Elma died last Friday and today we went to the funeral. There were a good number of people in the church but most of them in their eighties. Elma had a lot of friends. There were some tears and some sniffling but mostly there were smiles and warm greetings. Elma left little in terms of material possessions but she left a full story and lived a meaningful life. Elma was 97 when she died.
For over 20 years Elma was our neighbor down the street. In the last years when she used a walker and couldn't get out much the wife would visit once or twice a week. I didn't stay long as they liked to talk lady chit chat but Elma would always want me to sit down and have some ice cream or cake. Elma was a big woman that loved to eat her own home cooked food.
Elma was born in Montana on a dairy ranch in 1910. She had eight brothers and sisters and she was the last to pass away. Growing up on the ranch she had to get up at 4:00 in the morning and either milk or fix the food. Her job was baking bread and with a dozen ranch hands that required a lot of bread.
I always kidded her about the Montana winters and she said she would never go back in winter; she went back several times in the summer. She said back in the old days they had to wrap their legs with cloth to keep them from becoming frostbitten and she said she would never do that again. And she didn't.
Elma was smart and had she been born in another era she would have gone to college. She was also smart enough to want to leave the farm for a better life. After finishing high school she moved to Butte against her father's wishes where she worked as secretary in a doctor's office. One day she met a nice young man, she married him and they moved to California to seek a new future.
As Elma was taking her last trip in her casket to the cemetery I remembered that although she believed devoutly in God she was not the biggest fan of the church. Somehow God wasn't the problem; man was. She often complained that her relatives were too religious...maybe that came from growing up way out on a ranch.
She lived through the depression and two World Wars. Unlike her neighbor Helen, she came through the Depression a bit wary and shaken but without a broken spirit. Helen on the other hand was obsessed with each nickel and dime though she had more money than she needed...Helen was afraid the Depression was going to return and she wanted to make certain she would not go hungry this time. Her greed possessed her.
Elma wasn't worried about any Depression. Elma worried about Helen coming over to mooch food, even when Elma was in her wheelchair. Helen would stop by every evening at dinner time to 'check in' on her dear friend Elma. Funny. Helen's family couldn't stand her and they didn't even have a service for her when she died; greed is its own reward or something like that.
What Elma couldn't get used to was the continuing rise in the cost of living and the changing social norms of the day. Elma wasn't a prude by any means but she just could not see how some of the modern relationships worked and why people would ever live their lives that way; she thought the California mix and match mates style was simply foolish. Back in Montana folks just didn't do things that way; no need to.
For one thing, the Montana folks worked very hard and Elma liked working and staying busy. For many years she worked down the street at the soda fountain at Fred's Mission Pharmacy. It's a guitar store now. Elma loved people and she loved being out amongst them. The only thing that slowed her down in later life was her wheelchair.
Elma also had an edge; always friendly but with an edge. She would get upset and show it; always containing her temper but readily expressing her disapproval. She and the wife would play Crazy Eights and Elma would invite me to play but I usually declined. Elma seemed to understand. She always thanked me for allowing the wife to spend time with her as if it were an imposition on her part.
But funerals are for the living, not the dead. Elma left us but life continues and Elma's grandson Mark and his wife are expecting. Elma's certainly smiling over that.
There were a few sniffles but no real sobbing tears. Elma lived a meaningful life of 97 years and died surrounded by the people she loved which is about all any of us can expect out of life. All that matters is what comes between birth and death.
As the saying goes, do not take life too seriously because you will never get out of it alive.