Archive for the ‘Other Relatives’ Category

h1

90 Years in 90 Words

August 8, 2017

This is the summary of my mother’s life that I presented at her funeral.

(Okay, 1,027 words …)

I want to tell you a little bit about our mother.

Our mom, Rachel Adeline Sampson Wilcox Fortini (not her real name, which was Rachel Adeline Wilcox pretty much forever) was born a long time ago. She saw more than a few things in her life: The Great Hurricane of 1938, World War II, the invention and use of the atom bomb, jet travel, the Civil Rights movement, the moon landings (indeed, the entire space program), and the Internet. It won’t be easy to summarize her life in a few words, but there are some themes that stand out.

Mom grew up on a small farm in Freetown, Massachusetts, purchased by her father after a whaling voyage out of New Bedford on the bark Sunbeam. She moved to a tiny house on the same property after she got married, a house that would rapidly become far too small.

Mom's High School Graduation Photo

Mom’s High School Graduation Photo

There are those who merely repeat the errors of their parents. Mom was the opposite. She had a strict policy of laissez faire for her adult children. If we wanted advice, almost always, we would need to ask for it. Cutting the umbilical was never a problem. In fact, my parents moved to Florida the same week I left for college, and they never gave me their new address. (I’m sure it was accidental.)

Mom seemed eternally young. She survived two husbands: My father, Paul Wilcox, and George Fortini, whom Mom married when she merely 80 years old. (This never fails to evoke a huge smile when I tell people.) My children, until a few weeks ago when it stopped being funny, insisted that Grandma would outlive us all. And, she will, having preceded us to Eternal Life.

I often think of Mom’s incredible practicality. In a time when women didn’t have bank accounts, it was my mother who always managed our finances, because she was a trained bookkeeper, and Dad wasn’t very good at it. She shoveled snow, painted the house, fixed things.

She was willing to defy social conventions in other ways: I am, like Paul John and Aaron, an adoptee. I never remember learning I was adopted; I do remember discussing it with Mom when I was young, but clearly learned about my own adoption at a very young age. She even made it clear that she would support me or help me in any way, if I wanted to contact my biological parents.

Mom and Dad, long ago.

Mom and Dad, long ago.

In the early days of the Cold War, my sisters remember Mom’s reaction to heading down into the basement in Easton, Massachusetts, evaluating it as a fallout shelter. Mom declared, “This isn’t going to protect us at all.” Scary, perhaps, but correct.

More importantly, we never learned prejudice in any form. Even in New England, this was unusual.

Although Fran often gets the credit, Cindy was the one to first encounter saving faith in Jesus Christ. Fran did follow soon thereafter, but it was Cindy who was first praying for her family. (Cindy suggests that following Christ was an act of rebellion.)

Mom embraced Christ fully. Cindy remembers an immediate reduction in worry and even a slight reduction in the fanaticism of cleaning. (Mom used to lock the girls outside so she could clean.) That faith was evident her entire life. I got chewed out only a few weeks ago for taking too long to return one evening, because she wanted someone to pray with her, although she did nearly all the praying.

Indeed, she was, “a light of Christian faith, shining in a dark world.”

But our mother was, most of all, a Mom. All caps. One hundred percent. She elevated what is a noble duty and profession to a veritable ministry.

Mom had more than few children. Four inferior biological ones, all girls. Fran, Cindy, Joyce, Martha. (Or, as Mom spoke, Mah-thuh.) When those started to become less fun and move away, she began the 15-year process of adopting three boys. Myself, Paul John, the brother I prayed for for years, and finally, Aaron.

Mom was an excellent parent. Strict but never, ever unfair. (Except when I, at a young age, called her a liar because she, for the first time ever, accused me of something I hadn’t done.) My perspective may be a little skewed, because, as my sisters point out, I had older parents, who had been well broken in by the time I came around. Judging from some stories I’ve heard this week, this is almost certainly an accurate interpretation.

When, at 2 or 3, I needed to be instructed in the art of, “Don’t get too close to the street,” Mom painted a line on a rock at the edge of the driveway, and said, “Don’t go past that line.” When I broke a treasured piggy bank at age 4, she explained that she would fix it this time, but if I left it on the edge of the bed again, and it broke, it would be destined for the rubbish bin. I did, and it did. I was sad, but she was true to her word, and eminently just.

Mom and Dad, before They Improved the Family with Adoption

Mom and Dad, before They Improved the Family with Adoption

She would often explain how things worked. I remember seeing the Apollo 15 or 16 launch on TV, and having her explain that the Saturn V was bringing people to the moon.

And, Mom loved babies. She did foster care for, we think, 57 of them. She retired from foster care, later in her life, at least four times. My friend Tim called them “trade-ins.” One time, while returning a trade-in back to Boston, she was in tears. A young Paul John patted her on the arm and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you another one.”

Mom was very humble about this, indeed about everything. “I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying to do some big thing … I didn’t want the Lord to think that I was bragging.” Even days before her death, she was fretful that she hadn’t done a good enough job. I suppose all mothers suffer this unending guilt, and she had so many children who called her Mother.

We were so very blessed to be entrusted to her.

h1

Living to Die

July 25, 2017

It is the 5th of July. Despite only a 3-hour flight, I’ve devoted most of the day to travel. Finally, after almost 12 hours of driving/waiting/flying/waiting/driving, I make it to Hospice House. Surprisingly, this is my first time visiting a hospice location. Although hospice was very helpful with my father’s last weeks, that situation was very different.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4, ESV)

Main sign for Hospice House

The lobby is beautiful. With fireplaces and chairs, it reminds me more of a relaxed hotel than a hospital setting. There is a tiny chapel off to one side, and a beautiful stone list of donors, decorated splendidly with a carving of a great blue heron in flight. But, I barely notice it.

Hospice of Citrus County Donors Mural

I make my way, of course, to the wrong end of the hall. It is relatively late, although not at all dark, yet, and very quiet. When I get to the other end, I quietly inquire for my mother’s room number, describing the various ways she might be named. Addie Wilcox? Rachel Wilcox? Wilcox-Fortini? Mom’s legal name is Rachel Adeline Wilcox, but she never liked her first name, so she was Addie to nearly everyone.

Room 12. Give us a few minutes, we’re getting her cleaned up. So, I wait a few minutes for the nurses to finish. Finally, I get to see Mom.

“Oh!” she greets strongly, “My ugly son!”

“Ugly?” I exclaim in disbelief, “Compared to Paul or Aaron? I don’t think so!”

I last saw Mom in October, when Sarah and I had a long-weekend visit because, as Sarah insisted, “Your mother is not going to be alive forever. We should see her while she is well.”

A motley crew at Charlie's Fish House, October 2016

A motley crew at Charlie’s Fish House, October 2016. Yes, that is how my mother smiles, a genetic gift from her own father.

Now, not much later, Mom is markedly older. She looks tired. She is painfully thin, massing definitely under 45 kg. Her speech is slow, but clear. I also discover she can’t hear me unless I speak very loudly. She’s good at covering this, but her responses to questions she pretends to hear are often non sequiturs. (Later in my stay I will tackle this problem and diagnose a bad hearing aid, and come up with a good-enough-for-this-lifetime solution.) However, she is “all there.” Her mind and memory are, for the most part, intact. This is something of a disappointment to me, as I was hoping to be able to re-frame a few minor incidents from my childhood. This won’t be the case.

Mom watching a video of her favorite grandchild

Mom watching a video of her favorite grandchild

I know, given the hour, that Mom will be tired, soon, so this visit will be short. There is one complaint Mom mentions at least once a day, and today is no exception: “I don’t know why the Lord still has me here, but He must have some purpose. I just wish I knew what it was.”

I understand her impatience to meet the Savior. She knows the time is soon. She is nearly 91. In less than a year, she has gone from driving interstate, living alone in her own home, and being in near perfect health, to having trouble walking, needing in-home care, and frequently visiting the hospital. The past two months have been particularly difficult.

My children often claim that Grandma will outlive them. This joke, which we have enjoyed for years, doesn’t seem as funny this week. I can’t keep a few lines from a song in The Muppets Take Manhattan, out of my head: “Saying goodbye, why is it sad? / Makes us remember the good times we’ve had.” The brain does strange things at times, as I will discover tomorrow.

I don’t know, of course, if this will be my last visit with this woman of many children: Four biological, three adopted, 87 (we think) fostered. I wonder if, sometime between my leaving this night and returning in the morning, my mother will go from seeing the object of her faith “in a mirror, dimly,” to “face to face.”

All too soon, Mom slips into a quiet sleep, and I drive the rest of the way to her house, navigating through tears, to where my sister Cindy is “holding down the fort,” as Mom would say.

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8, ESV) 

To be continued …

h1

TramBot (Originally published in 1998 or 1999)

March 6, 2017

The TramBot—When my nephew Dave Matheson (a veterinary grad student at Prince Edward Island) stopped in for a day-long visit, we constructed a TramBot that ran on a string stretched across an upstairs room with a light-activated set of “grabs”—perfect for bombing runs. This was inspired by the “Bomber Fly” seen in assorted Lego media.

Yes, I Always Over-Design

If you’ve seen the Bomber Fly in the Lego publications, then you will immediately notice that my creation is much bigger, and probably heavier. I developed a fear of minimalism after my very first RIS creation quite literally shook itself to pieces in under 10 seconds.

Features and Innovation Details

  • The forward-reverse pulleys are driven by a belt drive, although a geared drive would have been fine in this case.
  • There are bumpers connected to touch sensors on each end that reverse the drive pulley motor when triggered. Because the string is at about a 45º angle to the wall, we added the tires to keep the bumper rods from slipping. (Before this was done, the bumpers would sometimes just glance off the wall without triggering the touch sensors, as the robot tried to keep moving.)
  • We solved the problem of timing on the “grabs” (the name alludes to Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation Thunderbirds program—see http://www.gis.net/~fm/) by using a belt drive, and setting the motor run time to one second longer than the absolute maximum necessary. This allowed the grabs to automatically re-synchronize, be movable by hand, and grip objects of various sizes.
  • The grabs are light-triggered. We used the Lego light sensor, and programmed it so that a flashlight beamed on it would trigger the grabs’ open or close sequence. This allowed for precise payload delivery.

 


My sons Isaac and John, my Nephew Dave, and I perform some final adjustments and testing.

To Boldly Go …

h1

Gas at $23 a Gallon (No, Not Here)

June 18, 2008

Now that I have your attention (the headline is explained below), let me tell you about my nephew Mike Matheson and the missions trip he is leading to Guinea-Bissau …


Missonary Kid/MK Minister/My nephew Mike Matheson. (I warned Mike I’d get even someday for the time he swiped my camera at my Mom’s wedding and put all sort of shots like this one on it.)

Mike Matheson is a missionary kid (MK) who married another MK and now works as a minister to MKs and their families with Wycliffe Bible Translators, at and around the JAARS (Jungle Aviation and Radio Services) center in Waxhaw, North Carolina.

Currently he’s co-leading a group to Guinea-Bissau, which is on the western coast of Africa. Gasoline there was averaging $23 per gallon … until supply ran out completely. (Yes, the whole country seems to be without gasoline at the moment.) Thankfully, the driver they needed for part of their trip managed to save up enough gas ahead of time to get them where they needed.

I highly recommend reading up on Mike’s trip, which has been updated whenever e-mail access allows, at the Guinea-Bissau Team BLOG and the GB Team Notes Page. You can follow the exploits of Mike and Beth and Leigh at their main ministry page.

Mike grew up in Brazil, and Beth in the Philippines. They are among the most caring people we’ve ever met, and have a real heart for working with the unique needs of MKs and their families—which they are singularly qualified to understand. (Nichelle and I think so highly of them that they are our designated choices to inherit our brood if we both kick.)

You can read more about the Republic of Guinea-Bissau via Wikipedia or the CIA World Factbook.

h1

A Wedding Like No Other

November 6, 2007

Or, “A Match Made Where?”

Way back in October, Nichelle and I traveled to Florida for my brother Paul’s wedding. There’s much I could say here, like how Paul had to wear makeup after opening the truck door into his forehead, or how they “accidentally” played the Imperial March as they walked down the aisle together at the end of the ceremony.

h1

Week of a Million Smiles

June 26, 2007

Well, we’re back from vacation and what an amazing and wonderful time we all had.

To start off the vacation was Mom’s wedding. What a lovely couple Mom and Dad make! They are truly in love and so very sweet together. (Pictures taken by our “official” Wedding photographer Mike Matheson are available here.)

We spent a few days with Mom, Dad and family before heading to Orlando, where the Hinxmans arranged for us to stay at a borrowed apartment. They also are tireless park-attenders, and took us around Disney World and Sea World on a six-day sprint.


NaNi tells Cinderella a story about a ball she plans to attend.

What an amazing time, jammed packed and loads of fun. So much to share, too late now to do it, but you can check out the pics in the Picasa album. We have loads to share so check back in a day or two.

Picasa Web Album
Disney PhotoPass Album


Isaac and David pose with Stormtroopers at the last of MGM’s “Star Wars Weekends.”

h1

Photos via Picasa Web Albums

April 12, 2007

I started experimenting with Picasa’s (Google’s) free Web Albums last night. One gigabyte of storage, seamlessly integrated with Picasa, which is the free photo management software God would use if He didn’t run Linux.

Check out our new Picasa Web Albums, which I’ll be updating over the next week, and which are also linked to our sidebar. You can even subscribe to them via RSS!

And, here’s the photo I promised of my Mom and her fiancé, George Fortini:

And here’s another image of NaNi, the world’s cutest 3-year-old. She’s got the Wii controller in her hand, and is beating nearly everyone at bowling. This was taken at Nichelle’s birthday party in March:

h1

Life: A Quick Update

April 11, 2007
  • Nichelle’s health has been amazing. Actually, Nichelle looks amazing. She is doing Tae-Bo and weight training almost every day. She is absolutely transformed, to the point where that picture of Storm I posted for her birthday is truly not very different than reality. This is a far cry from the woman who two years ago sometimes had trouble holding a fork and knife at dinner. This is by far our biggest blessing.
  • Since Nichelle can now kill me with her pinkie, I started on the weights with her and our friend Phil about a month ago, and get in several days a week of Tae-Bo or cardio stuff as well. It’s already made a big difference, although Nichelle puts me to shame. Phil is cracking the whip on the weights and controlling our diet as well. Last night we got to eat a single piece of cheese for the first time in about 3 weeks. My doctor should be very pleased with these lifestyle changes. I will say having Nichelle working on the same things has made it immensely easier. What would I do without her?
  • As far as we can tell, David made highest honors again. Although Isaac needs to apply a slight amount of effort in math and history for the first time in his life, he did very well also. I love Isaac’s wit, and David amazes me with his insight, especially because he’s only 8.
  • Isaac bought a ball python about two months ago, which he named Knotty. Ball pythons are really cool, although we’ve learned that they really do have poor eyesight, and have become familiar with their striking distance …
  • Command and Conquer 3 and Jaws Unleashed have overtaken us for gaming, even to the point of neglecting World of WarCraft and our beloved Wii. C&C 3 is every bit the game C&C/Red Alert lovers have longed for, providing that magical balance of interesting units and fast-paced strategy for which Westwoood Studios was famous. In Jaws Unleashed, one controls Jaws himself, attacking swimmers, dolphins, boats, and other sharks and sea life. Isaac and David love it to the point of addiction, although it hasn’t received very good ratings from adult gamers.
  • We officially resigned from our old church a week ago—a decision which was clearly God-directed—although we have not yet joined a new one. We believe we will end up at Heritage Baptist in Hooksett, which we attend most, although we are checking out the Wednesday night program tonight at MVBC—Heritage doesn’t have anything yet for the kids on Wednesdays.
  • Nichelle will compete in the National Chicken Cook Off on May 3–4, in Birmingham, Alabana. I get to go with her. She is up against some tough competition, but the first prize is $100,000. That wouldn’t be too shabby.
  • John seems to be doing well for the first time since he left last June. We’ll see how things work out—he hasn’t had a very good track record—but he’s working again for the first time in months, and seems to be much more rational than previously.
  • We’re also planning a trip to Florida to attend my Mom’s wedding in June. Did I mention my Mom is 80 years old? I have a great picture with her and her fiancé George, which I’ll post shortly. The whole family is very excited.
  • NaNi is still the world’s cutest and smartest three-year-old. I had always wanted to have a daughter, but she is more awesome than I would have imagined. She has a delightful sense of humor, too. Last Saturday she woke me up by hitting me repeatedly with a chain saw, chanting, “Dad! Banana bread!” She’s also informed me, “You don’t get any hugs: Hugs are for Mommy. You get knuckle sandwiches,” and I assure you she means it. She can also locate Alabama on a map. Every time she says grace, she includes, “Thank you that Mommy is feeling better.”
  • Work has been excellent. We are winding down, mostly fixing small bugs, in preparation for the release of version 6.0 of our product. I’ve been working on the user interface revamp, which has been a year in the making, and is absolutely amazing. For the first time in years, our software will look as good as it runs. Navigation and other user operations have been dramatically improved, and everything is consistent end-to-end.
  • We finally got caught up with “Lost.” Now it’s agony to wait a week between episodes! We also are backwatching “Gray’s Anatomy” and “Smallville.”
  • Last Friday, NaNi, Isaac, David, and the Dunn children were sitting in the bleachers at a basketball game, and were all singing “Chiron Beta Prime.” I was so proud of those little geeklings.
  • Keith Lancaster’s acapella CD “Glorious God” is amazing. Thanks to Bernard Farrell for recommending this CD, as well as its predecessor, “Awesome God: An a Cappella Worship Series.” Nothing warms my heart like hearing NaNi and the boys singing “Our God is an Awesome God” around the house, and we love to listen to these while traveling.
  • After reading Michael Crichton’s Next, I’ve added about 9 books on genetics to my list of books to read near immediately. (I may never finish Mao’s China and After or The 9/11 Commission Report, but I’ll keep plugging at them.) My goal is to be able to talk the language of genetics fluently with a PhD friend of ours. I’ve already got my DNA screen saver!
  • We’re getting new carpet in the basement, courtesy of a water heater failure about two months ago. ServiceMaster came out at the request of the insurance company, and saved us from serious long-term problems from water damage. Too bad our insurance doesn’t cover the water heater itself (due to its age), but as disasters go, this one wasn’t too bad.
  • Sorry for not posting more of late. I was very busy getting my accounting caught up so we could file our taxes, and I’m working on a very long post that analyzes (refutes) a popular KJV-only tract.
h1

An Engaging Christmas

January 2, 2007

Well, I promised you Christmas news, and this year there’s plenty. I’ll start with the big ones.

We had two engagements in the family announced at Christmastime.

My brother Paul John surprised his now-fiancée Crystal Hughes, who expected a digital camera, with an engagement ring. When they phoned us on Christmas day, I explained that a digital camera would at least have been useful, but Crystal seems very happy with the deal, and we all share in her excitement, although it would seem to be one of the signs of the Apocalypse.


A rare photo of Hell on the day my brother became engaged.

When my sister Joyce arrived to visit us this Christmas, we learned that my Mom had become engaged to long-time neighbor and friend George Fortini. Mom turned 80 in September. Let me explain a bit.

First of all, we called Mom and chided her: “What?! You didn’t tell the whole family yet? The next time you get engaged you’d better call all of us!” Mom explained that she was working on it, but she didn’t want to eclipse Paul and Crystal’s news. (Mom was one of the few people who knew about that before Christmas.)

Dad went home to be with the Lord at Christmastime three years ago, after almost 60 years of marriage to my Mom. The same week, Ellen, the wife of their close friend and next-door-neighbor, George passed away. (Oft have we teased Mom about that “coincidence” in timing.)

George and Mom started hanging out together more and more. Mom was very concerned about what the rest of us thought about that, despite our constant assurances that we were very happy for them both. I did tease her, “You know, Mom, you can’t marry him because he’s not a believer.” I also gave Mom a lecture on the dangers of dating in a Postmodernist society. Behavioral standards have changed a bit since 1945, the last time Mom was “on the market.” She assured me I had nothing to worry about.

Not long after that, George trusted Christ as Savior. Mom, perhaps underestimating the power of the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, declared, “George is saved, but he will never abandon his Catholicism.” A few weeks later George was regularly attending services at Heritage Baptist Church with my Mom.

On the Thursday before Christmas, George proposed marriage to my Mom, and she accepted. She was so giddy (I wish you could have heard the excitement in her voice), that she forgot about a weekly appointment for one of the “old ladies” for whom Mom drives.


Yes, my Mom is indeed of sound mind.

Mom and George have not yet set a wedding date, as they are working out legal and “estate” details. Maybe they’ll do a double wedding, although Paul John has been talking about a Hillbilly wedding ceremony …

h1

With a Thankful Heart ….

November 27, 2006

Around the table we took turns telling what we were thankful for. It came to David’s turn and he had a long list, starting with his salvation—what a blessing that was. (Doug prompted him by announcing, “Our kids are all ingrates; they have nothing for which they are thankful.”) Then, to top it all off, he broke into songs of praise and worship, and got us all singing.

…being thankful for what we have. Can we list all the blessings God gives to us, really? What a loving, gracious, forgiving, and merciful Lord we serve. One of my major praises is for the return of excellent health! It’s been since July, and so far there is no sign of the symptoms returning. Will they symptoms return? Not sure, but typically by this time of year, I’d be having many symptoms, and so far only a couple of minor ones had happened and then they were gone, and that was at least two months ago.

A trip to Cindy’s for Thanksgiving is always wonderful! Our plan was to head to Cindy’s house after church Wednesday night. It’s a two and a half hour trip, and after service we had hoped to arrive by 11 p.m. I got the suitcases packed, and Doug loaded up the van all before church. (Victory! We’ve never actually accomplished this.) Service typically lets out at 8:15, and we wanted to head back to the house for one final sweep of things and also pick up dinner on the way. Service let out at 9:05 due to the fact that each person has the opportunity to share something that they have been thankful for throughout the past year.

I was downstairs working with our King’s Kids program and Doug was in the service. Things took a little longer, giving hugs and quick praises of thanks for how God has been working once service was over. I believe we all made it in the car at about 9:20. So, you see what happened. So we got in the van, headed home, had the kids do potty runs, etc., and were back in about 5 minutes. (Another victory!)

The plan was to go to the McDonald’s just over the highway. So we took off, and the time was now 9:45. Unfortunately, the McDonald’s was closed! Grrrrrr… We headed back to the BK on Main Street, and ordered meals. We went through drive-thru and pull over once we get our food to pray and dish out the meal so we can get on our way. As the kids were handed their food, Isaac proclaimed in disgust that they got his order wrong—again. They also messed up David’s order. Back through the line we went. I should add, because our order was so long we had to pull to the side and wait for them to finish making it which took several minutes. Anyway, we got the order together and were on our way, finally. Quite a way to start off our mini-vacation!

Our drive was uneventful, except for the 18 wheeler that was having a bit of a problem staying in his lane. He nearly pushed a car off the road, thankfully we got past him (two lanes over), and it was smooth sailing from there. We arrived at Cindy’s just after midnight. The kids slept just about the whole way there and Doug did, too off and on.

Cindy did an awesome job with the meal and the many pies once again. My contribution was a side dish, assistance in the kitchen, and a couple of Hershey Pies.

Around the table we took turns telling what we were thankful for. It came to David’s turn and he had a long list, starting with his salvation—what a blessing that was. (Doug prompted him by announcing, “Our kids are all ingrates; they have nothing for which they are thankful.”) Then, to top it all off, he broke into songs of praise and worship, and got us all singing. Naomi was thankful for her friend Mikayla and her house. We were all thankful for the mutual support we have in the family, especially given the very difficult issues various of us have been through. We talked about why we love to get together, and concluded that our relationships with Christ made a big difference in our family dynamics—you won’t find us saying, “Ugh, holiday time again, we have to put up with the relatives!” Such a sweet time.

Typically after the meal, Cindy and I go for a nice and sometimes long walk, but due to the rain we didn’t go. We all did the next day and it was awesome! We went up to the Littleville Dam and hiked around that a ways about four miles. We also stopped at a large rock bluff to do some climbing. Naomi walked some, but was pretty much carried by Doug, Jenn and myself. Jenn, on our way back was still holding Naomi, who decided her being carried was too much and decided to take a nap.

We all had such a great time together and look forward to our next gathering at Christmas.