Ever since there was a Ron & Joan, Joan has been family, and an important part of my life. Joan married my cousin Ron when I was about thirteen, and from that day my sisters and I received beautiful handmade cards every year on our birthdays. The birthday cards only stopped when I turned eighteen -- the story Joan told me was that she was making my card that year, but was interrupted when Rebecca was born five days before my birthday.
From the time she joined our family, we thought of Joan as OUR cousin. I would never say she was Ron's better half...for one thing, Joan was never half of anything. But I do think she made all of our lives richer. To me, admittedly an admiring younger cousin, she seemed comfortable in her skin, sure of herself. She was knowledgeable about the world, about ecology and healthy living. She was an artist and lived the life she wanted to live. She had definite opinions, didn't mind a little good family gossip, but was also one of the most accepting people in my world.
As a young woman discovering who I was, I often brought friends with me to LA for a visit. Whether my friend was male or female, Joan would always ask, "One bed or two?" When I suggested she was really pretty cool -- for someone over 30 -- she reminded me that she might be a few years older but she was definitely my generation. And besides, she said, it was easier to wash just one set of sheets.
I loved staying at Ron and Joan's. Our paths crossed often -- during my college years I spent summers working at a camp in Malibu when they lived in West LA, and Chicago was a perfect stop off from Detroit. For me Joan was the perfect host. She was always welcoming, but would go on with her life and her plans. I liked that. I could just drop in and never felt like I was imposing. (Although the girls did let slip once that they would hide the semi-sweet chocolate chips when I was coming). Other than that, Joan always seemed happy to see me. I suppose it helped that my idea of fun was playing with the girls. Rebecca and Julie were my taste of things to come, and my son Reuben, in turn, was their adored baby cousin.
I emulated Joan as a mom. I loved watching her with the girls. She so enjoyed them, talked to them with great respect. But was patient when they acted like kids. She was easy going and relaxed, without being indulgent. The only time I saw her really lose her patience was soon after they moved to Evanston. It was a snowy day and Joan had spent half an hour wrestling with buttons and zippers and scarves so the girls could go outside and play, and Rebecca -- who was about Allanna's age -- thought it was funny to pull off Julie's little mittens. Joan did not find it amusing.
We were just reminiscing about another instance when Joan got really angry - with me this time - involving an extra innings Dodgers/ CUBS game. The Cubs were playing in LA and Rebecca and Julie, now teens, asked me to take them to the game. They provided a pep talk to my sons, Reuben and Eli, on how to root for Chicago in a sea of Dodger fans. The Cubs lost badly. Of course we stayed for the last out. But, Joan could not understand how we could possibly get home so late. She was very upset and worried. Evidently Dodger stadium isn't in the safest neighborhood. I'm from Detroit, so I didn't really notice. By the way, by the end of the game, Reuben and Eli had purchased Dodger hats and refused to sit with us.
When I picture Joan, I think of her enjoying life's moments. In my wedding album she is laughing with Ron's mom, my aunt Shirley, probably sharing some good family stories. At my son's wedding she is excited for the bride and groom as they walk down the aisle, and then dancing with Ron -- sharing the wedding anniversary. I have a picture of her at Passover a few years back talking with my sister Karen -- catching up on news with her hands in the air and her face glowing. In the Africa pictures Ron shared with us in April, she is showing fellow women travelers how to squat out in the woods. I picture her great love of the outdoors -- as newlyweds camping with Ron in Hawaii, backpacking trips with Julie. She described vividly to Cheryl and me being under the stars in the vast sky and feeling one with the universe. And I see her in Muskegon in the summer, at the heart of everything, organizing the family meals, playing with Allanna, and always catching up with the latest family sagas.
Like so many of you, Joan's love is present in my home through her art. When tempted to save these fine pieces for display, she reminded us that they were meant to be enjoyed and used every day. Though we miss her terribly, she left us with these reminders to enjoy life's moments and to make of the earth something beautiful.