Ansel Head thought he might have to give a eulogy at the passing of his favorite Aunt. He composed one knowing his mother would also be present. Fortunately for those attending the service in Lake Forest, IL, they were not forced to suffer through it. But since these two ladies were an integral part of Head’s education and what he retained from it, the reader will now be offered the opportunity to review it. In Ansel Head’s own words:
“The younger sister of my father and the mother of my best friend has died and we are saddened by it. Sad, not because she is gone for her memories will live with us forever, but sad because there will be no more memories to add to our collection. We are gathered together to share some of these treasures. It is fitting we should do so for she liked being the focus of attention.
“My father really loved two women – my mother and his younger sister. (Yes he loved his youngest sister, Virginia, but she was so much younger that a different bond existed between them.) And they adored my father. That three person relationship set the stage for the show we children and cousins watched all of our lives – a 70 year loving but robust rivalry between the sisters-in-law.
“The older one was born in a small pond in Alabama, moved to another small pond, found it too confining, and moved here to the big pond on the shores of Lake Michigan. The younger one was born in a larger pond in Alabama and was content to live there all of her life. Both were determined to be the big fish in whatever pond they swam.
“Their fathers were respected and successful business men. Their husbands were the same. But business was closed to their talents.
“They were expected to marry, have children, run households, and care for their families. This they did. They perfected dressing, makeup, hairdos, decorating, entertaining, bridge, charming, flattering, dancing, flirting, drinking, and all of the homemaker’s tasks from which Martha Stewart now makes a fortune. Only one venue was open to their ambitions. If ladies were so inclined, in their spare time they could help with social and civic projects. These ladies were so inclined.
“Those in the know will tell you that Mozart created the greatest music possible within the constraints of the rigid structure in which he composed.
“Within the rigid structure of their day, the sisters-in-law spent their entire lives leading important civic causes. All the while, though, they kept a watchful eye on what the other one was accomplishing. Whether competition or ambition or both drove them, their ponds – our ponds – were the beneficiaries of it. That they did this is admirable, that they did this better than others is esteemed, but how they did it is amazing.
“I remember once listening to the older one telling her cousin, Hugh Kaul, about her plans for a particular cause of the month. As usual, Uncle Hugh was pooh-poohing the idea. “It will never happen”, he proclaimed. She laughed – that fun deep laugh – and said her committee was made up of the heads of the largest banks, insurance companies, retailers, and exchanges. These were not boy scouts. It would happen and of course it did.
“Because of his proximity to the younger sister-in-law, Uncle Hugh had to watch in disbelief as she produced similar results year after year.
“Now we all know these financiers, these industrial tycoons, these business moguls. They don’t part with their money easily nor are they by nature inclined towards the cause of the month, but nevertheless they served and gave, and gave and served, and served and gave again and again and again. And the whole time, they actually thought they were in charge. Silly men!
“As I was driving the sisters-in-law away from my father’s memorial service, one turned to the other and said, “He was a good man, a little irritable when he got hungry, but a good man.” The other responded, “Yes he was a good man.” Then they both blew him a kiss, turned to face forward, and moved onto another subject. After all he was only a man.
“And what of their daughters, daughters-in-law, and nieces. They’re cut from the same cloth with the same talents and ambitions, but without the same constraints. Using the skills they learned from the sisters-in-law, they are wives and mothers, psychologists, builders of businesses, farms, foundations and political parties, and directors of their own cause of the month.
“And what of the sons, sons-in-laws, and nephews: they’re adored, challenged, educated in the best schools, put on a pedestal, and made to feel like they’re in charge. After all we’re only men.
“If I had a libation, something usually present in this family, I would raise my glass to these Mozart sized fish whose loving robust rivalry has done so much for the ponds in which we swim, to the Grand Dames of our clan who show us how to live with joy and courage, to our mothers and aunts, Charlotte and Jane.