So . . .
Certain Man and I set forth from Shady Acres on a trip with some intentional missions.
The seats had been removed from our van so that we could put some furniture therein for Youngest Daughter’s first real “apartment” living situation in Cedarville. A bed. A small bookshelf. A lamp. A desk. A bicycle. A wash basket, filled with sundry and diverse useful items. FOOD. Blankets.
And there was a gorgeous, new dress, softly blue and neatly sewn by sister in law, Ruby, for Mom Yutzy, who makes her home in Mayfair Village, a nursing home in Columbus.
And then there was Eldest Son and his Ohio Heart Trob, living in Sugarcreek, who pulled strongly on the heartstrings of Certain Man’s Wife.
So the trip was duly planned, and what a relief it was! CMW was needing a break from the intensity of living at Shady Acres, which has included a whole lot of heartbreak and even a State Police interview in the last week. Enough said about that, except to say that CMW eagerly looked forward to the time when she and The Man She Loves The Most could climb into their trusty old mini-van and head for central Ohio. Plenteous indeed were the reliable people who volunteered to cover the home base and duties there.
It has been a glorious time! We’ve accomplished most of our missions, and even had some adventures along the way — most of them have been positive. Others –not so much.
But yesterday morning, heading towards Cedarville, my cell phone rang, and it was Certain Man’s cousin, Alma, with the news that “Homer Lena” (Beachy) had passed away. “Aunt Lena” to both Certain Man and I, she and Homer, (Mom Yutzy’s oldest brother) had rented a little house to us when we were a young married couple. In their little “carpenter shop turned house” that was just across the lane from their house, CM and I were first licensed as foster parents, weathered some really rocky times in our young marriage, and learned to know and love this couple who had life experiences that were rich and diverse with practical application and wise advice. They had married when Homer was 40 and Lena was 36, had three children in fairly short order and were in the business of raising teenagers to be responsible adults when we took up residence in their little house.
Lena sewed and cooked and cleaned and managed to work outside the home some. Homer worked at the Ranco plant and the kids delivered newspapers worked in the garden and mowed the lawn in the summer and shoveled snow in the winter, and in general were kept busy with little excuse for idleness. Homer helped with the newspaper routes and put up with the puppies and kept a watchful eye on his kingdom. The whole family were indulgently involved with our foster children as substitute grandparents and young aunts and an uncle.
How very much I loved Lena! She mothered me and gave me advice. She helped me with sewing and gave me tips on cooking and housekeeping. She was older than my mother by eight years, and sometimes I would look at her and wonder where all the energy came from. We lived in their side yard for almost two years, and then purchased the home place from CM’s parents in the spring of 1977 and moved our two precious foster children, Joseph and Salena, to a bright and beautiful house on the hill with plenty of room to run and play. It was definitely a good move for us. But I stood in that little house of Homer and Lena’s one last time before leaving, wondered at the unexpected tears and was startled when I realized for the first time that there is always grief with dismantling a home, no matter what the situation. I most hated leaving the family across the drive that had become like our own.
One of the pluses of moving to the larger home was that we could be licensed for more foster children. As soon as we were settled, Salena began saying to me, “Mommy. Tell Mimi(our caseworker). A baby sister that can’t walk yet!” Over and over again, she would insist that I call call and remind them. And on Monday, April 18, 1977, her fervent wish was granted when Christina came into our home. That is a story in it’s own right, but something happened the following Sunday that could have changed the course of the life of our family forever.
Cousins, Robert and Joseph Yoder, along with my Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys, and cousin, Naomi, were in a terrible accident in Pennsylvania. Uncle Jesse, Aunt Gladys and Naomi were seriously injured. Robert and Joseph were killed instantly. Numb with shock and disbelief, we made plans to make the trip to Delaware for the funeral. There were letters to obtain from Child Protective Services for the three foster children, and calls to be made.
And then came the bombshell. Because Christina was on an emergency court order, she could not go out of state. We begged for consideration, and the state felt that we needed to go to the funeral, but they would not budge. We could take Joseph and Salena, but we could not take Christina along.
“She hasn’t been in your home that long,” said the case worker. “We will just put her into another foster home. Kids are resilient, she’ll adjust. It’s not ideal, but it will be okay.”
OKAY??? No, it wasn’t okay. We had had an intense six days of bonding with this precious, eight month old girlie, and we were unwilling to have her taken out of our home where she had started to settle and begun to thrive. We agonized over the possibilities, but nothing seemed satisfactory.
And then Lena called me. She and Homer already had a strong and loving relationship with Joseph and Salena and had met our newest family member. I remember that her voice was quiet, determined and business-like, even as her sympathy was evident.
“Mary Ann,” she said, “You and Daniel are going to go to that funeral. Homer and I have decided that we are going to come to your house and take care of Joseph and Salena and Christina so that you and Daniel can go. We will come right there, so that the children won’t need to move out of the familiar. Make your plans. We are going to do this for you.”
Relief flooded me like a tangible river. It was perfect. Back in those days, caregivers for foster children only needed to be trusted family friends, and the state of Ohio was more than amendable to this solution. I remember that Certain Man and I, Miriam Jantzi, and (Robert and Joseph’s brother) Jonathan’s girlfriend, Dawn Good, and one other person packed into a car one night after Certain Man got off from work, drove all night, went to the funeral, left that evening and drove back to Ohio. It was a flying trip, packed with emotion, sadness, a sense of irretrievable loss and grief. But we came home to find that everything was just as calm and orderly at home as it would have been if we had been there ourselves, and a foster placement was intact and thriving that proved to be pivotal in the life of our family.
I have always felt that Lena and Homer’s gift to us that dark day was bigger than any of us will ever know. We had no way of knowing that Christina would be our forever girlie, that the day would come when she would become a Yutzy and that would literally change the entire tenor that defines our family. It has been God’s incredible work in incomprehensible ways to countless people, and I am humbled to realize that it could have been so different. Except for Lena.
There are other things about this couple that are almost as unbelievable. How many people who marry at 40 and 36 get to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary? Five years ago, when Homer was 90, we got to join in a celebration with them for this remarkable milestone. Last year, on December 30th, Homer turned 95. Lena would have been 92 on her next birthday in March. Until just a few years ago, they still baked hundreds of loaves of bread a week for a local bakery. Homer is hard of hearing, and Lena was forgetful, but they were still living in that same house that they had when we lived across the lane, 38 years ago. Their oldest child and only son, Kevin, has lived with them. Yesterday morning, it was he who thought she was showing some signs of a stroke, called 911, but before they could get her to the hospital, she was gone.
Once again, this family is making it so convenient for us. Not intentionally, I know, but we were planning to return to Delaware on Monday. When we heard of her passing, we wanted so much to stay for the funeral, but wondered when it would be. We decided that if it wasn’t going to be until Wednesday, we almost couldn’t stay. Certain Man has a flood in his chicken house, and there are responsibilities and appointments calling me. But the viewing is tomorrow, the funeral is Tuesday at 10 o’clock in the morning. We can attend, leave as soon as it is over, and be home on Tuesday evening, Lord willing.
Add to this the fact that things are covered at home, Middle Daughter is willing for us to come home a day later than we planned and there are friends who offered to help out in whatever way they can. This means so much to us. It is special gift to us.
My heart gives grateful praise.