Thursday, February 28, 2008

Patrick Henry has a new neighbor. . .

. . . in a manner of speaking. My dear friend, Thelma, was just laid to rest next to her husband of 60 years and around the corner from Mr. Henry's grave at Rock Creek Cemetery. She was born September 11, 1910 in the wilds of Oklahoma and died quietly in D.C. last Sunday night. She was proud of the letter she earned on her high school swim team and remained a tomboy all her life. She married the love of her life during the Great Depression and had to learn to cook on a tiny wood burning stove. She had never been interested in cooking, so had to learn as she went along. She and her groom, Paul, considered themselves lucky to have the use of a small cottage with a water pump in the kitchen, something most didn't have in those days. Once she mastered the wood stove, she learned to can everything from fruits and vegetables to meats and fish. She made bread and churned butter, selling some to neighbors so she could buy flour, salt, sugar and other staples she couldn't grow herself. As a girl, she rode bare-back and drove a car at a young age. She, her best friend/sister, Mary and their friends would tie baskets of food, blankets and quilts onto the running board of a car and go camping. In those days roads were mostly old wagon trails and there were few gas stations and no motels. After she married, she and her husband continued the camping tradition, added fishing and golf to the routine. Thelma and her husband moved many times as he was promoted in the IRS. Every place they lived from the high plains of Oregon to the east coast, she established a home for them. Unable to have children, they cultivated strong friendships everywhere they traveled and lived. During her volunteer life, Thelma learned to sew. She developed a considerable talent and made many of hers and Paul's clothes. When she and Paul settled in the District in 1967, she volunteered with the District Chapter of the American Red Cross, meeting and working side by side with women from several embassies. She also served with distinction in the Smithsonian's Visitor Information and Resource Center. In her free time, she liked to observe cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and sessions of Congress. She took full advantage of what the District had to offer. Well into her 90s she was a familiar figure as she took daily walks around the Watergate complex and the terrace at the Kennedy Center. She met and befriended people of all ages and from several countries. She had the kind of smile that welcomed camaraderie. She traveled several times a year and made friends with hotel bartenders, maids and wealthy clientele alike. Flight attendants fussed over her because she was so open, funny and unassuming. Since it's impossible to sum-up a fully-lived life that spanned nearly a century I'll just hope that you, the reader, go away with the knowledge that she was far more than a survivor of hardship, occasional illness and loss. She was always interested in learning more, helping more, doing more and giving more. We, her friends, will cherish the memories she made with us.

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