Changing gears for this week’s entry to pay tribute to someone very special.
We said goodbye to a grand lady last week. A woman of old world style, grace, and polite manners. For most of the thirty-six years I’d known her, she was fastidious… meticulous, always doing things the proper way.
She was my mother-in-law, Dorothy Reevers.
When you first met Dorothy, you knew she was a different breed, formed from a mold broken long ago.
Dorothy’s creole features were obvious—fair, mulatto skin, thick, dark hair, and almond-shaped eyes. But when she spoke it left many confused. While her own French-Creole mother barely spoke enough English to manage the household, Dorothy had no European lilt, West Indian pidgin or Louisiana geechie in her speech. She and her older brother, James, spoke with perfect diction and enunciation. And neither spoke a word of French. Their father, Elijah forbade it, believing their ethnic heritage was barrier enough to a successful future.
Julmiez, Dorothy’s mother, agreed to her children not learning or speaking French, but one thing she wouldn’t compromise on was school. Dorothy received her entire education from kindergarten through college from parochial schools in and around Berkeley, California where she was born. Some of her best anecdotes were about nuns in the classroom… especially Sister Helen Grace. Even after converting to Seventh Day Adventism years later. Dorothy would continue to genuflect whenever she passed a Catholic church.
With her poise and grace, it’s not hard to believe Dorothy was a debutante and introduced to society at sixteen. Her high morals and business-like attitude were greatly admired in the community and she was called upon to mentor to other young debutantes and would even serve as an officer of the Debutante Society.
When I met this incredible woman more than forty years later, I knew she was a force to be reckoned with. I also knew I was being observed… and graded as a daughter-in-law. I won her approval less than a week later after making dinner for her. She fell in love with me after having my lasagna! For the next three decades, I would be required to bring lasagna to all family gatherings, church functions, and even a couple of potlucks at her job.
Standing only four feet, ten inches tall, Dorothy wore four-inch heels every day of her life until she retired in 1989. She didn’t do it be ‘be’ taller. The few extra inches helped to put things within reach of her tiny frame. Dorothy was independent and self-sufficient and refused to be looked down on because of her stature.
And she never backed away from a fight.
When we met in early 1982, Dorothy and several co-workers had filed suit against their employer, the State of California, for working them in higher rank classifications past labor law limits and without the higher wages for those ranks.
Over the next few years, her co-workers were bullied and harassed into dropping out of the suit. Some retired, others moved away and dropped out of sight. By 1987, Dorothy was the sole plaintiff. And she wouldn’t budge.
As assistant to the department’s director, Dorothy had a laundry list of job duties, and in true job
intimation tactics, her boss would add others at random. (Never mind some of them fell in line with the very reason employees filed suit to begin with.)
Shortly before her retirement, the courts ruled the state had acted in bad faith and did violate labor laws.
The state also lost on appeal.
As the lone plaintiff, Dorothy won all her back-pay plus punitive damages.
When I congratulated her, she simply shook her head and said, “Dear, what they did was wrong, and you can’t hide wrong forever.”
It was just that simple for her.
As was life.
Dorothy believed in God, home, and family. Even when ill, I don’t know of a day when she missed saying morning prayers. And I don’t mean, “God bless the poor, etc.”, but literally down on her knees at her bedside…with a list of names and their situations!
Having one sibling, and both parents coming from small families, Dorothy had a strong sense of family, and longed for a large family. The mother of four had ten grandchildren, twelve great grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren! And, she doted on each and every one. It was inspiring to see someone get so much joy from making others happy.
But with joy comes sadness and Dorothy was no stranger to it. She lost her dad in 1964 and her mom in 1984. (Julmiez Davis passed away nine days short of her 101st birthday.) Death is a part of life and Dorothy mourned her parents as most adult children with families of their own do while moving on with life.
However, in the early 2000s, her resolve was sorely tested.
In the span of three short years, Dorothy lost her oldest grandson, brother (and only sibling), and her husband of fifty years, Elmer… all to cancer.
They were devastating blows which temporarily impacted her health. Yet, as her health improved, Dorothy appeared to be stronger and more resilient.
But fate wasn’t done with her. In January of 2008, Dorothy’s oldest daughter, and a great-granddaughter were killed along with seven others in a tour bus accident during a high school ski trip.
Dorothy was the epitome of a strong woman, comforting others. She attended a memorial service at her great-granddaughter’s high school, where she embraced and comforted students and faculty… and added more names to her ever-growing prayer list.
However, even the strongest among us can only withstand so much loss, and an emotionally broken heart can only be broken once. If it’s not allowed to heal fully, subsequent turmoil rocks us to our souls, stealing our essence a little at a time.
This was the case with Dorothy. Never fully recovered from losing close family and the love of her life, the losses changed her. Not in a drastic way or by radical measures. But, her smile wasn’t quite as bright. The sparkle in her eyes we all were so used to seeing was replaced by a sadness at burying too many family members who should have outlived her.
Dorothy passed away on January 12, 2018 at the age of 93. While she took medication for mild dementia and a blood platelet problem, she wasn’t ‘sick’ or suffering from a major illness. When she and I last spoke the week before Christmas and I asked how she was doing, she replied, “Dear, I’m just tired.” She went quickly, from a cardiac episode. Paramedics arrived only six minutes after being called but could not revive her.
As I looked around during her memorial service, I realized there was only one person there I did not know. So loved and respected was this wonderful woman, people traveled to Arizona from as far away as California and New York to celebrate her life and say their last goodbyes. Dorothy enriched every life she touched, never expecting or wanting anything in return.
She was a blessing not fully realized until she was gone.