© April 4, 2011 by Robert M. Katzman
This is an introduction, because one thing leads to another…usually.
92 years old, Helen Bishop had lived with us for five years.
“Us” means Joy, her daughter, one of eight children, and me, the husband. Our daughter, Sarah, got the call at 1 am on Sunday morning, March 13th 2011, when I was dead to the world. Eighth graders can stay up all night, but not their 61-year-old Dads.
It may actually have been midnight on March 12th, because everyone’s supposed to push their clock ahead one hour in the spring at 2 am, and that night was the night. So, if they did it early in the nursing home, it might’ve still been Saturday night. This isn’t essential to know, and in fifty years who will care?
But I did wonder for a few moments, lying there in the dark with my beagle, Betsy, who continued to snore all through the brief conversation in the darkness. I let her death wash over me, like a tide.
Her kids came to Chicago from across the United States, and from every kind of job:
Billy: (1941) 69, retired U.S. Air Force—–Florida
Gail: (1945) 65, real estate—–Illinois and Wisconsin (aka “Susie”)
Carolyn: (1947) 63, secretary in a Lutheran church—–Oklahoma (aka “Keeko”)
Joy: (1950) 60, controller at a surgical center, retired—–Illinois
Jim: (1951) 59, engineer—–Illinois
Elaine: (1953) 57, registered nurse—–Arkansas (aka as “E”)
Russell: (1955) 55, carpenter, lumberjack—–Wisconsin (aka “Buster”)
Charlie: (1959) 51, retired U.S. Air Force; now Aurora, Colorado cop (aka “Chickie”)
Some came with wives, husbands and/or children. An army of descendents.
Bill Bishop, the man she married in Chicago on Christmas Eve 1939, died March 9, 1999, after nearly sixty years of marriage. He was a railroad man his entire career, The Rock Island Line.
Her one surviving brother, whom we call Uncle Donnie, 82, came from Pelican Rapids, Minnesota along with his two sons, David and Paul.
Helen herself, originally from a Norwegian/Danish farming family named Ness, and who lived in Wolverton, Minnesota was born in 1919. But I also heard she came from Comstock, Minnesota, about five miles south.
I think this is an unresolved issue.
But what do I know? I’m just the husband. I don’t even have blue eyes, so I keep out of any Scandinavian controversy. I hear they all still carry big axes. Better silent than axed.
Both these obscure hamlets, hard by the North Dakotan border are just south of the Red River-traversing metropolis of Fargo-Moorhead which includes both states. You go out there, don’t miss it. Nice people, a stunning museum and an incredible number of snowplows. Really.
I, ah, wouldn’t chance it in winter, which in this part of the North-Central USA runs from October to April.
Is this a eulogy?
Well, not exactly. Some of her kids and grandkids already did that in the Lutheran church service, including my wife who pleaded with all of her siblings to stay in touch and not drift apart. I watched her and was very moved. Will there ever be anything important enough to get them all together again? Was Helen the one great bond? Do they individually realize this?
Nope, this is a more permanent remembrance of her and about something remarkable that happened just after she was buried. Spoken words, however heartfelt and loving, drift away into the ether. You write it down, there’s a chance they’ll linger. Maybe even still be here when the great grandkids want to know about their nice Grandma and all the rest of us are no longer available.
I read my stories in public sometimes, except the ones I can’t read because they are too loaded with emotion. This is one of those stories, so read it, people. Helen deserves it.
I’m only going to tell about a couple of obscure moments that can give a stranger an idea of who she was, in a different sort of way. Why me? Why my perspective?
Well, I’m from the (very tiny) Jewish branch of her big family and I see everything differently.
In fall, 1976, when I first told Joy’s Mom, a Lutheran, that I loved her daughter and wanted to marry her, it was in Joy’s recovery room after a minor but painful surgical procedure. I also told Helen I was a Jew. Joy was not conscious. We were standing, tensely, on either side of her hospital bed.
There was a silence while Helen stared at me. Then she fiercely responded that she believed in Jesus Christ and that He was the Son of God. She said she believed in His resurrection.
I told her I knew that.
The subject never came up again in 35 years.