Sunday, November 29, 2015

In Memory of The Grandmother

When I was a teenager and I was competing in public speaking competitions, my grandmother would always advise me to "speak from the heart".  That counsel served me well then, and has continued to do so in my life.  It has been a month now since The Grandmother passed onward, and today several of my friends joined me to honor her with stories & prayers.  When my grandfather passed away, I gave a eulogy for him.  Likewise, when my mother passed, I also gave her eulogy.  My grandmother had always said that she wanted me to offer her eulogy as well.  Since my aunts opted to proceed with different plans when Grandmother was laid to rest, the opportunity for this eulogy did not arise previously.  Thus, on this sunny afternoon, I joined with my closest friends to have coffee & Bailey's Irish Cream in a toast to my grandmother at her grave.  I did my best to "speak from the heart" as I shared stories about and memories of my grandmother.

Inah Marie Rostorfer was born 31 May 1917, two days after John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born.  World War I was raging in Europe and Woodrow Wilson was in the White House, when Lawrence Rostorfer and Mabel Watts Rostorfer had their oldest child.  Lawrence & Mabel farmed in Pickerington OH, and they were both barely 20 when Grandmother was born.  Their house had no electricity and no indoor plumbing, and they farmed with a team of horses.  As a child, I loved to hear Grandmother's stories about her childhood.  I knew she disliked the "h" on her first name, and dropped it during her youth.  I knew she adored her parents -- but got used to being an only child for her first five years of life, and never forgave her baby sister Lucille for breaking her toys.  I knew the Depression was a huge struggle for their family, as for many farm families.  Grandmother would often tell how her younger brother Grant wanted the family to go to the movies (the "picture show"), but tickets were ten cents each and Laurence could not allocate a whole fifty cents to take his family out for entertainment.  As a child, it amazed me to marvel at how the world had changed since my own grandma was a little girl.

Grandmother loved poetry, and could still recite in her 90s many of the poems she memorized in her youth.  She was skilled at sewing & cooking, as well as decorative arts like cross-stitch.  Grandmother was one of the first girls to take shop class at Pickerington High School, and she always enjoyed woodworking.  Grandmother shared with me that after she graduated from high school in 1935, she wanted to go to New York and study interior design.  The father that she adored, though, needed her on the farm, and so she started a market route in the city of Columbus.  Ina Marie Rostorfer was a hard-working business woman who delivered fresh eggs and dressed chickens to households on her market route.  (For non-farmers, dressed = butchered, there were not -- alas -- chickens in adorable ensembles that Grandmother sewed.)  I often wonder what Grandmother's life might have been like had she followed her dreams.  I suspect it instead resulted in her counseling each of her three daughters and her granddaughter how important it was for a woman to go to college.

As a young woman, Grandmother participated in Community Club.  This was a social organization for young people in the area.  A gentleman who had been pursuing Grandmother invited her to attend Community Club, and while she was there she met Virgil Harrison.  This led to another of Grandmother's favorite sayings: "If he's a nice boy, go with him -- you might meet someone you like better."  Virgil Harrison was younger than Ina Marie, but he was a determined & hard-working young man.  Their first date came about as the result of Grandfather losing to Grandmother a bet on the 1940 presidential election.  When Lawrence Rostorfer met Virgil Harrison, he told his daughter "I like that farmer" . . . And the rest was history.  

Virgil & Ina Marie courted for four years.  They married 3 September 1944 at a small ceremony at Lawrence & Mabel's farm.  Grandmother was ill that day with the flu, but weddings cannot be rescheduled.  She got out of bed to get married, and her friend Fanny fixed her hair for her because Grandmother was too weak to do so.  Virgil & Ina Marie spent their wedding night at Shaw's Inn in Lamcaster, and then started a two week honeymoon on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  My grandfather had saved up gas ration stamps for their trip, and they drove as far as half of their ration stamps could buy fuel -- and then turned around to head home.  To please his new bride, Virgil installed indoor plumbing at the homeplace at Harrison Farm. 

My grandparents were very different people, yet they were excellent partners.  They balanced each other.  Grandfather was a unique blend of a cerebral individual who loved to read, but was extremely skilled at working with his hands.  He always had a good time at social gatherings once Grandmother finally convinced him to go, yet he was happiest reading history in his study.  Grandmother was a skilled homemaker who worked hard alongside her husband.  She was very social, and adored having people around.  One of my favorite memories of them is from my childhood.  I do not recall my grandparents dancing anywhere else, but it was incurably romantic to me when Grandfather would come in from the barn at night, turn on the radio, and dance slowly with Grandmother in the kitchen.

On the last night of Grandmother's earthly life, as I sat with her through much of the night, some of the staff members of her retirement community came in to see her and say their farewells.  One of the staff members shared with me that it was only a few days before that she had been in Grandmother's bedroom for the first time.  She saw my grandparents wedding picture there, and inquired of Grandmother about it.  The staff member shared with me that Grandmother had smiled and said "I had a wonderful husband." And she truly did.  They were good partners.  They balanced each other in a very unique way.  They raised three daughters, lost two to miscarriage along the way, nursed & buried both their fathers and then both their mothers, grew their farm successfully -- and then took on the effort of helping to rear their granddaughter.  

As a child, I was very fortunate to have their love & support during a time when the adults around me made my world unstable.  I adore the memories of both of my grandparents from my childhood, when they were still strong and wise and had each other.  During my youth, my grandmother taught me to cook, to sew, to garden, to bake, to iron, to cross-stitch.  My grandfather taught me to read, to drive, to dock & castrate lambs, to provide nutrition & health care for livestock, and to debate politics & history.  I knew my grandmother expected me to go to college, and I knew my grandfather expected me to achieve anything I put my mind to doing.  They were an amazing team.

So many of my stories about one of my grandparents naturally involved the other.  I was a junior in high school when I took my first trip with Grandfather that Grandmother was not there.  He accompanied me when I represented Ohio in the Eastern Region Extemporaneous Speaking Competition for FFA (a contest which he was the first Ohioan to win in 1936).  We drove to Springfield, Massachusetts for the contest.  On our first morning there, we went for breakfast.  Every morning at home, I saw my grandmother pour a glass of cranberry juice for my grandfather to drink.  As we sat in the hotel restaurant, I pointed out to my grandfather that there was cranberry juice on the menu.  He looked at me with his big, glorious smile, and said in his always deliberate way of speaking: "I hate cranberry juice."  As a teenager, this was a terribly funny story.  As an adult, I realize how profound their love was that he understood she provided meals for him out of devotion to him -- so he ate heartily to show his appreciation of her efforts, no matter what the menu might be.

My grandmother's decline began after she lost the love of her life.  They were so good together -- so balanced -- that it should have been expected that she could not be the same woman without him.  I lived with my grandmother at the homeplace for a decade after college, doing what I could to be of assistance.  We looked after each other until her decline progressed to the point that she moved to the retirement community.  I wish that I could have had more time with the woman she had been when I was a child.  Despite any instability in my world during my youth, I always knew I could turn to Grandmother for a good meal, a comforting hug, and the world's best cookies.  

My grandmother always adored my friends, and so it was lovely to gather together today and share stories about her.  Her cookies, her lifelong ability to flirt, her love of Bailey's Irish Cream.  Ina Marie Rostorfer Harrison was blessed with a very good life.  She had 98 years, she had a wonderful husband, and she enjoyed good health for much of her life.  I am grateful that she is at peace.  Life truly is a journey, and my grandmother had a remarkable one.  I am also profoundly grateful to have such amazing friends that they would spend time with me today to honor her.  Grief is also a journey, and I have come to recognize how much our social conventions help with mourning.  I think Grandmother would have been pleased that we gathered today in her memory.  I suspect she would have liked that we brought coffee & Bailey's.  And I hope she would be pleased with the eulogy I gave for her, as it truly came from the heart.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Doody the Goat says Get Out & Vote!

As Election Day approaches, the animals of Harrison Farm have joined together to honor the legacy of Doody the Goat by issuing their political endorsements.  This is the first Election Day since the passage of noted political prognosticator Doody the Goat.  He did go out at his peak: correctly selecting candidates in each of the races he called in November 2014.  In his honor, Harrison Farm offers these thoughts . . .

On the state issues on the ballot, Harrison Farm encourages a YES, YES, NO vote.  The animals were very pleased that Katherine participated in a press conference at the Statehouse on State Issue #1.  Much as the sheep support fair allocation of grain apportionment during feeding time, so Harrison Farm supports fair, bi-partisan, and transparent apportionment in designing legislative districts.

Harrison Farm supports a YES vote on Issue #2 and a NO vote on Issue #3.  While recognizing potential market opportunities for growing marijuana if it was legal, Harrison Farm remains firmly opposed to monopolies in our state.  Just as we do not believe there should only be ten goat farmers in the state or ten chicken farmers, we do not believe there should be only ten marijuana farmers if it is legal.  (Per the commercials that say Issue 3 is not a monopoly because it allows for additional growers, it is true that it does -- one more for a total of eleven!) Beyond this, the discussion needs to be resolved at the federal level first.  It would be unreasonable to enshrine a monopoly in our state constitution that is at odds with federal law.

Harrison Farm supports a YES vote on Issue #15 to support the Columbus Zoo.  This is NOT a tax increase; it is a re-authorization of funds from Franklin County residents to support the Columbus Zoo.  The zoo offers a great deal to our community, and is a significant asset in educating people on animals.  Different types of animals need different types of care, and the Columbus Zoo provides perspective on how wild animals are different than companion animals or livestock.  The Franklin County Farm Bureau board has offered its support to Issue #15, and Harrison Farm also stands in favor of this issue.

Finally, the animals of Harrison Farm are delighted to carry on the support that Doody the Goat offered Michael Stinziano by endorsing him for Columbus City Council.  As a member of the General Assembly, Representative Stinziano has been a strong advocate for agriculture -- even while representing an urban district.  Representative Stinziano works to educate himself on agricultural issues, and he recognizes the importance of farms in our urban community to provide food security for our metropolitan area.  Columbus would benefit greatly by having Michael Stinziano on city council.

Honor Doody by voting this Election Day!