Family --- Ahdel
A letter from Cathy Griffith Leuenberger, Ahdel's niece
Feb. 15th, 2013
It’s quite remarkable, sometimes quirky how you pop into my thoughts nearly daily – this has always been true, during some of the most pedestrian of activities. Even though we haven’t seen each other that frequently, you’re woven into the fabric of our lives with such regularity …
Every time I scrape some leftovers into a dish to keep in the refrigerator, I think of you. Not very elegant, but very prolific. Along with my grandparents (Dad’s side), your loathing of waste has been passed along to me in a big way. In fact, as soon as Beth & Marne are more secure in taking advantage of their educational opportunities, that loathing of waste has inspired me to get more involved in my next mission in life – trying to help improve public education – so that the millions of minds being ushered through but not very well developed in our public schools every year are not wasted. (Please don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I’m under any illusion that I’ll make a great difference, but it is my next calling).
Now if I could only resist the urge to buy in excess (the “two for ones”), but I’m becoming much more careful about not acquiring more than I can use as I think of your sparse refrigerator and kitchen shelves.
It’s you who introduced us to the idea of questioning conventional thinking and looking beyond the surface for, well accuracy and truth (if one can find that!). I often hear your words in the back of my head: “Honey, I don’t know that that’s true,” or “Honey, I don’t know that I’d put it quite that way.” In addition to my Dad admonishing me to “make sure you have the facts” (when I was about 15, reciting some data about poverty in Appalachia & being quite confident I was destined to help save the world), it’s my dad, you & your two children as young adults who I see when I search for answers on anything of import in this way - how critical it is to understand the rationale from multiple sides of an issue. I remember Susan sitting at the table of my Aunt Ann & Uncle Pete & my Moore cousins (probably spring of 1962), & there was a lively & open exchange of ideas – about serious political issues of the time. It was a fun, energetic, & respectful sharing of opinions & information. It’s still a pretty vivid scene. And it showed really rigorous thinking about issues – understanding them from different angles & perspectives that I rarely see exercised in our press and media anymore. Those are values we need to revisit in our country.
You have always exercised such great integrity, thoughtfulness (& cleverness!) with your language and content of what you say. I think of that as I am now answering questions from my 2 daughters (well, especially Marne) – things like “Mommy, how come it seems that most black people live in smaller homes?” Of course, at first the response is “Marne, it’s a long story.” But then I try to exercise some Ahdel-style deliberateness & care in my response.
I remember David in your living & family rooms with his many friends, having very stimulating chats, playing the guitar, singing, having lots of fun. You were probably just hoping that they were entertaining themselves & engaging in somewhat constructive (at least not harmful) activities while you were trying to get some work done. But for both Barb & I (it’s “me” isn’t it?), these were great lessons in generosity, graciousness & open-mindedness in this “Grand Central Station” you imagined was your home. Barb & I were so enthralled with the scene, we were totally pre-teen “groupies.” Who needed the Beatles when there were such cool, fascinating cousins around?
As we raise our girls, I often think of the flexibility you exercised with your children, encouraging them to find their own paths that best fit their gifts. Your determination to let them shape their own destinies, to control their own futures & to not impose your own expectations on them was very brave & quite inspirational. You have been very ahead of your time it seems to me - & I often think that Granny & Papa were too – they were not going to relegate such bright young women as their daughters to the kitchen, but instead encouraged them to explore the world around them & their talents, & provide them with the best education the family could afford. I keep all of this in mind with our girls (& I might add it’s a daily struggle between exercising flexibility with and control over their lives!).
As I begin my New Year’s & Lenten resolutions, I think of your discipline – every day you would stretch & do what seem now to be yoga-type exercises in your bedroom, giving deliberate care to the “temple” in which you have lived. I’m hoping it’s not too late to restore some resilience to my abused body. I will use your discipline as my inspiration. And it’s Susan who pops into mind when I’m engaging in some self-indulgent, probably unconstructive eating activity with her statement (somewhat paraphrased, as it’s from 1978 or thereabouts), “If I find that I’ve become attached to some routine for 3 weeks that’s not helpful, I try to deliberately change my behavior before it becomes a habit.” I’m working towards becoming that deliberate about my better self!
I sometimes imagine what it must have looked like - you sitting in the playpen – frequently - with your little sister Eleanor, cherishing, nurturing & playing with her. I believe that had much to with her overwhelming sense of well-being & lightheartedness, which her family has all thoroughly embraced. Thank you.
But then again, you have devoted much of your life to caring for others. I won’t repeat the litany here – everyone knows. But perhaps it’s the caring you’ve modeled that has permeated our lives & nurtures our desire to care for others around us.
I love telling the story about how you cared for Dick – you were quite his senior (& I have been given the understanding that he never knew your age!), but you were clearly the one with the vitality. But that’s how you’ve lived your life – in my eyes – with vitality, purpose & a good measure of humor. My version of the story is a little more colorful, perhaps even a little inaccurate (you wouldn’t exactly approve of that, so I’m not going to tell you about it here), but it’s been told many dozens of times…. Amazing the extent of your reach!
Thank you for your patience with my seemingly un-ending quest for information on how we all came to be who we are – it’s fascinating to me. Maybe it stems from David’s brief romance with anthropology (I think that’s correct) in college – that may have stimulated my interest. In any case, I understand my quest must have been a little trying for you.
You know, come to think of it, other than my mother, father, grandparents & some friends, I don’t know that I could write that much about someone’s influence on me. Interesting…. You probably don’t even remember much of this, but it’s astounding how a casual or off-hand remark, even a look, can shape another person’s life. Especially with my daughters, I try to exercise care with even those mundane interactions. In any case, there’s a substantial amount of Chadwick – every day – floating in a beneficial way - around in my brain.
I think of you now & am so very sorry that food has no appeal to you. I wish you comfort. I know you have peace.
Forgive the sparsity of my editing here, but I recognize that there’s a little urgency in the situation. After all, Valentine’s Day is already passed & I’m late! So I will eagerly be awaiting your grammatical and spelling corrections plus would welcome any suggestions.
With much love, wishing you a happy belated Valentines’ Day!