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Rhody — “A Swell Gal”

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Rhoda Jane Hurley died the evening of Friday, July 22 surrounded by many loving family members. To be honest it was a shock. She was very much like the Energizer Bunny, always rallying and roaring back stronger than ever. Not this time.

She was born in Claremont, NH on October 8, 1938 to Lottie Mae and Clifford A. Densmore, the fourth “surprise” with much older siblings. Her fondest childhood memories were of her mother’s beautiful home and gardens, and she used to reminisce about the fresh garden vegetables — tomato sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, radish and butter sandwiches and gorgeous salad plates her mother would lay out. She had a pet pig, who would meet her after school and she was allowed to shoot at cans for recreation. Her parents’ deaths in her eighth year haunted her all of her life, but she persevered, raised by her older sister, Carol, and traveled to a bigger world than Claremont. Her sister was married to a Navy man, and they lived on Chicago’s North Shore in a striking Art Deco apartment building at 5200 Sheridan Road for a few years. When she was 11, she traveled by plane to her maternal Grammy Angela’s in Maine, a place she felt cared for and well-loved. She had deep roots throughout New England, with ancestors having fought at Bunker Hill and in Shay’s Rebellion.

Rhoda finished her school years in Rhode Island, graduating from No. Kingstown High School in 1956, where she was known as “Rhody,” a swell gal with a terrific personality, the nicest girl in the senior class or any other class. Just a blue-eyed blonde, never known to wear a frown, her sunny disposition won her many friends. She planned on entering the nursing field, but met a dashing young Marine named Bill Hurley at the Hingham Marine Barracks pool, and nursing school became a distant memory. Roller coaster rides at Nantasket Beach, followed by Bill’s many trips to RI while courting, led to marriage on January 16, 1957 in E. Greenwich, RI. They had no real honeymoon, but in March of 1957, they were off to NC and the journey began.

Within six years, there were many moves to various bases throughout the South. Four daughters were born, and her husband was off to the Mediterranean and the Caribbean for the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other assignments. Through it all, she held home base together while her husband did his job, all this by the age of 25, with four girls, ages 5 and under.

In Quantico, life settled down for a bit, with Bill back on base. She pursued Altar Rosary, ceramics classes and decorating her home as the girls grew a bit.

In the summer of 1967, after a Cape Cod vacation, Bill moved her to a house in a brand new Hyannis neighborhood. Within a week, he was off to Vietnam and Rhoda settled into an unfinished house with her girls, ages 3 through 9. Throughout his “tour,” she set about finishing their house, had a midnight sled ride one snowy night with neighbors down the only hill around, and set about worrying about Bill during the Siege of Khe Sahn while caring for their daughters. Her girls were her life and she particularly loved their school vacations when they were home with her. The winter of 1968, she finally had that honeymoon in Hawaii with Bill when he had his R and R from Vietnam. When he returned for good that summer of 1968, the next move was to Ohio Steel Country to run the Marine Recruiting Center. It was the turbulent times of Kent State and Vietnam protests, but after two years they returned to the Cape for a couple of years so Bill could finish college, before it was off for another tour, this one in California. In 1974, they returned to the cape for good, with Bill doing tours of duty that didn’t require moving the family.

Rhoda loved interior design, refinishing furniture, and making a home. She was a long-time subscriber to Better Homes and Gardens, she loved reading, especially history, biographies and mysteries, and she was an avid map collector. Her love of geography she shared with her son-in-law, Patrick with a yearly subscription to National Geographic. Although a homemaker, she was also very much a business manager, keeping a meticulous household and records. She dressed impeccably, and Kathleen Needham used to tell Rhoda’s daughter “your mother was always so glamorous.”

Her daughters’ friends all loved her as she did them, particularly Holly Murzic Romotsky, who predeceased her in 1986. She swapped her car for Holly’s 1960’s battered Rambler wagon one weekend so daughter “Patti Ann” and her friend Holly, would have a safe, reliable vehicle to travel off-cape in. She knew what she was in for and loved to tell the story, as sometimes you had to lift the Rambler’s hood and use a wrench on the choke to get it to start.

Rhoda was a great storyteller, and she could tell you a good one, full of colorful details if you had the time to listen. A smart, independent woman with a sharp tongue and a memory like an elephant’s, she had a sense of humor, loads of personality and was known as a “hoot,” “feisty,” and a “cool lady.” She adored dogs, particularly Bucky, her beloved Obi (with his own room and loveseat), Joey, Bob, and numerous Sullivan canines. It was a mutual admiration society.

It was hard letting go of her daughters as they left home, but fortunately there were grandchildren to sustain her for a few more decades.

Daughter Jacqueline remembers most “my mother calling me JJ, how much she loved me, how much she loved her son-in-law Patrick, and how much she loved our daughters Meredith and Caroline. I will always know these things to be true.” Betsy recalls the time when she was three and Rhoda left her at the Base Nursery Care while she shopped once. Afterwards, in the car Betsy stood in the back seat, ranting at her mother, “Don’t you ever leave me. I am not ready for you to leave me!” Betsy remembered “Oh I was mad at her. She was so flustered I think that was the time she ran a red light and got a ticket.”

Niece Debbie recalls wild times — “one that immediately comes to mind includes flying dishes,” and her mother, Patsy, Rhoda’s older sister — but also healing times. “Reconnecting with your mother was a wonderful thing. It helped me in dealing with my mother’s death, and it helped with some of my unresolved anger. I love your mother as if she were my own, but without the hurtful baggage.” Spirited Densmore girls, flying dishes, sisterly shenanigans, but always love in the end.

A few years before she died, Rhoda reminisced, about Betsy’s birth, life in Chicago, her mother’s garden, her own beautiful penmanship and how daughter Kathleen’s penmanship was just as beautiful. She’d cry sometimes, saying how much she was going to miss her children when she was gone.

According to Marty, Patricia’s mate, “We never agreed on anything. She was a conservative Republican. I was a liberal Democrat. She loved the Mannings. I loathed the Mannings. She loved horse racing and hated baseball. Quite the opposite for me. The one thing we did have in common is that we would never concede defeat when we got in an argument. After a time, we tended to avoid hot topics, knowing that it was futile to think that either one of us would concede to the other. More recently I would call her on a regular basis, usually in the evening. Rhoda tended to take her frustrations out on Patricia so I decided I would take up some of the burden. After a short while I ended up enjoying our conversations. We eventually were able to even talk politics, as she became a disgruntled Republican and I a disillusioned Democrat. We found a common ground. I miss our evening chats already. I suspect we’ll resume them in a future life — another place, another time, but never recalling our past. Until we meet again.”

As granddaughter Molly writes,” To my best friend, spirit animal, and the woman who gave me all my sass, style and sweet tooth, my heart is in a million pieces without you. Wherever you are, Gram, I hope the decor is impeccable and the Manishewitz is flowing. I’ll meet you there someday. I’ll miss you forever. I’ll love you for always.”

Besides her daughters Patricia (mate Marty Gravelle), Kathleen, Jacqueline (Patrick Sullivan) and Elizabeth (mate Vincent D’Olympio), Rhoda leaves behind her grandchildren Anthony and Molly Pizzo, Sophie Larios, Helen, Mairead and Albert Hurley, Meredith and Caroline Sullivan, great-grandson Isaac, niece Debra Coderre Woodman, and numerous friends and relatives.

A closing note in her yearbook from high school pal Bub “Lanky” Ramstead read, “To Rhoda, If in heaven we don’t meet, hand in hand we’ll stand the heat. Lots of luck.”

The last word: If Rhoda were reading this she’d snap, “That’s not the way it happened!” and she’d proceed to set the record straight. The story never ends. We miss you, mama.

**We always pronounced it Mum or Mumma.
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Monday’s Child

I was born on a Monday and I always love it when my birthday falls on a Monday. Just finished the cake with my sweetie, my dad and my daughter here. My mom’s down the street, probably enjoying the cake I sent home to her with my dad. 9:09PM another year turns for me. I love that my birthday month is the same month as the Jewish New Year. There’s lots of love going around on a birthday if we are fortunate. I am.

The time flew, the time crawled

“What you preserve is the cheeriest memento mori. It is a way to say and mean: of everything that passes, this is what I choose to keep. It is a clear reminder, there for the tasting, of where and when and how you have lived.”

Suzanne’s been gone a month today. She was my daughter’s boyfriend’s mom. A person who loved well and who was well loved. I think of her daily. I think of her boys daily, my girl and all the people heartbroken by her loss. When she was on the last leg of her dying journey I would turn for solace to one of my favorite bloggers, Hannah, from Inherit the Spoon. In between writing about food, her boys, and home, she writes of memories…in the making, and those made, of her mom, who died a few years ago, a lady who sounds like she was also about 59, same as Suzanne.

Recently, Hannah posted the above quote from a book I enjoyed reading a while back, An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler. It made me think of Danny, Brian’s older brother, Suzanne’s firstborn. Both boys left work last March to come home to care for their mom. Danny left San Francisco, where he was a chef at Outerlands, Brian took a leave of absence from his job in Boston. Time seemed to crawl for me as I held my breath, hoping, praying for miracles.

And when the miracle didn’t happen, the time that was left for them seems like it flew. A whole lifetime. Not nearly enough for any of us, glib as we may want to be with our easy platitudes about grief and loss. I just try to remember the Dr. Seuss quote Suzanne included in her obituary, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” So like her to want to comfort from beyond. Suzanne, wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying an everlasting meal. We miss you.

Cork Love

The lyrics from Sinead Lohan’s song “No Mermaid” have been running through my head for a while. So I googled it and imagine my surprise and delight to find out she’s from Cork City. One more reason to be proud of my rebel Irish roots. My revolutionary American roots are a whole ‘nother story.

No Mermaid by Sinead Lohan
We went down to the edge of the water
You were afraid to go in
You said there might be sharks out there in the ocean
And I said i’m only going for a swim

I was swimming around in a circle
I wasn’t always in view
You said we might get into red flag danger
And I am alone when i’m not with you

But I am no mermaid
I am no mermaid
And I am no fisherman’s slave
I am no mermaid
I am no mermaid
I keep my head above the waves

We were swinging from the centre of the ceiling
You were afraid to give in
I said I know i’ll always live for this feeling
And you closed your eyes you said never again

We were dancing in the middle of the desert
You said we’ll burn under the hot sun
I said i’d rather be the colour of pleasure
Than watch like you from under the thumb

But I am no mermaid
I am no mermaid
And I am no fisherman’s slave
I am no mermaid
I am no mermaid
I keep my head above the waves

We went down to the edge of the water
You were afraid to go in
You said there might be sharks out there in the ocean
And I said i’m only going for a swim

I was living around in a circle
I wasn’t always in view
You said we might get into red flag danger
And I am alone when I’m not with you

But I am no mermaid
I am no mermaid
And I am no fisherman’s slave
I am no mermaid
I am no mermaid
I keep my head above the wave

*sigh* she writes and sings so beautifully. I hope I am not infringing on her copyright by posting her lyrics.

Guilt

There is no rhyme or reason to guilt. No point in figuring it out. It just is. Trying to make sense of it is tiresome and depletes energy best used for moving beyond it; not questioning it, but accepting it. Call it Catholic, Jewish, Irish Catholic, maternal; it’s all still guilt. And it’s a part of my psyche the way love is.

Guilt. It’s what’s for dinner. With a side of forgiveness.

Can I talk to you tonight?

Our tear ducts are our soul’s pressure valves. A friend told me that years ago. I’m not one prone to tears because my dad always told me when I was little that big girls don’t cry. But I’ve cried streams this month, April, the month of showers. I’ve tried to save my mother all of my life, but I can’t. I know it. I just have to try to save her stories. And no, she’s not gone yet. But it has been so hard to watch her decline over the years. I’m tired and she seems tired too.

My Sister’s Soap

My youngest sister Betsy used to make the best soap not so very long ago. Now she’s teaching yoga. She already has a good number of regular students so I imagine her yoga classes are as good as her soap was.

I miss that soap though and some of the other body luxuries she created, but luckily I still have a small stash of her soap that might last me another six months to a year if I’m lucky. Once you are spoiled with handmade soap, there’s no going back to Ivory.

Twirling Spaghetti

It used to be called spaghetti, rigatoni, macaroni, lasagna or whatever noodle it happened to be. I don’t remember calling it pasta. Tonight while I was preparing it, I had a food memory from childhood. It’s a twirling spaghetti technique I don’t see my parents do any more. But, they used to. With a fork, they would spear a clump of pas-ghetti and using a large tablespoon, twirl the spaghetti in the bowl of the spoon, using their fork as a sort of baton, before eating it. It was so grown-up to me and something I didn’t think I could ever master then. I tried it tonight and smiled at the memory.

Breads

I told my daughter yesterday I’d send her two bread recipes from my family files. One’s a super easy yeast bread I dubbed Irene’s bread after our Burlington neighbor who gave it to me. It’s a simple sandwich bread and tasty. Makes great French toast, too.

The other is the perfect Granny banana bread, this from a nurse I used to work with. You could call it Nana bread because it actually is her gran’s recipe!

The recipes:

Irene’s Bread
Combine 2 1/2 c. hot water, 3 Tbsp. sugar, 1 Tbsp. salt, 1/4 c. Oil. Add 2 scant Tbsp. yeast, cover and proof until foamy.
Stir in 6 to 6-1/2 c. Flour total (so 4 to 5 c. white if using whole wheat, too). Knead for 3 minutes til smooth and springy.
Oil dough and let rise in bowl in warm place for 45 min., punch down, let rest for 15 min. Put in 2 greased loaf pans. Put in oven for 10 to 20 min. for last rise. Turn oven to 400* & bake from that time for 35 min. Loaves are done if they sound hollow when you tap them — you’ll know. Cool on racks if you have them. Slather with butter or good olive oil (I like Trader Joe’s Greek Kalamata Olive Oil), and sprinkle with some flaky Maldon sea salt. Enjoy!

Jenn Gratton’s Nana Bread
3 large (or 4 small) very ripe (black is good) bananas
1 c. Sugar (I use a bit less)
1 egg or if veganizing, 1 Tbsp. ground flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water
Eggshell full or @ 2 Tbsp. oil
1 3/4 c. Flour
1 tsp. baking soda

Mash bananas, add sugar, oil and egg or substitute. Stir. Mix in flour and baking soda together. Don’t over mix, a few lumps are okay (makes a lighter loaf). Bake in greased loaf pan at 350* for 45 min. When knife inserted in loaf comes out clean (no gooey batter on it), turn bread out of pan onto cooling rack to cool. Another yum!

Role Reversal

When did it happen? As I left the rehab center the other day, I turned and waved to my mother from the walkway outside. She waved back to me from the window of her room. All I could think of is how it must have been for us when I was 5 years old, waving to her from the window of the bus on my way to kindergarten, as she waved back to me.