Thursday, November 29, 2007

Elizabeth Forter 1922 - 2007

I was just thinking the other day about how few women professors there were back when I attended college in the 1970's, despite the emphasis on the "liberal" part of our "liberal arts" education and the fact that the school had recently merged with Milwaukee-Downer Women's College. Men had an inordinate influence on my thinking and were those whose opinions mattered most to me. None that I recall discriminated against female students or failed to be supportive, but in hindsight it would have been helpful to have had more women around to have known as teachers and scholars and simply as mature human beings.

Then today I opened up an email announcing the death of Elizabeth Forter, a professor in the English department, the department of my major. I'm embarrassed to say that I had forgotten about her. I can now recall having taken at least two courses from her -- the third of the intermediate level courses on English literature covering the 19th and 20th c. and an upper level course on the English Novel, which went from Sterne and Fielding through Virginia Woolf. It was in that course that I first read Jane Austen - a delightful discovery, which I appreciated all the more for having made it so late.

Yet, as much as I enjoyed the courses I had with "Miss Forter" (although they invariably had Ph.D's, the custom at the school was to address professors as "Miss" or "Mr." because they considered "Dr." pretentious), I scarcely knew her at all. Turns out that she was an Episcopalian (not that it would have mattered to me back then -- although All Saints is located across the street from campus, I never darkened the doors of any church in college, except maybe the Methodist for an Easter Sunday service or two).

What I can recall was her wit, intelligence, and what the article aptly described as "good cheer." Elizabeth was not cheerful in the sense of being "cheery." But there was something about her, a calm sense of satisfaction and well-being that radiated from her, not out of a sense of optimism but rather a marvelous sense of humor and curiosity about the human condition and a delight and appreciation of those who wrote well about it, such as Austen. I believe her "specialty" was Trollope, whom she managed to continue to enjoy despite years of study, perhaps because Elizabeth knew, above all, how to truly read rather than merely dissect. I guess one might say that Elizabeth was someone who was characteristically in "good humor" -- a rare and wonderful gift to even those who only knew her at a distance.

I'm sad to hear of her death and regret I never got to know her better. At the time I was taking her courses, I was at the height of sturm and drang as only I, in full post-adolescence, could muster. I was more interested in listening to the men, wrestling with the likes of Foucault and Derrida or mucking in the swamps of Faulkner's Mississippi or swimming in the whiteness of Melville's whale than attending to a woman who was quietly but firmly sure of herself, her worth, and the respect of her colleagues, who was as interested in the big picture, the comedy and tragedy of human folly as the form and structure of the novel. Those young women and men who had the good sense to have worked closely with her and gotten to know her personally must have gained a great deal.

May she rest in peace and her friends and family find comfort.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blame it on Eileen

Eileen has tagged me. Now she should know by now that I don't do memes (just like I don't do email chains and pretty much don't do anything anyone ever tells me to do). But, the hour is late, and this sure beats working for the moment, and I don't have the presence of mind to speak to all those to whom I've long missed writing, so here goes my belated thankful thoughts, now that we're past the Thanksgiving holiday (best commemorated by Sarcastic Lutheran) and Black Friday.

Seriously, what am I thankful for?

1. God's grace and love. Truly. Lately it seems like I've been blessed with God's special care and attention which, I'm afraid, often hits me most when I haven't been paying much attention myself.

2. My husband. He can be very difficult to get along with at times (as can I), but he is faithful and dutiful in ways that are astonishing. I am thankful and honored to have his love.

3. The internet. As much as I curse it at times when I let myself get overloaded with all that is out there, it brings a richness to life I could have scarcely imagined a few years ago. While I cannot spend as much time establishing personal connections as I'd like, it is so wonderful to be able to read others' thoughts, likeminded and otherwise.

4. My backyard, neighborhood, and place in the world. I've never been so happy about where I live. The physical environment is beautiful. It's a wonderful place to come home to, one I need to get know better before we must leave someday when we retire.

5. My kids. No doubt I am too wrapped up in them and their lives, but I never cease to be amazed that they and I got this far together. I never really planned on having children, and they did not arrive until my late, late 30's. But they have taught me so much, challenged just about everything about me, and occasionally make me feel I have something worthwhile to offer others. Of course they drive me crazy, too, but.... Funny about my daughter deciding at the last minute that we just had to clear off the dining room table for Thanksgiving dinner (we were going to eat at the everyday table in the family room instead), and she actually found a cloth tablecloth and napkins, washed and dried them, and set the table with candles. God knows how it happened, but we're family and I guess we have some kind of family traditions, or at least moments.

Well, that was five. Pretty obvious stuff, I guess. Memes should be kind of funny and different. I suppose I could add a few more -- beagles, smells and bells high Episcopal liturgy, fresh popcorn, swimming pools, swimming in salt seawater, soft and fluffy snowflakes, unexpectedly finding a laundry basket of clean underwear, peanut butter, curling up in bed with a good book, and............ well, that's a start.

Another Loss

Remembering Kaitlin Mahr '09

Kaitlin Mahr '09 was laid to rest Saturday, Nov. 24, in Onalaska, Wis. The Lawrence junior was remembered in the La Crosse Tribune last week.

From the Lawrence University Home Page.
LaCrosse Tribune obituary here.

Words fail me. I did not know this young woman and I only stumbled across this item via RMJ's reference at Adventus to Martin Marty (Marty's website reported that he will be speaking at an honors convocation at Lawrence University in April 2008 and gave the link. Marty gave the commencement address at my Lawrence graduation in 1977). This might have been me 34 years ago. I lived, loved, danced, and was deeply depressed in and near Lawrence for many years. I was fortunate enough to have come back from the hospital alive after a similar incident, although at the time I was not at all thankful for it. I am so deeply sorry that Kaitlin did not make it and will no longer be dancing again here on earth. Prayers for her and her family and friends.