As I progress through my sixth decade on this globe, I pay far more attention to the obituaries than I do the births and marriages columns in what remains of the daily newspapers.
I’ve witnessed many people who were significant in my life pass on during over the past 20 years in particular. We lost my mother-in-law very early at only 58 due to cancer and then have seen my mom, my dad, my aunt and my father-in-law all pass while in our care. That’s over the course of 20 years once the New Year hits.
While hanging out at Kaiser today awaiting a prescription I chatted with a Barnabas and Teen Esteem board friend (teenesteem.com, www.barnabasgroup.org) who described how her 96-year-old mother had transitioned in a matter of days from living independently to requiring 24-hour care because she no longer could balance while walking.
It reminded me of how quickly things could change. My father-in-law, at 87, was working—at his pace—in our expansive backyard until he decided to use a ladder to cut a 4-inch grapevine and pull it off our patio cover. He fell backward, broke his wrist, suffered a hematoma in his brain that covered fully from and then suffered a stroke, but it was the first step backward in his health. We lost him to cancer at 89.
The Sunday newspaper printed an obit for Shirley Casterson Butler, a friend of parents on both sides, particularly mine through 4-H animals at the Alameda County Fair. Shirley lived on Valley Avenue near what used to be the Halvorsen chicken farm where I once gathered eggs and plucked overly mature hens prepared to the stewing pot at the 4-H Camp in Napa County. The Halvorsen parcel is now an apartment complex.
As the obit read, Shirley was a farmer’s daughter and a farmer’s wife until her husband, Bob, fell while trimming a tree and was paralyzed. She cared for him for 40 years until he passed on in 1984. With her experience as a banking employee at Community First Bank of Pleasanton—run by the Harding family for years until it was sold to the holding firm that eventually become US Bank—she did bookkeeping for medical practices. She organized the bank’s traditional Mother’s Day rose show.
Five years after Bob’s death, she reconnected with an Amador Valley classmate from the class of 1942 and eventually married Jack Butler.
What characterized Shirley’s life, as well as Arline Mills (another Pleasanton Presbyterian Church secretary) as well as my mom and mother-in-law was their amazing volunteer contributions. For the most part, they lived in a time where there was no modifier to moms—they were at home, homemakers. So their substantial gifts and skill sets were devoted to volunteer activities.
I remember telling my pastor, Mike Barris, after writing Arline’s obituary that she would have been a CEO had she been born 50 years later. She was the valedictorian of both her elementary (then through eighth grade) and her high school class in a time that women didn’t pursue a full range of college degrees.
Reading the obit to Shirley, I saw the same qualities and was thankful I knew her and she had been an influence in my life and the life of many others.