Thank you all for coming today as we celebrate the life of my mother, Barbara Louise Reehil, especially those of you who travelled long distances on short notice to be here.
Mom was born in February 1, 1937, to Arthur and Dorothy Millan, the eldest of two beautiful daughters. Growing up mom had just enough of a tomboy spirit to become my grandfather’s “favorite son” which enabled her to enjoy his company fishing and hunting, an appreciation of the outdoors that lasted a lifetime.
In high school when her interests turned to boys, she became smitten with a handsome young trumpet player, and it wasn’t long before he was smitten back.
At the urging of his older brother Bill, a clarinet player in the Navy, dad enlisted too, and at seventeen was on his way to play in an Admiral’s band. In February 1956, dad was ordered to the Admiral’s favorite port of call, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
After mom and dad were married in June of 1956, mom joined dad on what could be called an extended, all expenses paid honeymoon in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. That lasted until September, 1957, when I arrived and put the kibosh on the honeymoon. That’s when a decision had to be made, to choose between dad travelling on ship with the Admiral’s band, or to leave the Navy and settle down to raise a family. I’m grateful that they chose the latter.
Now, behind many successful men of that era were devoted wives and mothers. Mom was one of them.
Through dad attending engineering school at night; through the arrival of my brother Glen and sister Kim; through moving to Henrietta and far away from her family; to starting new business enterprises and often working nights while cranking out new inventions by day, mom supported dad through his hard working and entrepreneurial career that helped produce 16 United States Patents.
But through all that, mom was not only a housewife. While running the household mom also immersed herself in many interests of her own. Needlepoint, hooked rugs, cross-stitching, crewel, macramé, knitting, crocheting, painting and quilting were all crafts that mom learned and executed to near perfection. And when mom became interested in antiques she was all-in and opened her own antique shop: the Cedar Chest Antiques in Henrietta. My brother Glen also became interested in antiques and he began accompanying mom to antique shows and auctions as they began collecting antiques for mom’s store and for their own interesting collections. It was nice that they had those shared interests and time together.
Mom supported us kids in many other ways too. There were Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, little league, music lessons and after school sports. Mom also saw to it that Glen, Kim and I attended Sunday school at St. Peters Episcopal Church in Henrietta. She was a great mother, attentive, interested, even-tempered and logical. She listened, was helpful, playful and happy. She let us make mistakes too.
Every year at Christmastime mom made a fruitcake and when I was old enough she let me help. After several years as her helper, she let me take the lead. I suggested confidently that fruitcake would definitely be better without raisins, so we doubled the candied fruit and made the cake. That began a lifelong interest in cooking, but it was only two weeks ago while mom was in hospice that she admitted to me for the first time that it was the worst fruitcake she ever had.
After we kids left the nest mom and dad moved to Shortsville, bought a sailboat and joined the Canandaigua Yacht Club. Mom even became a proud member of the “Babes on Boats,” and they made many new friends. They loved to sail and loved to take walks by the lake.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that mom loved to read and write. Mom had absolutely perfect penmanship, wrote great letters and had a love of proper grammar and spelling. My sister Kim distinctly remembers mom correcting her friend’s grammar, over and over again. Mom’s talent with English became a great benefit to me when I started my own publishing company and co-wrote two books. Mom proofread every publication for me and was by far, the best proofreader of any I ever employed, period. And nothing made her happier than when she found errors that my hired editors had missed. That made her very happy.
And did I say she loved to read. Not too long ago she started compiling a list of all the books she read, I have that list right here. (Note: I had
copies of the many pages of hand written book names taped together and let the list unfold
to the floor...) Yes, she loved to read.
To stay fit mom and dad walked many times a week and became fixtures at the lakeshore park in Canandaigua when the weather permitted. They also became charter members of the Canandaigua YMCA. In particular they participated in a group called the Silver Sneakers, eventually even becoming the Silver Sneakers poster couple, literally. (Note: holding up a copy of the poster
with the exercise picture at the top of this page.)
So it wasn’t for lack of trying that mom became ill with Multiple Myeloma, a dastardly cancer. Mom and dad fought that disease together with determination and grit, just as they had when mom contracted breast cancer years before. They overcame breast cancer and let me tell you they did their damnedest — apologies to Rev. Van Buren — to overcome Myeloma too. But we all have a time, and this time was mom’s time.
I am extremely grateful for the last few weeks we had with mom. It was bonus time, because she rallied to have great family visits; with her beloved sister Carlene and husband Harold; with Glen and Karen and their children; with George and Diane; Clare and Bob; my wife Pat and our son Ethan; and especially with my sister Kim, who escaped Houston on one of the last planes out the day that hurricane Harvey hit. And because of the hurricane, Kim was able to remain here with us through the last three weeks and be with us today. Her
return flight leaves tomorrow.
During mom’s somewhat miraculous rally we had several of her favorite meals and drinks at her request: white pizza and port wine, Adirondack Brook Trout, Karen’s corn chowder, Lemon Meringue Pie and Brandy Alexanders. We shared stories and prayers and a whole lot of laughs.
Not everyone gets to go out that way, with their wits, their memories, and with so many loved ones nearby. It was a time I will always cherish.
And there were a few things we learned these last weeks that might surprise you:
First, we learned that mom chose the sex and eye color of each of us kids, and God granted her wishes.
Second, when Father Van Buren stopped by to visit she confided to him that "he wasn’t the only minister" she was seeing.
"Father Mull, from Geneva” mom told him, “the one on TV on Sundays had visited
too.” Father Van Buren said that he was jealous, he hadn’t even met him yet. “Oh, he’s a doll too,” mom said with a wink.
Two weeks ago at mom’s request we had a Labor Day picnic at the hospice home, a celebration and cookout. We had venison tenderloin, scallops and mushroom risotto, a real feast. We even had an ice cream birthday cake to celebrate my 60th birthday and we all sang happy birthday.
After dinner, like a scene out of a movie, mom called us all to her bedside to tell us all how much she loved us all and then confided, “I don’t know how to do this.” Meaning, she didn’t know how to die.
Alone with her later that night I was able to tell her, “Mom, what you are doing is exemplary. You are doing this with courage and dignity and humor. And I don’t think you could do it any better.”