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September 12, 2007

Watercolor by Jan Crook Pierson

One ordinary day, in the peaceful place of my parents' bedroom, I learned how to express my artistic talent in a new and unusual way. I was only four years old, but the lessons I learned that day were the beginning strokes of a masterpiece.

The tools were simple: my canvas was the mahogany headboard of my parents' bed, and my brush was a bobby pin. Since it was the tag-end of the Depression, we couldn't afford much, so whether it was poverty or creativity that determined the choice of media, I'll never know. But I do remember the lovely picture I carved with that bobby pin: a little house surrounded by trees and a garden with a path leading from my mother's side of the bed clear across to my father's...

I drew lots of animals and sometimes made cages and pens so we could keep them in our backyard. I knew Dad would like the animals and Mother would love the house because it was a lot prettier than ours. I even drew circles of smoke coming out of the chimney and it wasn't clinker smoke coming from a coal furnace, either. It was coming from a fireplace like my grandparents had.

It was my grandparents who gave my parents that beautiful bed for a wedding present, and maybe that was why everybody got so excited about the picture I carved on the headboard. Mother saw it first, and she cried. I don't remember if my father liked my picture or not.

My brother and sisters and almost everyone else thought I should be spanked or at least have to stand in the corner. But Mother said no. She just hugged me and said she would always love that picture, even though she made me promise to use a pencil and paper after that.

I drew pictures and wrote stories until I quit having time, and that happened when I got married and started having kids of my own. Talented kids who used color crayons and marking pens instead of bobby pins, and who wrote on walls and bedspreads and brand new sneakers until I wanted to cry.

Which I sometimes did. And which always made me think of my mother and the wonderful picture she painted for me.

Read all the tributes to my mother at this website.

September 11, 2007

A tribute to Ethel Crook by Roger Briggs

Have you ever come across something so beautiful that even through grief and tears it touches the deepest part of your soul? This took place Saturday during the memorial service for my mother. A number of times. For now, let me share the words of Roger Briggs, of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra.

Dear Judy, I am so sorry I couldn't stay for the luncheon following the beautiful memorial service, but I had another obligation. I wanted you to know how much I loved your Mom, how moved I was by the service, and how much I appreciate being asked to speak at your mom's service. I wanted you and your family to have this text for memories' sake...

I have known Ethel Crook for only 12 or 13 years, but her life reminds me of a story I heard many years ago and recently read again.

A man is walking on a beach.
In the distance he sees a woman apparently doing some sort of ritual dance:

She's bending down to the earth,
Arching toward heaven,
Releasing some sort of energy toward the heavens and
Toward the vast seas....

As he approaches he sees that the beach is littered with starfish.

She is throwing them one by one into the sea.

"There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach.
What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?" the man asked.

The woman smiled peacefully, released another starfish to the sea, and said:

"It will make a difference for this one."

This woman is like Ethel Crook.

If I had to choose one word to describe her it would be "transformation." She has slowly transformed all of us in the artistic and musical community.

One by one she made a difference, until she literally created a full orchestra of beautiful starfish. You see, she co-founded the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra 33 years ago. She was able to accomplish this because she had saved so many starfish, because she had made a difference in so many individual lives -- she was able to create a cultural legacy--a full orchestra.

Our artistic community is deeply indebted to Ethel. An orchestra in Bellingham might not exist if it had not been for her patient transformative powers. She not only co-founded but she played with the symphony for 19 years. How many have played in the orchestra, sat on the board, and most importantly, sat in the audiences over all these 33 years? How many people, from mayors to children, have been transformed by Ethel's ritual dance of life?

When I first met Ethel, she was no longer playing with the WSO, but she still came to many rehearsals and sat in the back of the hall. When I was aware that she was there, I would go back during break and speak with her.

I remember one moment in particular. The orchestra was struggling in rehearsal, and so was I. I was discouraged and I knew others were as well. During break, Jack Frymire told me Ethel was present and that she wanted to speak to me. I thought, "Oh no!" But, I hurried back to see her.

With a warm glow and twinkle in her eye, she took my hand firmly and said: "The orchestra sounds wonderful."

At that moment I felt like a starfish being taken from the sure death of the beach and hurdled into heaven and finding my home in the sea again.

I was transformed by her. The second half of the rehearsal went so much better.

To me, this was her nature. She transformed individuals and she transformed our community.

We, all of us in the artistic community of Bellingham, thank you and honor you, Ethel Crook, and we deeply appreciate your beautiful ritual dance of life and transformation.

Read all the tributes to my mother at this website.

September 04, 2007

Janel Weiss Maurer: Ethel's Shining Star

Janel Weiss Maurer


1 : one that accompanies another : COMRADE, ASSOCIATE; also : one that keeps company with another
2 obsolete : RASCAL
3 a : one that is closely connected with something similar b : one employed to live with and serve another
4 : a celestial body that appears close to another but that may or may not be associated with it in space
For the last five years or so, Janel Weiss Maurer has been our mother's companion. I took a look at how Merriam-Webster's described companion, and it would be difficult to not include all of the descriptions. Except "rascal," which the dictionary says is obsolete anyway.

Can we say a celestial body? Absolutely. She has been like a bright star in Mom's life, and in our lives. None of Mom's children live in Bellingham, and Janel has been the bright and shining center of her life for the past five years. Janel and her new husband, Dennis, have been instrumental in faithfully helping move Mom and her belongings as she was transferred from institution to institution. They went above and beyond, both in doing this, and in being with Mom…being a loving comfort to her as her world began to unravel.

Let's begin with Janel's comments from a couple of years ago...

Ethel has been, I believe, one of the most wonderful blessings in my life. I met her about three years ago when I started attending Fountain Community Church. She had had a stroke, and was living in the home of her daughter-in-law and son, Janet and David Crook.

If I were to have picked who I would have had for a mother, Ethel would have been it! I love her as a mother! Sometimes we even argue like a mother and daughter! Not really argue, but disagree. I usually let her win.

She has brought so many gifts into my life. Those gifts are: Love - music - her sense of humor - her love for doggies, and her wonderful children, David and his wife Jan, Calamity Jan, Carolyn, and last but not least in any way, Judy. There are no words really to convey my love for Ethel and her children who have become a true family to me! There are also no words to convey to God how THANKFUL I am for them all!!!!!! I LOVE YOU, ETHEL

Janel wrote the following while ago referring to this picture of Mom and Toby (who lives with Janel, Dennis, and Lindsay):

Here she is, my darling mother, Ethel. She always called me "her girl." This picture of her was taken last year on Thanksgiving day. I went over to her apt. to help her shower and get dressed for the day. Such a beauty at 96 years old! God placed her in my life, and I sit here in awe of the richness that came into my life because of her. A lot of people we would meet would think we were mother and daughter; and although we weren't by blood, we were by spirit. And everywhere we went, people knew her. Either because she had been their music teacher years ago, or their children's teacher, or from the Symphony... Oh the pain that resides in my heart at this moment is too overwheleming to bear at times. The pain of missing her. "God, you have her now with you." Thank~you from every fiber of my being for bringing her and I together for the last six years. I am forever grateful, and I am forever changed because of her."

Following is a message from Dennis Maurer:

Judy, This photo of Ethel and Toby was taken this last Thanksgiving day. I took Janel over to Ethel's so Janel could help Ethel with a shower and getting dressed for the day. Ethel was going to have Thanksgiving with Doug, Ethel told Janel that she did not have to come that day; but, Janel said there was no way that she wouldn't go give Ethel her shower and help her get dressed for the holiday. I have always been impressed with the love that Janel has had for "her Ethel." Janel has told me that she wanted to get into a different line of work for a few years now; but, that she would never leave "her Ethel." So as long as Ethel was still alive, she would continue doing home health care. I did not know Ethel as long as Janel did, but I love her too! And I love her family as well.

This is a photo of Mom tutoring Janel's daughter, Lindsay. Says Janel:

Every year, Ethel and Jan came to our house for Christmas. This was taken the year before last on our Christmas celebration at our house. I would celebrate on Christmas eve with my son and his family, then on Christmas day we would have Ethel and Jan over.

Just to recap. Five years ago Mom had a stroke, and during her recovery, it was learned that she would need someone from time to time as a companion. Janel appeared as if by coincidence, and has been a defining part of the family life since that time. She spent at least two days a week taking Mom to Music Club, the beauty salon, the doctor's office, etc. but was in touch with her by phone all the time.

During the last few months of her decline, we as a family would have been at a complete loss if it weren't for the love and loyalty Janel gave our mother. She is our sister. And here's a photo of Janel with Mom, Carolyn Crook Downing, and Jennifer Downing Mabey.

*By permission. From Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary at www.m-w.com by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.

September 03, 2007

Nellie loves Nancy loves Nellie

Meet Nellie Simpson, one of my many adorable granddogs. She recently had radical surgery on her knee: Tibial Patellar Leveling Osteotomy, and it is the 24/7 duty of Ron and Kerrie Simpson to ensure that she stays off her feet almost all the time. Yeah right...

Anyway, when I arrived at the Simpsons' home a couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to meet Nancy, who is Nellie's best friend. Nancy is a talented neighborhood woman who adores St. Bernards. She was sitting on the floor using a special kind of glove to groom and soothe Nellie. When she comes over, she devotes herself to Nellie.

To say that Gracie, the golden retriever, is jealous, is to understate the situation, but even in jealousy, goldens are sweet. And cute. If you look in the lower right corner of the picture, you will see part of Gracie's head.

Here's the picture of Nellie after I edited it. Couldn't resist. She's slowly improving, and the Simpsons only have about four more weeks of Nellie Patrol. Having Nancy over every now and then is fun for everyone. Especially Nellie.

Ethel Crook Obituary

I knew our mother was dying, but felt so sad that she had to suffer so much toward the end of her colorful, creative life. Less than two weeks ago I flew to the Pacific Northwest to attend a class reunion, and visit my mother, sister, and son, Ron and daughter-in-law, Kerrie.

When I made the airline reservations, I knew that Mom wasn't doing well, but there was no clue that she would be gone in so short a time. What I consider a miracle is that the last week of her life was spent in an assessment facility in Monroe, just 20 minutes from where Ron and Kerrie live.

They moved her from Bellingham to try to determine what was really wrong with her. They determined that all her "dementia" was the result of excruciating pain resulting from a fall...a fall that gave her a hip/back area fracture.

One little event, and in that split second, all her family and many friends' lives changed radically.

While she was going through so many issues, my three siblings all spent much time with her. Finally it was my turn. Sister Jan drove me to Monroe, where we went to see our mother. She was confused and couldn't articulate much except that she was in pain. Later Ron came and picked me up, and Jan drove to her home in Olympia, intent on finding a skilled nursing facility for Mom...

That week, as Ron and I visited Mom, she became less and less in touch with her surroundings, but was also free of pain. Ron had spent hours with her before Jan and I appeared on the scene, and he was his Grandma's protector. He hugged her and kissed her and talked with her (mostly one-sided) in the most remarkable way.

One night, he brought his iPod, and put the earplugs in so she could hear some classical piano music. It was the most peaceful that I saw her. She KNEW this was something special. But 15 minutes or so was enough. Her system was slowly shutting down, and she couldn't process things the way she used to.

Four months before, she was spunky and spirited, as she sat to have her photo taken at a Bellingham Mayor's Award Ceremony. Now she was near death. She was going so fast.

On Sunday, we went in so I could say goodbye, but by then she didn't recognize me. Wow, it was rough. I asked Ron if he would hold her hand, and mine, and I'd get a picture. I wanted something that would remind me of the special bond between the three of us...three generations entwined in a deep love of music. The picture was fuzzy, because I had to take it one-handed, but that's okay. I touched it up. It's the idea that the three of us had something just for us...something to help Ron and me work through our grief.

Look at that hand! The hand that reached out so many years ago to greet four adorable babies (yep...we were!). The hand that laundered hundreds of diapers and hung them in the cold air to dry. The hand that paddled our little bottoms when we were really, really naughty (not very hard!). The hand that held the reins of a horse with ease and grace. The hand that held a tennis racket so powerfully. The hand that played piano for almost her entire life. The hand that held the bow of a violin for so many years. The hand that held a baton in front of glee clubs and orchestras for more years than most. The hand that was held out to children with musical promise, so she could walk beside them as they strove to develop their talents. The hand that stroked her little dogs, Betsy Barker and Toby in the winter of her life. The hand that held onto a walker as she moved about during her last years. The hand that reached out with warmth to her fellow residents at Merrill Gardens. The hand that picked up the phone, dialed, and said, "Judy, this is your Momma."

Tuesday Mom was transported to a nursing home in Olympia, where Jan was waiting. Wednesday morning, about 10:30, Mom breathed her last.

Here is her formal obituary:

After 96 years, Ethel Boynton Crook played the last stanza of her life symphony and although it was perhaps the most difficult, it was the most inspiring to those who knew and loved her. Born on November 7th, 1910 to Dr. Solon and Sue C. Boynton, Ethel, the eldest of five children, grew up in Bellingham, attending schools and gaining her degree in music and teaching credentials from Western Washington University (then the state normal school). An avid horsewoman and musically gifted, she married C. Calvin Crook and they had four children: Carolyn Downing of Eureka, California, Judy Vorfeld of Peoria, Arizona, Janet Pierson of Olympia, Washington and David Crook of Peoria, Arizona.

After forty years of teaching in the Bellingham, Ferndale, and Lynden schools, Ethel Crook retired, but retirement didn’t stop her from staying involved in her community and church, including playing violin in the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, of which she was a co-founder. Fiercely loyal and committed to her family, Ethel proudly held title to her role as mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

Among her musically talented family is a great-granddaughter who became the proud recipient of her treasured (circa 1750) violin. An avid Mariner’s fan, Ethel still found time to play the organ in her church, remain active in Chapter F of the PEO sisterhood and stay committed to the Bellingham Music Club where she became instrumental in setting up music scholarships for worthy students. Her accomplishments and awards–too numerous to mention–are now tucked away in drawers and file cabinets and hearts, but her music goes on.

She is survived by her four children and their spouses Bob Downing and Janet Crook, her foster son, Willie Hillaire, her sister, Lois Cruea Stevenson, and numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. During the late afternoon of her life, loving family and friends made her days richer and Ethel Boynton Crook just kept on giving back from the dynamic essence of who she was.

Read all the tributes to my mother at this website.