44 years ago today, a precious little girl named Jennifer Arleen was welcomed into our arms. I praise God that we were blessed to have her in our lives for 25 years… just as she blessed others around her. She was Miss Spencer 1993, Spencer-Van Etten Valedictorian 1996, graduating from Houghton College in 2000 with degrees in elementary education and psychology, earning her master’s as a school psychologist from Alfred University in 2003. She was good, gifted actually, in this field. Even in high school, friends sought her out for advice.
We loved our three kids and tried to do a lot together – like going for walks, playing board games or outdoor games, watching our son’s baseball games as a family, stacking firewood together, eating supper together with time to talk about our day, and listening to classic rock and Christian contemporary music. But life is short. All too quickly our kids grow up and move on in life, leaving us to wonder where all those busy years went. Now I understand why older relatives would say to me as a child, “Don’t wish to grow up so fast. You’ll get there soon enough.” They were right… time sneaks by all too quickly… and Jenn passed away on June 30, 2003 after an unexpected collapse two days earlier.
When words cannot begin to speak… a mother’s heart never forgets. How blessed we’ve been, and how blessed we are, with God’s gift of our children, each especially precious and dear. It’s a time to remember, not in sadness of heart, but joy for the blessing, of a life once lived, a gift of memories, a legacy of peace.
I grieved, and grieved hard for a life well lived and well loved. But that time has passed, and I now celebrate the joy of remembering a beautiful life and all who were touched by her life and love. I miss Jenn, but praise God for the memories of her life well lived and love freely given as we take forward with us the joy from a precious gift.
Jennifer was our firstborn, an answer to prayer after two miscarriages. She was born at 3:03 on Monday morning, April 24, 1978. And, I always remembered it snowed about two inches that morning, after having been in the 80s the week before! As excited as I was that we had our precious little one, I remember thinking after we brought Jennifer home – now what do I do? I had a baby to care for, and even though I’d shared the care of four younger brothers, and babysat every other day with my sister all thru high school for 4 kids next door, and for many others as a teen, this was different – this was my own baby, 24 hours a day! I carried her into our trailer and snuggled her into her bassinette, a precious little bundle. Like all new mothers, I learned day by day as she grew up.
Jennifer took her time learning to talk. Maybe, being the first and only child for a while, her Mom knew just what she wanted so she really didn’t have to speak much. One night, looking out the window of the backroom door waiting for Ed to come home from the barn, I purposely did not pick Jenny up to see what she would do. Very clearly she said, “Pick…me…up.” Her first sentence! So, of course I picked her up!
As she grew older, Jenny loved being by her Daddy in the barn, riding in the grain cart, “helping” to feed the cows and mixing up the calf replacer milk formula with her Daddy.
And then along came Emily. Ed had knee surgery in late October 1980 for torn cartilage from squatting under the cows and tractors on the farm. The day after he came home, we went back to the hospital as he hobbled around on crutches. Emily had decided she was ready to arrive nine days early on Sunday, November 2nd. That was typical of Emily, ready to face the world and eager for the next adventure. Another beautiful little girl, with a lot of pretty black hair, though she’s definitely blonde now.
Jenny was given a twin bed before Emily was born, which made her feel like a big girl! She loved her baby sister Emily dearly, and I think fancied she was “her” baby. She often climbed into the crib to sleep with Emily overnight.
We now had two busy, growing toddlers to care for, good little girls who loved to play together and make their own fun. We built our house in the summer of 1982 while expecting Dan, and moved in on August 18th. Though active throughout the summer with the usual gardening, canning and freezing vegetables and fruit, the move took much more out of me than expected, and I was utterly exhausted. The girls loved all the steps in the house, and often played with their dolls or had a tea party there! The free space in the basement provided room to ride their tricycles around. In preparation for the new baby, Emi was moved from the crib into the bottom of a bunkbed – she was a big girl now! And Jennifer and Emily became big sisters to their brother, Daniel, on October 28th.
Nearly two years later, our county Pennysaver held an art contest for the annual community brochure. It was to include something specific to Tioga County with a $50 prize. I entered the contest with the hope that, if I won, I could buy a swing set that I longed to give my children. God knew my heart’s desire and, amazingly, I won! I had not had time to refine my collage sketches of Tioga County life, but my kids got their first swing set!
We enjoyed playing games, taking walks in the back fields or on the hill, played badminton, volleyball, card games, and board games; and, in the winter, snow forts and life-sized snowmen were made, with sledding down the slope behind our property. We invented a few games of our own – like floor hockey in the kitchen while waiting for supper to cook. We used a small ball and attempted to kick it with bare feet past the other person to score. The kids also played bowling in the hall by setting up empty 2-liter soda bottles, using a tennis ball or similar-sized ball to roll down the hall, knocking over as many bottles as possible.
I sewed a lot when they were younger, making clothes for the kids, Ed and myself – shirts, pants, dresses, nightgowns, bathrobes, and even doll clothes. I loved playing with my little ones, even on my hands and knees on the floor or outside on the ground. Saturday evening was always homemade pizza night since we got married. The kids loved it, and as a teen Jenn made tapioca pudding with layered blueberries for dessert – a delicious way to top off dinner! She loved to fuss over meals and make delicious treats, a natural at cooking like her Daddy’s Mom.
Jenn also had a favorite joke, “Hollow Statue,” which she told with a terrific “old European” accent. One day, a very wealthy businessman decided to build a new home with the finest materials money could buy. As he discussed the house with the contractor, he told the man what he wanted. “Over here, I want a curved staircase, made of the best wood with fancy railings. Here, I want a beautiful fireplace, made with the finest marble you can find. And, over here, I want a ‘hollow statue.’” “Not a problem; we can do all of this,” said the contractor. “But, there’s one thing I don’t understand. You want a ‘hollow statue?’” “Oh yes; I want the very best ‘hollow statue.’” “Ok, that’s what we’ll do.” Not able to be around during the construction, the owner told the contractor that no expense should be spared for the best items. When the mansion was finally completed, the contractor showed the owner all of the fine details. “Oh, this is beautiful! It’s just what I wanted. It’s perfect! I like it very much!” exclaimed the owner. “But, wait… what’s this?” The contractor replied, “Why, that’s what you asked for – a hollow statue.” “No, no, no. That’s not what I want. You know – ‘Rrrring! Rrrring! Hollow! Statue?” I loved to hear her tell this story with an “old-world” accent and her graceful, feminine hand gestures.
As we look back with 20/20 hindsight, we tend think of our loved ones who have left us as virtually perfect. I find myself doing that with Jenn, but I know she had her faults too. It was said by their band teacher that Jenn was a special person who was kind, loving, thoughtful and sweet. She was a quiet person, who never said a bad word about anyone. Jenn truly had a sweet, gentle spirit. She cared about others and gave of herself in helping them. She always had time to listen to her friends or family, to listen to those who sought her advice, or to those who just needed an ear. But…
As a child, Jenn liked to take chocolate chips to her room, hiding them in her desk drawer. One time, this concept went too far. Their dad was at The Carroll Center for the Blind in Massachusetts, and I was grocery shopping with all three kids. As I turned around, Jenn was slowly taking her hands out of her pocket with an odd look on her face. I knew…I just knew what had happened. Sure enough, she’d slipped a candy bar into her pocket. I made her put it back, telling her that the store manager had literally just walked past us. If he had seen her, he would have charged her with shoplifting, I said. And, people who do that get sent to jail. Maybe that was harsh to tell an 11-year-old, but this was going to be stopped. On the way home, I even drove past the county jail. I’m sure the message was received, and Jenn never attempted to steal anything again.
Our children – each a unique individual, a most precious gift from God to be treasured and loved as we guide them on their journey through life. My late friend and distant cousin, Mimi, shared a quote from her stitchery – “There are two lasting gifts we can give to our children – one is roots, the other is wings.” May we love our children enough to provide them with the deep roots of a sturdy foundation, and yet love them enough to discipline them, giving them wings and freedom to fly out into the great big world on their own.
Linda A. Roorda
Music expresses the song of the soul,
From out the depth of pain and despair,
To upward heights of love and joy…
When words cannot express,
music brings forth its lilting song
to comfort and soothe with healing touch…
Remember with me a tender time
colored by loss and deepest grief
yet filled with hope and contented peace…
A peace beyond all understanding,
in the flight Home of a precious soul
to glory and joy beyond compare…