As we get older, I believe we need role models, more than ever, to inspire us. Madeline gave that gift to me and my husband Joe. I am sure, to many others, as well.
My husband and I met her in an Emeritus History class at SaddlebackCollege some years ago. I can still picture her a couple weeks after we met. We were enjoying a break between classes and with a twinkle in her eyes and a special smile, she announced she was going to celebrate her birthday and would soon turn 80. Surprise must’ve shown on my face. She noticed immediately. “You didn’t know, did you? Yes, I am 79 and I will soon be 80,” she said proudly. I’ll never forget how her voice literally rang with glee.
For me, this was a woman whose age didn’t matter. She looked and acted young, the way I want to look and act when I turn 80. She was energetic, curious, involved in many activities, asked many questions, and was a voracious reader.
My husband Joe is more of a non-fiction reader than I, and he and Madeline shared several books. Once he warned her that a book he’d lent her on Russian history and culture was an usually serious read, literally packed with a wide range of detailed information and facts. “It might take you a while to read this one,” he said. To his surprise when she brought the book back to him only a week later, she admitted, “Yes, you were right, Joe, but I loved reading it!”
Over the course of time, visits to our home and several classes that we shared with Madeline, we all learned about Philosophical thought through the ages, Russian culture and many different aspects of film-making. One day, when we were enjoying a break between classes again, I shared with Madeline that I was a published writer and had almost finished writing a novel about the time in my life, many years ago, when I was a nun.
She was fascinated, I guess, and began to tell me about the memoir she’d written several years before. Now it was my turn to become completely fascinated, because the next time she visited our home she lent me her memoir to read and comment on. I was very touched. She was honoring Joe and I by sharing the story of her life with us: How, as a very young Jewish girl, her parents had found a way to hide her in a convent from the Nazis who had marched into Paris, and how her brother was separated from her and was hidden in a seminary not far away. Her memoir also told of her wonderful ongoing love for her husband, and the passion for music they shared throughout their marriage.
Her writing was vivid, her words painting pictures in our minds of what she’d thought and felt during a very dangerous time in her life and later, her travels to Israel with her beloved husband. I told her that her memoir was a treasure and that it was wonderfully written. I suggested she should join my writing group and continue writing, but she said simply, “I wrote my story for my children and my grandchildren. That is enough for me.”
Madeline honored Joe and I again when she called to tell us that her husband, after suffering with Altzeimers for several years, had passed away. When I asked if I could come and take her out or do something for her, she told me that her daughter Joy came to see her very often. “She is taking good care of me,” she said proudly, “ and so are my other children and grandchildren.”
Yes, Madeline gave Joe and I several gifts: her frank opinions on politics, her pointed questions, her empathy when our own family troubles occurred, but most of all, she gave us her zest for learning and living, and of course, her stories. We know she was fluent in several languages: French, Hungarian, Hebrew, German and the language of life, caring and compassion. She honored us with her presence and her spirit. She will be missed but never forgotten.