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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Another audit

It’s close to the end of another audit. I made a careless mistake that hasn't come back to bite me—yet. 

I love audits. For all these years, I've loved the ticking and tying, the double hash check mark on a page that says “perfect.” Not my ticking and tying, but the auditor’s, reviewing my work.

Not everything is correct of course. This is the government. It changes every time a new legislature enacts new laws. Sometimes I care about them, sometimes I don’t. If I don’t care enough, I get nicked. Take accounts, for instance. The government uses hundreds of accounts.

I've added one new account in ten years, so I could pay a zoning inspector from the zoning fund, not the general fund. Otherwise, if the account was good enough for the clerks before me, it is good enough for me.

I’m the veteran of nine audits in ten years now, counting the three fire department audits. My first audit was several auditors of state ago.

The audit manager this year has the same last name as my first auditor of state, who later ran for governor. I voted for him in the primaries, which is another good story I’d forgotten.  I wondered if she might be his daughter, but not bold enough to ask. I did find her in the public records; she earns seventy five grand a year. Be still my heart.

I exchanged emails with her to set up the audit and she dropped out of sight. The site manager and two other auditors appeared on schedule. This time I had a “real” audit. The last two have been “audit lites,” as we call them in the trade. Because my first four years were clean, the next four years I was awarded an “agreed upon procedures” audit. They showed up, made sure I balanced the bank every month, stuff like that, and left.

Not this time. As they should, they looked at everything. There was one young ticker and tier who made me do math I haven’t remembered in years to prove out the cost of some services we charge for. Phew! She had a middle sized rock on her left hand. I wonder if she’ll continue to rise, or subvert her career after marriage. Personal information does not flow around the table any more.

But, they were fun women, and the site manager and I shared a lot of accounting jokes in the course of the job. The site manager sent me more than a few questions to be answered by email, and we developed an easy enough relationship. She also has a name too similar to the regional manager’s name.

So, when I got an email from the regional manager asking for my bona fides, which she needed to include in the report, I didn't study on her name closely  before I answered, as follows:

I have a BA in English Lit, CWRU, 1965; an MA in American Lit, CWRU, 1970, a BS in Accounting, Lake Erie College, 1978. In the real world I was the controller of a subsidiary of Maytag Corp for 13 years; ran my own business for 20 years, and now am an old lady who is still working. I've done manufacturing accounting, construction accounting, government accounting. I know how to account for a pine tree on top of a sky scraper; I still haven't learned to cook the books.

She replied she was still laughing. Then I saw her name.  It could be the most unstuffy audit ever published by the State of Ohio.

Nine am this morning in my town

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mother's funeral

Stephanie was there; she led the conversation, asking all the people in the room why mom was so special to them. I learned some more things about my mother that afternoon.

The next day Janice and I went to Hennessy’s, and took Beth, to learn. Jan told her, “Mom took me when she had to arrange for Uncle Bill, so I’d know what to do.” In truth, Hennessy had put all the wheels in motion. He laid a certificate on the desk and announced our mother had given us the gift of pre-paying her vault. So, I learned about vaults, and openings and closings. We found a casket, set a time—the following Monday, the day after Easter. My birthday.

Helyn, our sister-in-law told us Michelle was flying from Atlanta. Would we consider getting an interpreter?  She said the Society for the Deaf probably would help. They sent another tiny woman, who became a beautiful accompanist to Stephanie at the podium on Monday. And, we put the notice in the paper.

All details arranged, we passed a beautiful Easter weekend with family and friends. The spring weather continued.  My friend Ann arrived from Wisconsin. We ate countless sandwiches and beautiful desserts that appeared in our kitchen. A perfect run up to a funeral.

Monday morning was bone cold and pouring snow. Many of our guests were in spring coats, spring dresses, pretty spring pumps. Jan and I opened a bag of tricks and produced clothing and boots. Oh, the boots. I had LL Bean footwear for any occasion at a show; I passed out low rubbers, medium rubbers, wellies around. I wound up with the pink boots I’d lent to Bill for his lorry ride. I wore my sorry sheepskin vest, the last warm garment in my closet.

At Hennessy’s we found Linda and Cara, who drove from upstate New York, Molly who I’d taught to skirt a fleece years before. The usher funneled us into the room that already held mom’s congregation. Old neighbors streamed in. A tall slender old woman said “I’m Emma Carlisle”. The Carlisles lived next door when I was two years old. Everyone was saying “Thank you for letting us know.” They ranged from my parents’ wedding guests, to the friends of her granddaughters.

Stephanie moved to the podium, together with the interpreter and for half an hour we listened to Stephanie’s beautiful tribute, mesmerized by the dancing fingers to her right.  Michelle’s eyes never left off watching.

We gave the usher a stack of slips to pass out as everyone left, giving directions to the all you can eat buffet that Mom and Aunt Helen Rita frequented every Tuesday; if they didn't want to come to the cemetery, please be there when we came back; it was a place Mom’s spirit would know.

Cars! All the family in rag tag odds and ends filled the official cars; we started north. What was that? Escort cars were closing the freeway entrance lanes so the funeral procession could pass. I could not see the end of all the waving flags. Jan and I grinned. Take that, Mom! No notice, indeed. Our friend Mary Jane said “That line was a mile long! I was at the end!”

We stood in mud at the cemetery. Many, many had no boots. Tiny Stephanie and the tiny interpreter stood on tip toe, and sank too. Stephanie said her ashes to ashes, and we went back to the restaurant, where we filled a large reserved room, watched children eat as much as they could and go back for soft serve ice cream. With whipped cream and sprinkles. Some more good byes were said, then it was mid afternoon, and we all went home from what we knew was a very fine funeral.

Mom and Dad, 1960

Stephanie’s tribute to our mother. In your mind imagine flying fingers accompanying the words.

Lenore Caroline Rolf Lytle
Monday, March 31, 1997
10:00 am

How do you say “good-bye” to a friend? Real friends are so hard to find that you hate to let them go. For me, Lenore was a friend, not just a parishioner or a weaver or a woman I visited in the hospital because her church was between pastors. Lenore was my friend. It’s hard to say good-bye. Lenore was also a mother, a sister, an aunt, a grandma, a mother-in-law, a sister-in-law, and other relationships I haven’t mentioned, but she was also your friend, and it is so hard to say “good-bye” to a dear friend.

Lenore was not a fair-weather friend who was in a relationship for the good times and then disappeared when things got difficult. She took the trying times with the good times. I don’t want to say “bad” times because I’m not sure Lenore had really bad times. But there were trying times—like when Melvin and Helyn, very young newlyweds, moved in with Lenore and painted their bedroom pink—not baby pink, but industrial-strength pink, the kind that makes you think Pepto-bismol, or worse. Trying times—like all the years her beloved children and grandchildren, girls included, rode motorcycles. What caring parent, grandparent or friend wants to see adored children throw a leg over a big, mean bike and roar off down the road? Lenore rode out those years with grace.

Lenore was not a friend who was interested in what she could get out of a friendship. She was the kind of person who saw relationships as an opportunity to give. Unlike most of us, Lenore’s first instinct was to be kind. She didn’t calculate how much time or energy or even money loving another person would cost. She simply opened her arms and took us in. She took in Helen and Hazel. She took in Peggy and other neighbor children. She took in cousins and not-so-cousins. She took in little children and teenagers She took in young adults and old people. She even took me in and I was her pastor—I was supposed to be the one “taking in.” And she loved us, unconditionally, all of us she didn’t have to love. And we are blessed and better people because of her graciousness.

Lenore, as you can see, was not a friend to stick by only when you did things her way, though she did have a definite element of stubbornness. The stubbornness seemed to show up around canning time and then again in the fall. Lenore stubbornly put-up thousands and thousands of quarts of vegetables, fruits, jams and jellies as insurance against long winters and hard times. And even when times weren’t so hard, she stubbornly refused to give up ‘buying by the case:’ green beans, corn, peas, pears and carrots.

Although stubborn about some things, Lenore was a remarkable free spirit about others. She learned to weave late in life, and got really good at it. She moved away from the family home in North Hill and participated in remodeling a shared home with her daughters and son-in-law. I met her when she was 77 or 78, and she seemed perfectly willing to accept me, a woman, as her pastor. Not all folks, elderly or otherwise are able to embrace God’s words in Isaiah 43—“see, I am doing a new thing.” So, how do you say “good-bye” to such a friend?

Lenore loved the outdoors almost as much as she loved children. Does this sound like a vacation—a time of renewal and re-creation—to you? Ten or so kids, two campers, cots and sleeping bags; hundreds, even thousands of miles to travel; cooking, set-up, take-down. Is this a vacation? Well, it was for Lenore! No national park was worth visiting unless you could show it to a child—her own kids, her grandkids, neighbor kids, kids’ friends—all were welcome. And maybe more than welcome. Maybe she needed you kids because life would have been totally meaningless if there had been nobody to “give” to: to give adventures to, to give freedom to, to give encouragement to, to give love to.

Lenore had a sense of humor. She could laugh at a joke whether it was on her or somebody else. Sometimes I like to tell a funny story in my sermon to make a point. I could always count on Lenore to laugh even if she was surrounded by a stuffy bunch who felt that church wasn’t good for you unless it was solemn and somber. How do you say “good-bye” to such a friend?

I know Lenore taught you many things—how to budget, how to say “no” to deferred payment, how to can, how to economize, how to camp, how to have a good time, how to win at cards, how to love unconditionally. How to love unconditionally—that’s perhaps the most important. Each and every one of us needs to know that, in spite of the secrets we hold close to our hearts for fear someone should find out who we really are, that we are loved. Lenore gave us that gift—to her siblings, her husband, her children and grandchildren and countless others. She loved us. Period—no matter what. How do you say “good-bye” to such a friend?

We are not the first people to have this problem. On the way to Jerusalem, knowing what was going to happen to him, Jesus thought about his friends. I can picture him struggling with the knowledge of his coming death and the need to prepare his friends to be alone. “How do I handle this? How do I say ‘goody-bye’ to my friends?”

There is no good way. Even Jesus seemed to be talking in riddles to the disciples. “In my father’s house are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you.” Now what does that mean?

When I look at the passage from John that I read earlier, I learn two things. First, that saying good-bye is very difficult. No matter that Lenore had a long and healthy life right up to the past few months. We are grieved and the world seems unjust—even Jesus felt that way. Secondly, I learn from Jesus’ struggle to say good-bye to his friends that “it simply can’t be done.” Jesus, realizing that his disciples would never understand him, said it in the only way that makes any sense at all, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you may be also.” So, it’s not good-bye! This is the most absolutely amazing gift Jesus gave us and Lenore—the simple yet mind boggling conviction that there are no final good-byes. There is only “see you in the morning.” We thank God, even as we turn Lenore over to the dawn. We celebrate and thank God for the life and ministry of Lenore Caroline Rolf Lytle who will make heaven a far livelier and exciting place. Come on kids—let’s go camping.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mother’s funeral

My mother had a wonderful funeral. I’m sure she smiled, and forgave us most of it.

To start at the beginning, mom lost the fight to a virulent breast cancer. We took her to the hospital when we realized we were completely unprepared to care for her at home, the end snuck up so fast. Being mom, she closed her eyes, intending to open them no more. She did open them one time, to sign a check for her entire annual tithe to her church. The same her shyster lawyer stole to close her estate of one old car. My sister and I made good the tithe, and the small church was grateful.

Pat, my cousin in Texas, sent a plant to the hospital. Mom smiled and said “Dallas.” Pat is the daughter of one of our dad’s uncles. Her parents died very young, alcoholics, and my parents tried to adopt Pat. The staunchly Catholic faction united against my fallen from grace father who had the additional audacity to marry a Baptist. They sent Pat to live with an evil cousin in Texas. Pat grew up, married Ellis, and that’s how I have cousins in Texas. The day after mom saw the plant Pat arrived at the airport; mom was the last living relative from those days. We all were sad she was a day late.

Not long after we moved in together, Mom joined her brother’s church, a more fundamental church than I could imagine her being with. But—Uncle Hank’s church had bus tours for seniors, and to be assured of a seat every time, she had to be a member. She joined. Somewhere during her affiliation the old minister retired and the church hired a young woman for an interim minister.

Mom and Stephanie made an immediate connection. After there was a new minister at Uncle Hank's church, Mom would show up unannounced at Stephanie’s new churches; she liked what Stephanie had to say.

On Mom’s initial trips to the hospital, a year before her cancer went viral, Stephanie would pop from an elevator, a tiny bit of a girl. “There you are!” The two of them were off, and I went to the family waiting room. Jan and I teased Stephanie, she was the good daughter, and Stephanie replied “Not if she knew everything.” I knew she was alluding to being a tiny, gay, sprite, and simply replied mother loved her.

So, you know Mom is going to die very soon in my story, and she did. We took her to the hospital on Tuesday, on Wednesday we told her we had a hospice room. Warm blankets at hospice did not entice her, the hospital blankets were just fine. She died on Thursday, but not before she told us “No notice.”

Mom and Uncle Hank, 1936

Uncle Hank stood beside her body, held his big sister’s hand and said, “We were on vacation in Florida. She never told us your dad died, you know. She didn't want to bother us.” He waited twenty years to tell us that.

Mom was a planner. A, B, she had an entire alphabet of alternative plans in her repertoire. Leaving on that particular Thursday, the next day being Good Friday and Easter on Sunday was her Plan A, I know. The phone calls went around, people gathered in her hospital room, then at the house. It was a beautiful early spring day, the bees were out. We gave the hospital instructions to send mom to Hennessy’s, her Irish funeral home of choice the many times she had to use one. We went home to join her guests.

I'm only half way into the story; but it's almost finished tomorrow.