Volume XVII, Issue 32 # August 6 - August 12, 2009

from the Editor

Bettelou’s Last Lesson

What I earned at the funeral of my sister-in-marriage

I enjoy a good funeral on every score except the absence of the guest of honor. More good things are said about a person in those few hours than most of us hear in a lifetime. All kinds of people turn up, so you’re sure to hear plenty that’s new as well as the ancient clan stories. And the funeral lunch is always a feast fit to drive death back to his hiding place. If more of my friends and relatives were Irish, there’d be toasting, too.

“She’d have enjoyed being here,” said more than one mourner at the July 30 funeral of my sister-in-marriage, Bettelou Wimp.

Yes, that really was her name. And the name of her three big, strong sons and their wives, their eight sons and two daughters. Yes, I hope the daughters marry and take their husbands’ names, as did Bettelou’s daughter Luanne, whose three sons and four granddaughters are not named Wimp.

No matter what their name or how they joined clan, the people of Bettelou’s family were the big thing in her life. When I partnered up with her little brother Bill Lambrecht , born when she was 14, my sons and I were pulled into her big embrace. So were the two adopted daughters of her first grandson, the young man born when she was only 39 and still looking like a girl herself — though not quite so young as her daughter Luanne, a teen mother.

By then Bettelou was a widow with those three sons getting bigger by the day and a new grandson and son-in-law. Her mother and father, Louie and Ada Lambrecht, gave the family the depth of four generations. That’s a number the clan seems to like, for by Bettelou’s death July 27 at 73, she was a great-grandmother four times over.

Deep and wide was the clan that surrounded her at her funeral in the town that had centered her life, Bloomington, Illinois.

Cousins (sorry, no more aunts and uncles), friends and workmates of each generation came to pay their respects. When you’ve been in a place a long time, people know who you are. That’s one of the lessons of Bettelou’s funeral.

My other lesson is the power in the long arm of the past.

Clan reunions like this one have become infrequent for Bill and me. We live far away, and Bettelou’s children’s families have followed more divergent paths since the deaths of Louie and Ada in the last decade. Nowadays, reunions are funereal occasions, though we’ll be blessed with a wedding in September.

Since we’ve last gathered, children have become elders. I see Louie’s image in one newly lean 50-plus-year-old nephew. Grandchildren have put on the faces and bodies (and habits) of their parents. I can’t get it into my head that Ben isn’t his father Tim. New great-grandchildren have replaced the grandchildren I remember. And there are plenty more where they came from, still to be born.

Bettelou gave them all motherly love. That, and the gifts of youth, are all you need for the first decade or two. Beauty. Love. Even children come to you in those years. After that, what you make of your life is up to you. So don’t be too easy on yourself. Or on the ones you love.

       Sandra Olivetti Martin

     editor and publisher