood working. We must remember the Dr White with a fondness for cheap Radio Shack gadgets, the man with a great sense of humor and a working cannon that was probably illegal. We owe it to him to and to ourselves remember only his achievements in earlier happier times.