Hello friends and family. Thanks again for all the kind words and well-wishes on my dad’s passing last month, it’s very very appreciated. I was conflicted about sending my eulogy to everyone, it was so personal – but ultimately, I felt it was important to simply let folks know and it was important to bear witness, for my dad’s sake. Unfortunately, I have another such missive, as my mom passed away this past Friday, May 22nd. The following is the little tribute and eulogy I’ll be giving Wednesday (details below). Again, I hope you see parts of your own family histories in these stories. Stay close to those you love. Thanks for letting me bear witness…again. Lots of love Doug (and Jude)
It was only last month I delivered a eulogy with memories of my father, Alfred Hoekstra Jr. He and my mother had been together so long, it wasn’t altogether surprising she should follow him in death so soon. On the other hand, if anyone knew the meaning of defying the odds, she did, beginning with the unlikely meeting of her parents, two Lithuanian immigrants who crossed the pond with nothing and made a life in Southern Illinois.
Irene Helen Brush, as was her maiden name, was born in Carlinville, Illinois; the name, as typical of the time, was shortened to make it more American. There was work in the coal industry of Southern Illinois, and so she grew up in Taylorville, where her father and brother worked the mines; she also had two sisters. My mom was extremely close to her mother and my childhood was filled with trips to Taylorville, where she would talk to my grandmother in the low light of the living room, cicadas buzzing outside the window. They usually spoke in English but slipped into Lithuanian– when she didn’t want me to know what they were talking about.
Growing up, my dad was my buddy; my mom was….my mom. Meaning, much of what she did, I understood through him or through the passage of time, because she wasn’t letting on. Over time, I learned she was a gifted writer and musician, playing clarinet and piano, and I learned later that she turned down a music scholarship, to remain closer to home. She eventually moved to Chicago, though, where she met my dad at a dance at Northwestern University; she wrote an autobiography for the family that summed it up as the meeting of two introverts who found each other. Theirs was a love story for the ages.
She listened to Wally Phillips on the radio while making our breakfast, volunteered as picture lady at my grade school (teaching art), worked in ceramics, read vociferously, loved Scrabble, and continued playing piano. She would’ve preferred I’d taken more lessons, but when I started playing in bands, she’d quickly identify the tunes she liked, what the rhythm section was doing, and where the most interesting melodies were in our material. She loved the louder tunes, the ones with more drive. She always took walks and spent lots of time in the yard, tending roses and flower beds. There are two special trees at the childhood home, one planted for me, one for my brother. Once she took the time to frame a four leaf clover she found and give it to me as a present. I still look at it every day.
Like my dad, my mom also loved movies and I have fond memories of going to the show with her, to see everything from “Camelot” to “Andromeda Strain” to “The Sting.” She could be insistent about what she wanted to see, and once my dad and I had to drag her to see a new Woody Allen movie at the Naper Theater. But, she laughed louder than any of us. And, she did have her own sense of humor. Indeed, when I visited her upon her release from the hospital this past September, I was sitting by the bed and asked her if she needed anything. At that point, she could barely speak, but she raised a finger and said “How about a new body?”
She left me with many gifts, but her quiet determination and devotion, constant throughout her life, stands alone. When I was a child, I saw her as a perfectionist and sometimes I thought the bar was too high. When I was an adult, I understood that was she was just being straight with me, without compromise. In difficult times, she was the one who would take me aside and simply say “Don’t give up” or “Do what you need to do” or “Look after your son.” When I am headed uphill and things seem impossible, it is her voice I hear.
This past year, every doctor and nurse from here to Chicago counted her out over and over again, and she paid no mind, setting goals, walking with a walker again, visiting my dad’s gravesite, and getting on with the days she had left “Are you going to be alright?” I asked her at my dad’s funeral. “I have to be,” she said. We have to be. That’s the legacy she leaves with me and my brother Dave and my son Jude. Thanks for the compass, Mom. As you said in your autobiography, “when you think about it, life is like a story book, some chapters are sad and others are glad, but that’s the way it is. We all want to be around to participate.” And so we will.
(Services for Irene Hoekstra are May 27th, in Naperville IL, my hometown, 9 a.m., Grace United Methodist. We have the Morton Arboretum listed if folks care to make a donation in her memory (www.mortonarb.org). She loved the outdoors, and she loved going there with me and Jude, while she was able.)