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Bicky Eley, 1920-2008

This is the eulogy I wrote for my grandmother and delivered at her memorial service Friday night.  It may not be of interest to anyone else, but here you go.

I've been asked to speak about Bicky on behalf of her family: her sons, Jim and Bob, her daughters-in-law, and her grandchildren and great-grandchild.

I keep a journal on the Internet -- a blog -- and a couple of weeks ago I posted the obituary which my father had forwarded to me.  I received an anonymous comment:  "I knew Bicky as I lived on Pomona Avenue while a young child and graduated from PTHS.  My older brother Pete went to school with Jim.  What a lovely person she was!  You sure are lucky to have had her as your grandmother."

I still don't know who that person was.  I thought it was remarkable that someone with close ties here would be reading what I wrote from halfway across the country; but more than that, it's evidence my grandmother made an impression on everyone she met.  She blazed her own trail through the world, and the world remembers her. 

The biographical details of her life aren't what I'm here to talk about, but some of them are interesting for showing her uniqueness and strength of character.  Her nickname is one she had all her life; as an infant, her older sister couldn't pronounce the name Elizabeth, and called her "Bick-a-Bick."  Which became Bicky.  This might be the first sign of one of her strongest traits: if she liked something, she'd stick with it her whole life.  She was well-traveled; her father's career and then her husband's took her across the country; from Delaware to Washington State, and Colorado, and settling for over sixty years here in Pompton Plains, before living her final years in San Antonio.  She visited us when my father's job had us living in Japan and Korea.  She often talked about Dupont, Washington in those last years, and she was very proud of having gone to Washington D.C. for a ceremony for her house, which had the first FHA home loan.

She was a divorced single mother, working two jobs and raising two boys in the 1950s and 60s, when such things just weren't done.  It must have been a difficult challenge.  But I asked my father, and he said if it was a hardship to her, she never showed it at home.  Her cheerfulness, her pride in her children, and her energy never wavered.  By all evidence her strength never wavered in the community either.  When she made Pompton Plains her home she made it _hers._  She became the first female recreation director, and pushed for sporting programs for girls at a time when that wasn't widely accepted.  She brought her own passion for swimming to the town; as my Uncle Jim said, everyone here who learned to swim, learned at P.V. Park. 

Others who are speaking tonight will have more to say about her service as town clerk and her status in this community.  What strikes me about it is that she shared her devotions.  She was opinionated and stubborn -- sometimes to a fault -- but she was never mean-spirited.  She was highly individual, but never inward-focused; she chose her interests carefully, but once chosen she spread them far and wide.  And she was never, never shy.  She was the biggest extrovert in my family, and one of the friendliest, most positive-minded outspoken people I've known.  It could be fairly said of her that her personality was bigger than she was.

That outspokenness was her strongest influence on me.  When I was asked to speak here, and looked back over my memories of my grandmother, one moment -- one defining scene -- came most clearly to mind.  When I was young, I was a fairly timid child.  I was always apologizing, always wanting to get out of people's way.  One afternoon when she was visiting us, we were in the kitchen, and I was helping her with something.  I don't remember what; it might have been making Bicky's Cookies.  (Anyone who's ever met Bicky knows Bicky's Cookies.)  I must have made or imagined some mistake, because I got embarrassed and started mumbling that I was sorry.  And she just stopped and looked at me -- even though she was taller than me then, it felt like she was looking me straight in the eye -- and said, "You shouldn't say you're sorry so much.  Stand up for yourself.  You know when you've really done something wrong, and if you haven't, don't apologize." 

My first instinct, of course, was to say I'm sorry for apologizing so much.  But her words stuck with me.   Backed up by her example.  And it made a profound impact on me.  It shaped my own individuality, and I think some of my own strengths.  What she said was just how she lived her life: always standing straight, always sure, and fearlessly unapologetic.  She knew what she thought.  She knew what she _liked._  And she never backed down.  But she made it positive.  She used her convictions for the good of others.  That was how a little old lady -- that's how she described herself my entire life -- that's how she left so many impressions.  That's how she could fill this church tonight.

My last words about her, I think she would find appropriate.  She was a firm supporter of Scouting -- both her sons were Boy Scouts, and that example carried to me.  She made Bicky's Cookies for my Eagle Scout ceremony, and having her tell me she was proud of me was a good moment, because I knew she was the type of person who'd only say it if she meant it.  It's a fundamental principle of camping in Scouts -- one that I think means as much as the Boy Scout Motto -- to always leave a campsite better than you found it.   I think of her life, and that's what I think first. 

Bicky Eley was an individual.  She was strong, she was principled, she was giving.  And she changed me -- she changed many of us -- by her example.  With her life, with her tenure in this world, she left the world better than she found it.  That's the best thing I could ever say about anyone.  That's enough. 

God be with her.

Comments

( 13 comments )
floatingtide
Nov. 18th, 2008 09:05 am (UTC)
That's a wonderful eulogy. Even this far from her in distance and time I find her life inspiring.

I'm very sorry for your loss.
madamruppy
Nov. 18th, 2008 12:58 pm (UTC)
That was beautiful. She sounds like a wonderful woman and you were blessed to have had her in your life. The rest of us are poorer for not.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 18th, 2008 01:11 pm (UTC)
That was great. Thanks for sharing something so personal. I love to hear about other people's lives and the great lessons they teach through their example. Your grandmother sounds like a fine lady.
(Deleted comment)
janni
Nov. 18th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
Sympathies to you and your family.
sartorias
Nov. 18th, 2008 03:32 pm (UTC)
Oh steve that was touching, vivid, and wonderful.
bookofmirrors
Nov. 18th, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
Gorgeous. Thank you for sharing that.
mrund
Nov. 19th, 2008 08:08 am (UTC)
Well done, Steve!
dianaschnuth
Nov. 22nd, 2008 03:20 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing. Bicky sounds like she was quite a lady.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 24th, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
Appreciate LIfe
Only after a loved one has died do we show them how much we really loved them. We write it in a eulogy. But if we wrote all those things to them when they were still alive it would only be a letter.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 24th, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
obit
Thanks for sharing. Bicky sounds like a blessing to all who had the privilege of experiencing her in their lives. And having been raised in a scouting family, I agree that the best life lesson from that is about endeavoring to leave a place, relationship, experience, etc better for your having been there.
kaasirpent
Nov. 24th, 2008 07:08 pm (UTC)
That's wonderful, Steve. Thank you for sharing it.
kitanzi
Nov. 28th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
She sounds like a wonderful person. We should all hope to inspire such words when we're gone, I think.
( 13 comments )