To the best of my recollection, this is what I said at mom’s funeral service in Cheyenne, March 24, 2010:
First, we’d like to thank Father Steve. We’re all pretty sure that my mom would have really liked you! Secondly, thank you ALL for being here and a special thanks to our cousins from Kansas and Colorado who made it here despite the snowstorm.
Our mom Eileen was quite a special lady. We always knew it – what’s amazing to us, however, is that we’re not so sure SHE knew it!
We have shared many giggles and tears the last few days, and in that process, one thing that’s clear is that she made a strong impression wherever she went.
She had a ready laugh and a practical streak a mile long. People at hotels in Hawaii remembered the friendly lady with the big smile – and the big hair – from Cheyenne.
She was a handicraft maker, and in so doing, created heirloom treasures for many. She knit and knit and knit — we don’t remember when she didn’t have a project underway.
Eileen also sewed: band uniforms, and prom dresses, and cheerleading uniforms and costumes for plays we were in, and when she was discovered the art of beading, she made necklaces for every lady on her bus trips.
And she cooked. Eileen always also found time to whip up flat-sheet chocolate cakes – I think some of you might remember eating them — for away games and family trips, and she also had loaves of home-made banana bread to share with bus-trip passengers at rest stops.
If this makes it sound like she was an early Martha Stewart, well – she really wasn’t. Long before it was fashionable, Eileen worked alongside dad in the travel business, running branch offices on her own, keeping track of airline tickets, doing the books.
She didn’t work hard to be a role model – she just worked hard at whatever she did.
And she knew how to make things fun.
She was smart, too, better at just about anything involving numbers than anyone would imagine. Educated by her travel, she encouraged us – and expected us — to excel in the classroom. And although she would brag about each of us for different things later, I know the fact that all three of us earned college degrees meant a lot to her.
She knew what mattered more than anything – her family and her friends and, yes, Father Steve, her faith. At a time when the term “community service” hadn’t yet been coined, she gave of her time, talents and treasure to our school, our churches, our town, and our state in ways that were usually behind the scenes, but still important.
And she never hesitated to help someone one-on-one, either. Friends I knew 35-plus years ago while traveling in Up With People recall her visits to the cast fondly – I heard from many of them over the last few days. And last summer I learned she’d cashed a check for someone, in Spain, in 1973, a kindness well-remembered by my fellow-castmate but something I’d never even heard about.
Maybe you are getting the picture here.
Our mother was generous and resilient, in a word — classy.
As most of you know, Eileen took several world cruises during the last 15 years of her life. During those trips, she took part in a project called the “Gifts of Love,” in which she and fellow craftspeople would make things while underway for charity.
She could be gently persuasive, which gave her a unique kind of power. For example, she was the one who talked Holland America Cruiseline into buying the yarn for the knitters. Yes, she was already in her late 80s, and traveled mostly to avoid Cheyenne’s harsh winters; she recruited many other volunteers to assist her and that made it a social thing, as well as a work of mercy.
Like Father said Steve, we can’t talk about Mom without talking, at least a bit, about Dad. There’s a scene in Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, in which Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin join hands, and the one says to the other: “I just wanted to be sure of you.” (We called Mom and Dad Moo and Pooh, so this has special significance to us.)
Well, they were always sure of each other. And we were always sure of them.
They gave us roots, and they gave us wings. First they appreciated their own roots – both born in the Kansas farm fields, they were gutsy and created a strong business and a successful life here in Cheyenne. Their own wings were evidenced by their willingness to open new worlds to others.
I wonder how many people would never have taken a cruise themselves, or seen the tulips in Holland, Michigan, or traveled to Iowa to see the Pope, or gone to Europe or any place else — without the fact that they trusted the guidance and expertise offered by Eileen and Larry – and later Joan.
My mom taught us how to laugh at our own foibles, and relish time with family and friends; she gave us a lifelong interest in travel and many other wonderful, warm memories.
There’s a popular series of books out right now called “Six-Word Memoirs.” The idea is to capture someone’s essence in just a short phrase.
To write one for Mother would seem to limit her, but I believe this works: “Heaped care on others, was loved.”
“Heaped care on others, was loved.” We can only hope to leave such a legacy behind.
We love you, and we thank you, Mom. And one last thing – please forgive us for all the times we caused you to roll your eyes, and say “oh you girls.”
Here’s to you, Margaret Eileen Murphy Uphoff.