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June 26, 2009

Christine Beyerstein, RIP

I'm very sorry to report that my grandmother, Christine Beyerstein, passed away yesterday. It's some consolation that she was 95 years old and in excellent health until about a week before her death.

Nana was a very strong woman. Her zest for life was undiminished by adversity.

To say she was a devoted mother and grandmother would be an understatement. She lavished love on her family and friends. My mom likes to say that Nana was the perfect mother-in-law--loving, supportive, and genuinely accepting.

She loved parties and she never showed up without a home-baked treat. I started baking with Nana when I was five. Every time I roll out a pie crust, I'm grateful to have had a 25-year apprenticeship with the master.

I'm always going to remember why Nana was never confirmed in the Lutheran Church. The pastor asked the class to forswear dancing. Christine loved to dance and she wasn't about to give it up to please anyone. In their church, the dance ban was a formality even in those days, but Nana absolutely refused to make a promise she wasn't going to keep. "I'm going to keep dancing, and so are all of you," she told her classmates. So, she failed confirmation--a minor scandal for the daughter of a single mother in a small Alberta town during the Great Depression.

Her quiet but firm refusal happened 80 years ago, but it symbolizes the self-possession and independence of mind that Nana displayed throughout her life.

Christine Beyerstein was a remarkable woman. We're going to miss her tremendously, but we're grateful to have been part of her exemplary life.

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Comments

You've written a wonderful tribute, with a wonderful picture. Your grandmother was lucky to be memorialized so well. My condolences.

My condolences, too, Lindsay. She sounds like an awesome person.

I'm sorry for your loss.

Sorry for your loss.

You know why baptists don't have sex standing up?

They are afraid it will lead to dancing!

My condolences on your loss.

By coincidence, Lindsay, that was the exact small Alberta town I was thinking of. A number of relatives still live there, including a few who might well have been her contemporaries or, for that matter, have once attended the same church, as I believe a few of them are still Lutherans.

Once again, my condolences.

May you be comforted, and all who mourn,
May the peace of the heavenly height be upon you, your grandmother, and all of us.

She sounds like the maskil (a partisan of the Jewish Enlightenment) whom the Chassidic rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev encountered one Shabbos, smoking a pipe openly in the street. "Don't you know it's Shabbos?" the rebbe asked. "I know", replied the maskil, puffing way. "But surely you know it's forbidden to smoke on Shabbos?" pressed the rebbe. "I know, and I don't care," the maskil answered. Levi Yitzchak turned his gaze heavenward. "Ribbono shel olam, such a fine young man You have here! True, he might not be so observant of some of Your commandments -- but nobody can make him tell a lie!"

When I was young there was a poster that attributed the declaration "I don't want to be part of your revolution if I can't dance" to Emma Goldman. Then Bolshevism would be to Goldman as to Missouri-Synod-style Lutheranism is to young Christine. But it seems she caught the spirit of Luther before the Diet of Worms declaring "Here I stand" -- even as the feet she was standing on moved to the music.

One of the pictures of the world-to-come suggested in the Talmud (Taanit 31a)is a great circle dance of the righteous. Whether or not we might hope it will be there for Nana Beyerstein and us to join, we can be sure that our own lives, and our posterity's, are her and all our forbears' world-to-come already in this world.
Didn't they teach us to dance, to tell the truth, to cook, to love, and to be grateful?

...
I came this far to tell
of the grave of my great-
grandmother Harriet Callicotte
by itself on a low ridge in Kansas.
The sandstone tumbled,
her name almost eaten away,
where I found it in rain drenched grass
on my knees, closed my eyes
and swooped under the earth
to that loam dark, holding her emptiness
and placed one cool kiss
on the arch of her white
pubic bone.

(Gary Snyder, "Word Basket Woman")

How fortunate you are, in the 'role model' department, Lindsay! No question that you have memories- and skills- for which to be thankful. All the best... ^..^

Thank-you for this posting about your Nana. What a wonderful woman! My deepest sympathy.

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