When my sister Mona passed away, my other sister and I were asked to speak at the funeral service. I had decided that I would speak of Mona's laugh, a big, breathless guffaw that lit up her face and the room. I had chosen the subject of her laughter to serve as a reminder to those attending that, despite her life-long battle with debilitating depression, Mona indeed had a beautiful laugh. I recounted the history of that laugh, one that had been passed down from generations of Rinehart women. I spoke of my grandmother Agatha Rinehart; my mother's mother, who was a complete cut-up. I then referred to my Aunt Bonnie, who at the time was sitting in front of me, ever-vigilant at Mom's side, as the family member who possessed the most pristine example of that beautiful Rinehart laugh. Sadly, this past week, our beloved Bonnie passed away as well.
Aunt Bonnie was Mom's youngest sister; ten years her junior. Bonnie was quite often thought of as the heart of the family; one whom gathered the rest of us around her. She was personality plus; possessing that blessed laugh and cheerful personality that was like a tonic to whatever burdens we may have been carrying. Bonnie was a caretaker of souls; for family and friend alike. She took care of all of us and whether blood or not, if she knew you, you were family. Bonnie was the tie that binds...she held us all together.
Bonnie was no shrinking violet..she was a force to be reckoned with. She was fiercely protective of her family and so unflinchingly strong in her faith that she was often the rock that held firm while the rest of us threatened to blow away in the breeze. The first time I remember Bonnie being hospitalized was a weekend that I was home from college. I remember seeing Mom get the dreaded call. We gathered at the hospital, hopeful of a short bout with a health problem and instead were gathered by doctors and pastors and were told to prepare for the worst. Despite the horrific bout with lung and breathing issues that she endured, Bonnie wasn't having it. There was clearly too much for her to do. She survived, of course, and soon was on her way home. This was twenty-five years ago; nearly to the day of Bonnie's passing.
Those same lung and breathing issues would go on to plague Bonnie and certainly slow her down but they failed to stop her time and again. She had her beloved husband to help recover from a battle with cancer and grandchildren and great-grandchildren yet to meet and dote on. There has been many a time over this last quarter-century that her family fretted over her health and well-being but she soldiered on; instead worrying about everyone else. Bonnie was ever-present with concerns over her sister Alberta, my mother. As I wrote recently, one of the last times I saw Aunt Bonnie was in her wheelchair, parked next to Mom's wheelchair in front of Dad's casket at the funeral home; with hands clasped and tear-stained cheeks.
I've also written of Aunt Bonnie's wizardly ways in the kitchen over all these years. Her homemade noodles alone hold such great, comforting memories for me. Every family reunion or gathering, when it came time to eat, I would walk the length of the buffet table, looking for those noodles. Undoubtedly, there would be a plethora of delicious food, but everything came after those noodles. Sometimes, that was to my own mother's chagrin...Mom was a fine cook in her own right and could make a mean pot of noodles, but there was something about Bonnie's noodles. I've told you of one of my recent visits with her when I asked her for just ONE of her treasured recipes that I could copy to share on this blog. I, of course, arrived to find a legal pad filled with her recipes that she had hand-written herself, just for me. At the time, I was mortified that she had gone to such trouble, but now consider them even more a precious gift: those wonderful recipes in her own handwriting. My ever-expanding cookbook shelves include such notables as Julia Child's Art of French Cooking tomes but one simple handwritten legal pad holds a place of honor above them all. Among the recipes in that legal pad is one for those homemade noodles, which I tried to duplicate for this blog. They weren't quite right and that's what most folks say when they try to make them. Once again, that's why I call them the magic noodles...Bonnie threw a little some magic in those noodles. Whoever believes that its impossible to put love in their cooking, clearly never tasted Aunt Bonnie's food.
So, all these years later, that dreaded call came again. These days, the call often happens by social media, but the resulting fear was the same. Sadly, the outcome would also be different... Bonnie didn't survive this battle. The next thing I knew, I was in a car and driving east. In fact, there were folks heading to St. Marys from all points to pay their respects to this beloved woman.
In the interest of space, I will write more about Bonnie's memorial service in the next post; including the significance of the Bible and pew at the right of the page. I wanted this post to serve as a meager but heartfelt dedication to the woman herself. As for that laugh, I will say this: at the funeral home, I found myself constantly looking back at her. While it was comforting to know she was at peace, her silence was deafening in its way. I kept hearing her laughter, even though it felt like an echo coming from a faraway place. I felt that laugh and knew it was echoing from the Heavens. So rest in peace but laugh on, Aunt Bonnie... you will make for one masterful guardian angel.
We love you.