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It is impossible to neatly encapsulate a person’s life on a couple pieces of paper, especially if that person is Emmetth, or E, as many of us called her. The life she created for herself was the stuff of novels, an epic tale with all the right elements: distant travels, fine foods and myriad characters, all dear to her--family and friends, but really, all family. No need for any distinction. No matter how eloquently written, you’ll still be left wanting. It doesn’t feel right to place her in the past. That’s a crazy idea--our feelings for her are so very present. So this will serve as a reminder of who she is to each of us. We can all fill in the blanks with our own notions and memories of her. Here, then, are a few touchstones--mile markers along the road, signposts pointing to a particular place in our hearts.
You know that she was born in Belize City, on September 14, in 1929. I can also tell you that after growing up there, giving birth to her daughter, Rose, marrying Willie Evans, and working as a cook at the elite Belize Club (a haven for ex-pats),she left in 1962-ish. Immediately we know we’re talking about courage. It’s not an easy thing to uproot your life and leave a daughter and mother behind, hoping they won’t be too far behind you. But to risk all because you know you have to pursue a better life for yourself and your family without knowing how, and in a strange place--well, that’s a special kind of spirit.
She found work as a housekeeper and nanny. And there are those who will hear those words and will have all kinds of feelings about them. But know this. She was proud of the work she did, especially the elegant meals she prepared. She was self-taught, but for one class in cake decorating at the Wilton School in Illinois. Apparently, that’s a big deal. And she loved the children who were under her care as if they were her own. Because that’s who she was. And they loved her back tenfold. Because that’s who she was. Her employers--I’d say her Manhattan families (The Millers for most of her career, then later, The Goldfeins), were just as devoted to her and she was to them. Legend has it we called her E because as a child Hilary Miller couldn’t pronounce her name and called her E E which later became E. Mystery solved.
But then she took those ideas about who a housekeeper and nanny are and she subverted them. She upended what we might call stereotype. Not only did she reunite, care for and protect her family--four generations of strong women under one roof at one point (Miss T--E’s mother, E, Rose and Rhonda)--but she was able to embark on her own adventures around the globe on an almost yearly basis. I’m willing to bet she has seen more of the world than most of us here today. Some of her travels included Spain, Portugal, Fiji, Alaska, Morocco, Israel, the UK--of course, the UK. She was nuts about the royals. Once, when talking about her travels, she said how much she regretted not ever going to Africa. When she was reminded that she visited Morocco on her trip to Portugal and Morocco is indeed on the African continent, she couldn’t stop smiling with that realization. She may have been a product of her time, but she lived beyond her time. How many of us wish we had that sense of adventure?
Later on, there would be a different configuration of four generations under her roof. Rose, Rhonda and Riley, Ryan and RJ, her great-grands. Those boys adored her. Of course, the did--no surprise there. Her life was all about family. We all looked forward to Christmas dinners at E’s when she put together a traditional feast. The food was nothing short of mouth-watering, finger-licking, pile-your-plate-high, go-back-for-thirds good. But what we all looked forward to was dessert! Coconut tarts. Lemon curd tarts. Plum pudding with rum sauce. And Black Fruitcake! Black. Fruitcake. Do you remember all that? I’m sure your waste-line does. Americans make fun of fruit cakes but you all know it’s a second religion for us.
She sold them too. She would start taking orders before thanksgiving and end up baking forty to fifty cakes every year. E’s skills were in demand. And she happily provided. She provided cakes for weddings and other events throughout the year. But her service to others went beyond gastronomy. She would needlepoint pillow cases and such for friends. She gave freely of her time to the Belizean organizations here in New York: the Belize Ex-Servicemen’s League and the Belizean Nurses’ Association, supporting and fundraising for them. And both organizations have honored her for her tireless dedication. No one here can deny her generosity. And no one can deny how much joy that generosity provided her. She was selfish like that--helping other people just so she could feel good about it. Not true.
E was driven by a strong, though understated, faith in God. She didn’t broadcast it; she lived it. That faith allowed her to seek the positive everywhere. I think that spirit fueled her resilience, don’t you agree? We saw E bounce back from some low lows. She spent the last 4 years in the nursing home at the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center. In that time, as her heart weakened slowly, her spirit strengthened. She knew the entire staff by name, always had a kind greeting for them, and never let an opportunity for a smile go by. They cared for her and lavished their attention on her because her attention for them went beyond gratitude. They were the newest members of her family. But she didn’t suffer fools either. Her various room-mates through the years were quickly admonished if they overstepped. And we all know she had strong opinions and was never shy about expressing them. But she maintained that positive outlook. Until she couldn’t. When she complained about being in pain, you knew it was serious. Though she fought hard to keep smiling, she finally succumbed.
The steady stream of visitors she enjoyed in the nursing home is a testament to a life filled with meaningful and strong relationships with the many people whose lives she touched. How fortunate are we? Emmetth lives on in our hearts and we remember a life lived fully and beautifully. We think about the collection of teapots or tiny ceramic shoes she kept, but we remember how loved we felt when we were with her. We think about how elegantly she dressed, how refined her tastes were, how much she enjoyed her electronic devices--mini-dvd players, smart phones, tablets,working on intricate coloring books, but we remember how E’s eyes sparkled when she smiled as she listened to us because in that moment, we mattered to her more than anything. We remember happiness was all she wanted for us. And we remember her laugh. Say her name, Emmetth, and we remember. And we cherish her. And we love her.