Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 22, 2016
The measure of a man - or a woman
I have been to three memorial services in the past month and a half - the first for Mom, the next for colleague and friend Joye, and the most recent for Dolores Renberger, my brother Dave's mother-in-law. All three were beautiful celebrations of these people whose lives touched me in innumerable ways.
But what I wasn't expecting was how much I learned about each of them.
At my mother's funeral, the new pastor from her church mentioned he had visited her about a week before she died. He said he had learned with people in such a circumstance not to stay long so as not to tire them. But by the time she let him leave, he was the one who was tired!
She hadn't mentioned his visit to me, so I was surprised to hear that Mom had been very animated during the their visit and wanted to share with him a bit about the family photo we had hung in her room at the assisted living facility. The photo was taken at her 90th birthday party two years ago and she went through the picture, person by person, telling him about each of us. She mentioned every person - her three children, their spouses, her grandchildren, their spouses and her great-grandchildren. He said it was obvious by the twinkle in her eyes that she loved us all very much.
At Joye's service, I learned she and a friend had spent an evening on the Konza Prairie watching the stars - something any of us who have ever gazed into the black Kansas sky on a clear night has probably considered, but never done. I also learned she was a member of the Little Apple Brewing Company Hall of Fame and that she was named the company's Beer Drinker of the Year in 2013.
Dolores and her husband Dale, who died in 2009, became part of our family 45 years ago when Dave married their daughter Linda. We saw Dolores and Dale relatively often over those years - not just for milestone events, but also for Fourth of July picnics and get-togethers before or after Kansas State University football and basketball games. The last time I saw Dolores was at Mom's funeral on March 5. She was as friendly and gracious as ever.
Yet while I knew Dolores had a flair for decorating and making even ordinary family events special, I didn't remember that she had studied art at Kansas Wesleyan University. Her sketch of the family's vacation place in Colorado was on a table alongside family photos. It was well done and intricately detailed.
Family members shared stories about Dolores. Her daughter Alana related how Dolores's great-granddaughter Madison couldn't say Renberger so she opted to call her "Grandma Hamburger" instead. Then that was shortened until Dolores eventually became "Grandma Sandwich."
Dolores, like Mom, loved to send cards for birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions. Alana said the family found Dolores's list with checkmarks beside the names of people she had already sent cards to this year. Alana's husband Larry joked that Hallmark Cards had to lay off their second shift when they learned that loyal customer Dolores had died.
Dolores and Dale took their grandsons on fishing trips to Canada. Paul said on one trip with his cousin Dustin, things didn't go well. They had trouble with the boat's motor, it was raining, and they only caught a few fish. But it was memorable, he said, because he saw a side of his grandparents he hadn't seen before. With both of them working side-by-side in the jewelry store they owned in McPherson, Kansas, Dale and Dolores were in the habit of being nicely dressed and looking rather dignified. But on this particular fishing trip, the car's air conditioning gave out. Paul said he was shocked when both grandparents peeled down to their undershirts and Dolores put her feet out the window to cool off.
Ryan spoke of a time in the one-room fishing cabin with his cousin Michael and other family members. On that particular outing, they heard someone snoring and came to realize it was Dolores. They were both impressed with the loud noise emanating from their slender grandma.
Michael said his grandparents' marriage was an inspiration to him. After noting they worked together all day at Renberger Jeweler's and then lived and played together after work, he asked his grandma how they could be together so much and always get along so well. Dolores just shrugged and said, "This is what we do!"
Paul's wife Rachel said that although Dolores was beautiful on the outside, it was her inner beauty and grace that always shone through. Michael's wife Kristina also spoke of Dolores's poise and dignity - although I don't believe she was along during the fishing trips.
In 2008, Dale and Dolores were at a Fourth of July barbecue at Mom's house. Husband Art arrived and greeted everyone, one by one. When he reached Mom's friend, he said, "And there's Stan the Man." Without skipping a beat, Dolores pointed at her hubby and added, "So I suppose he's Dale the Male?"
After reflecting on what I had learned about these people, I thought about the words the man who officiated at Joye's service shared. He cited the poem, "The measure of a man", and said it's hard to know the measure of a man - or woman - because each of us knows a different side of that person.
How true that is! Art once told me how long after his father Tom had died, he was doing some family history reseach and came across a newspaper article about an incident his father had related during a fishing trip years before. Art thought his mother might enjoy hearing about it again. But when he finished telling her, his mother said that during their 55-year marriage, she had never heard it before.
We all have many memories of those we've loved and lost. But no matter how well we knew someone, we're never privy to every part of them. Only by piecing together the recollections of many people can we learn the true measure of a man - or a woman.
Mom, left, and Dolores at Mom's 90th birthday celebration.