|Alice Eckhart (L) Jekyll Island, GA, June 1976|
Thirty seven years ago this coming August, I had the great privilege of meeting three amazing individuals. Within a year, one would become my Father-in-law, one my Mother-in-law, and the third my Aunt-in-law, although in all honesty they were just Mom, Dad, and Aunt Alice.
In ways unusual to me, and certainly outside of the family into which I was born, I was unaccustomed to seeing such broad, open acceptance of a newcomer into a very closely knit family as that I felt when I became a part of the Baier’s and Pletz’s of Lansing Michigan.
About a year after the wedding, Dad Baier would go home to meet the Savior he loved and served, fallen to inoperable cancer. I can honestly say I have never met so Godly a man, or so consistent a man in my life. Some have come close, and I mean no disrespect to them when I say this, but Oscar Baier was an amazing man who loved and served God as a deacon in his church, a faithful, loving husband, and adoring father to his two children, one of whom would be my wife for 22 years. I still miss him every day of my life.
In the years following Dad Baier’s home going, Mom Baier, Aunt Alice, Grandma’s Baier and Pletz would eventually sell their individual homes, pool their resources, and build the home where the four ladies would live together. Time’s passing brought the home going of both Grandmothers. Hey lived into their ninety’s and brought joy into the lives of those who knew them, and left holes in the hearts of those who loved them, when they went to meet their Savior.
Saturday morning at seven minutes past midnight, Aunt Alice took her last breath in this realm and opened her eyes in the presence of Jesus.
When I first moved to Michigan, I lived in Aunt Alice’s spare room the summer leading up to my marriage to her niece. A generous, independent woman, it was quickly obvious that beneath her sometimes gruff exterior beat a heart of pure gold. I was never her ‘nephew-in-law’. I was simply David.
Make no mistake, when I screwed up, something at which admittedly, I excel, she let me know it. I never had to question where this sainted woman stood on a subject. Open with her opinion, she expressed it with honesty and integrity, and never in my knowledge out of anger, although being who I know I am I’m certain there were many times she demonstrated great restraint around me.
She sang in the church choir, was active in women’s groups in her church, worked hard all of her life – even in retirement – and made brown gravy that was a food group all by itself.
She loved her brother, and never really got over his passing, or that of her own husband, whom I never met, early in their marriage. Mom Baier, her brother’s wife, was her best friend – even before they were sisters-in-law. Oh, there’s that word again. There were no ‘in-laws’. Marge was her sister, and her friend, and oh yes – her brother’s wife – probably in that order.
And as I said –she never treated me as an outsider ‘in-law’. She loved me and demonstrated that love as much, I like to think, as she would her own child, had she been blessed to have one. Rather than weep openly over not having children of her own, she extended the love she would have given them, to her brother’s two daughters, their husbands, their children, and ultimately, their grandchildren. And to the whole pack of us, she was simply, “Aunt Alice”.
Her funeral will be today, and I won’t be able to be in attendance, but there is an empty place in the core of my being that is exactly ‘Alice’ shaped. I rejoice in the knowledge that she is, as the Apostle Paul wrote, ‘absent from the body, but present with the Lord,’ but I don’t think I will ever get over my personal, admittedly selfish sense of loss. We were not related by blood, but I loved her none-the-less.
Some years back I dedicated my second collection of poetry to Alice and Marge with these words:
Dedicated to Alice Eckhart and Marge Baier
Sisters by marriage and best friends by choice.
Two Proverbs 31 women who always treated me like a son.
This is the title poem from the book, Alice’s Goldfinch.
By David Roth
© 5th December, 2008
perched on the shadow
of eternal Spring,
I envy you.
Thistle and flaxseed your dining delight,
window companion whose song gives me flight,
flittering gaily from dawn until night,
fly away, hide away sprite.
brave golden watcher
sentinel on vigil
blossom duty calls.
Sweet the attraction that brings me to you,
each year returning afresh and anew,
wait by my window, ignore the taboo,
je t’aime, merci beaucoup.
Alice Eckhart was a true Proverbs 31 woman.
I still miss you, Aunt Alice.