I usually mange to forget all about funerals, or memorial services, which are far more common here. But this one I needed to attend. And another friend was in charge and gave me extra reminders. So I went to the service to remember Joanne, who has made appearances in my life ever since I was a baby.
Joanne was a real character and part of that was she was not a quiet presence in a room. She was loud and flamboyant. She started life with two strikes against her, you might say. I don’t know if they were congenital or due to some birth trauma, but she had a hip problem that caused one leg to be notably shorter than the other, so she had to wear a heavy built up shoe on that foot. She was also legally blind, the kind of kid who can see something, but even with the strongest coke bottle glasses, she couldn’t see like everyone else. She also had difficulties with her hearing, at least in later life. I’m not sure exactly when that one started. It might explain why she always seemed to talk louder than was necessary. At any rate, she lived with a good deal of pain, but she never seemed to let it stop her.
On the other hand, she was quite intelligent and did well in school, where her vision did not hinder her too much. She played the piano and had a wonderful contralto voice. Most of those who attended her service had sung in choirs with her. Though her vision was impaired, she would take her music home and decipher it slowly, then commit the whole thing to memory so that she could keep up with the others in choir and sing solos as well. She composed music, though most did not get transcribed into standard notation. Even in her last years, she was talking about borrowing an electronic keyboard, to record some new music.
Many decades ago, the schools did not really know how to deal with a vision impaired child with a pronounced limp. So, as one of the attendees informed us, Joanne was bounced around in school a bit as a young child. She was actually sent away to a boarding school for a while, but came back because they kept feeding her food she was allergic to. When she returned, she went to the public schools and just had to cope as well as she was able. There were no services, and whether she was given extra time on things like tests, to try to decipher the written parts, was completely up to the individual teachers. Sometimes, she was punished if she brought home bad grades, as if simply being intelligent could make up for slow visual processing. Needless to say, she was not included in the in-crowd of the time either.
But Joanne was a survivor. I did not know her well during my younger years, but was told that she enjoyed the occasional church or choir outing. On those occasions, she was known to tell ghost stories, or pull pranks on others. Once she showed up in costume and sang an operatic aria. After her parents were gone, she managed alone in a 3 bedroom house, for many years. She gathered together a hodgepodge of people willing to run errands, do laundry (once she was no longer able to do that herself), carry our the garbage, and bring in groceries.
Now one person at her service described her as accepting of her lot in life. I did not see her that way. Maybe it was because my mother was one of the people she would discuss her faith with. She believed in God, but sometimes questioned His love for her, especially as her vision deteriorated to the point where she was completely blind, despite all that doctors could do for her. From things my mother told me, and also things she said during the years when I would do grocery runs for her, I saw her as being something like the biblical Jacob, wrestling with God. It is certainly nice to think of her finally being free of her physical limitations and in the presence of God.
Joanne was a picky eater, in a very unique way. Those who shopped for her had to learn which things she liked. First of all, she ate no poultry at all. So you had to read labels and make sure there was no turkey or chicken included in her frozen meals. In addition, unlike many older people, she liked things spicy. She ordered spicy salad dressing, mexicorn, hot chili, and loved it when I stumbled upon some jalapeno bagels. Other than that, she could hardly survive without her daily dose of citrus fruits. I have to wonder if she thought all the institutional food in her last couple of years was actually killing her. When someone bought her the wrong thing, she would pass it on to the next provider she thought could use it. Usually that was me and there were times I passed things on in turn to one food collection drive or another, at least if it was non-perishable.
Joanne was a real character, and I was honored to know her.