Joseph F. Smith taught: "Sometimes the Lord expands our vision from this point of view and this side of the veil, that we feel and seem to realize that we can look beyond the thin veil which separates us from that other sphere...and we would understand that those who have passed beyond, can see more clearly through the veil back here to us than it is possible for us to see them from our sphere of action. I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and of heavenly beings. We are not separate from them. And therefore, I claim that we live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever, and their desire of our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves." Today I have too much to say, and yet not enough. The room is so full, yet so empty. We gather joyful to see each other, yet still find ourselves looking around for the honoree of the day.
Norma Foulger, in her younger years, would have been part of the kitchen guard today, crowd-feeding wizard, card dealer, sneaker of spoons, author of fun and good times. She was the Christmas of our youth. Her teacher gifts bounty filled our Christmas stockings. Ice cream snowballs, nuts 'n bolts, cheeseballs. 100% of her nieces and nephews--great and plain--knew that her presence meant the Best of Times. Not only the copious food from her "bewitched" dinner table, but the after dinner games and stimulating conversation. Christmas, summer trips to Lagoon. She worked so hard, the sweat running off the tip of her nose, pushing the hand mower, pruning, weeding.
All of us have unique memories of her major role in our lives, but we all share the common ground of 932 23rd St. and all that that means in our heritage--warmth, security, comfort, anticipation, generosity, and tears of laughter. Grandma laughing until tears ran and she said, "Oh, Shaw!" We remember the day Grandma bargained with Uncle John. She'd start a journal if he'd shave off his beard. We crowded into the bathroom to watch the hair fall. The magic of that old house--mystery drawers, back porches, complete apartments in the basement. Those people--aunts, uncles, cousins--live so wonderfully in our deepest hearts. And so we gather today to celebrate the life of the last leaf on that trusted solid tree.
The Aunt Norma remembered by the next generation was a good old soul of BINGO, spoons, Rook, Manipulation, and Pop Shoppe sodas. The years took her siblings one by one--the grandparents of our children. We remember Aunt Norma on family cruises, trips to Mexico and Europe and all over the U.S., trekking across Central Park to the Met only to find it closed on Mondays. Good sport? Graduations, birthdays, weddings, blessings, baptisms, family reunions.
Nearly 20 years ago my own mother died. Aunt Norma and I clung to each other in our grief, and she took center stage in my life at that time. Her friends became my friends, my friends hers. We knit together, watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, shared stories, bottled fruit, sifted through thrift stores, bounced grandchildren, decorated her condo for Christmas, and filled the years. I found her stubborn, strong-willed, opinionated, enigmatic, tireless, thrifty to a fault (many contents of her kitchen drawers need to go right to the Smithsonian Museum of American History!), thorough, and the sharpest thinker in my circle.
Her friends over all the years were central and critical to her happiness. How she loved them. How they loved her for her keen ability to play bridge and make them laugh. She served at church, in clubs, around her neighborhood. Willing, prompt, capable.
The years slowed her down a little. She fell and broke a leg, got a few parts replaced, snarled her way through a month in a nursing facility, and came right back up, determined to walk, get out the door, and move on down the road. At 92 she bought a new car, for heaven's sake! 25 years behind the gift counter at Union Station. If her till was one cent off, they said she fretted and threatened resignation. I turned her station key in to Becky about a month ago. How cool is that?
I leave you with a final visual image of Norma Foulger. Every day for as far back as my memory goes she worked crossword puzzles. This is her crossword dictionary--pristine NOT. Sometimes she asked me for answers. I played along, occasionally pulling her out of a bind. Modern experts recommend crossword puzzles, knitting, and travelling to fight off old age and dementia. Take a note, dear listener...
Aunt Norma, you worked the acrosses and the downs of your life. You read the clues, processed the information, looked a few unknowns up in a book (which you have apparently worn out!). Your pencils (perhaps older than many here today) are worked down to a nub. Your eraser is smooth and brittle. We are gathered today to send you off. Bon Voyage! At the risk of oversentamentalizing and giving in to our full emotions, may we just pause and thank you and wish you a glorious next chapter. And here's a new word clue for your collection from my daily Merriam-Webster email a few days before your death: cathexis--investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea. Thanks for "cathexis-ing" us and allowing us to "cathexis" you. We love you. Enjoy your journey. Know that a part of each of us goes with you. Our faith and the faith of our fathers assures us that you live on, unshackled, walking again--flying now.