Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Good-bye Thelma Jane

Yesterday I attended the memorial for Thelma Jane Armstrong, 80+ years strong when she left this earth, a woman I never met this side of heaven, and for once, I was simply there, with no duties, able to listen and take in a bit of a life well-lived as shared by those she loved most.

And so I learned about her pet names, an unquenchable zest for knowledge and love of life, her warmth and welcome, the importance of the family circle and laughing talk into the summer nights, and am still left wondering why the mention of Florida makes everyone laugh.

Memories are the shape and meaning and texture of a life and Jane’s is a patchwork quilt of love and laughter and that famous Highland stoicism, not grim, but merely accepting, of the challenges life throws our way.

And I am minded of someone recently reminding me at a church meeting about the importance of geography.  I tend to be dismissive of the church building when thinking about our mission, our call, our work in the world.  But when we were doing some dreaming about the future, one fellow said, “I know the building isn’t the point, but Beth, geography matters.”

Bill is right: geography matters, as I was poignantly reminded yesterday when Jane’s brother Charlie stood to speak.

Slow-talking words freighted with the loss of a beloved sister and forced out through years of reticence in the way of the farmers here not accustomed to speaking before others, thoughtful, weighing each word as if it mattered (because it does when it costs so very much), Charlie spent much time and loving detail describing the family home he and Jane and the other kids grew up in.  I can see the bedrooms and the fireplaces, the barn and the fields now but a memory in Charlie’s minds’ eye.

Geography matters, and here was the geography of a childhood shared between brother and sister, navigated through one bedroom to get to the next, ringed in with the warmth of fire on cold winter nights, surrounded by the land, marked by a barn where childhood adventures and the hard work of farming come together as one, all bounded by the soundtrack of a life loved, a surprise of blues and jazz as the voices of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World blend into Billie Holliday’s I’ll Be Seeing You finally sails softly into Kamakawiwo’ole’s gentling Over the Rainbow.

Good-bye Thelma Jane.

How I wish I had known you.


  1. What a beautiful tribute to someone you didn't even know. May her family read this and be blessed as you were blessed at her memorial.


    1. Marilyn, Lots of holy ground moments of late. Thanks, as always, for your wonderful affirmations. Hugs, Beth