Yesterday, we held the memorial service for my mother-in-law, Alice Elizabeth Wells Lassman (obituary here). After crowd-sourcing some of the details for this poem from her children (including my husband), here’s what I wrote for the woman who was and continues to be so big in my life and heart. I’m deeply grateful for her raising some a wonderful son and being an amazing grandmother to my kids and all my nieces and nephews.
She was a fierce protector of all she loved,
a passionate holder of babies and truths,
and oil-painting and apple-pie-making devotee,
who fell in love with her driving teacher
and made with him a tumble of generations.
A lover of outside and tolerator of inside, she praised God
in the nuances of cardinals landing and starlings rising,
as well as in this very church, holding her candle high
on Christmas Eve, pouring her voice into the rolling river
of the hymn. She believed in angels and ice cream,
making something out of nothing, and the utter perfection
of each of her grandchildren. She was a mother defender
of the Jayhawks and the moral order, the power of reading
and making her own ketchup from homegrown tomatoes.
A sycamore admirer and petunia lover, she planted
a carnival of impatiences each spring, and because
she didn’t suffer foolish invasives lightly, she crawled
on her hands and knees to clear vinca from lily-of-the-valley.
She was a benevolent ruler of guinea hens,
letting them live out old age in the shade of the elms.
She was a rescuer of baby bunnies, abandoned kittens,
confused dogs, and even a monkey once.
She journeyed to the center and ends of thousands of
Reader’s Digest condensed books, Science News articles,
and Guideposts meditations. A traveler of great cheer
who delighted in Swahili phrases in Kenya, surprise blossoms
in Thailand, and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, she thrilled
with each new landing and returned home scrapbook-bound.
A voter and girl scout leader who believed in the strength of women,
she was a happy and frequent camper, a teacher of self-reliance
who made sure her daughters and son knew how
to whip up hamburger soup, do their own laundry,
and find their way around a library and prairie.
She was sure she knew, and that you had better know too,
the difference between right and wrong, and the price of freedom.
She was a stick-by-your-guns-even-if-you’re-the-only-one
beacon for babies and mothers, justice and hard work,
the essential goodness of humans, and the gift of being alive,
which keeps her heartbeat beating in time with ours
love by love by love by love by love.
Photos: (from top): Alice with her great-grandson Lucas, Alice and Gene with all their kids in the 1960s, Alice celebrating her 95th birthday, Alice and her twin plus her other sisters, Alice and a gaggle of grandkids, all looking cool