Wednesday, December 23, 2009

(Pictures compiled by Alan Hanscom and written tribute by Robert Hanscom)

Tribute to Julianne (Weaver) Hanscom
Delivered by her son, Robert Hanscom, at her memorial service in Fletcher, North Carolina on July 1, 2007 and at her funeral service in Fryeburg, Maine on July 6, 2007

My mom, Julianne Hanscom, was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on September 16, 1920 as "Julia Szucs". She was the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. Her dad, Michael Lazslo Szucs, was from Battonya, Hungary, and her mother, Julianna Kish, was from Agard, Zemplen County, Hungary. Her mother had come to the U.S. in 1909, and her father -- who had been a member of the Austrian Lippizanian Stallion regiment in Vienna -- had come in 1913. My mother had an older sister, Margaret, and a younger brother, Mike. In the 1920s and 1930s, they were a tightly knit family living in Bridgeport, and they remained close to each other for their entire lives. In 1924, my grandmother converted from Catholicism to the Seventh-day Adventist religion, bringing her three children along with her. My grandfather resisted his own conversion for nearly two decades, but ultimately became a member of the Adventist Church around 1940.

In the late 1930s, tired of people mispronouncing the name "Szucs", the family changed their last name to "WEAVER". In their later years, my mother's parents moved to Southern California and enjoyed many years of a peaceful retirement in the town of LaSierra. My mother's dad died there in 1964 in his 79th year of age. Following his death, my mother's mother -- Grandma Weaver -- spent the next 20 years alternating her residence in the homes of her children. She ultimately died in Fletcher, North Carolina in 1984 in her 99th year of age.

My mother's sister, Margaret, was married in 1934 to Dr. Harold Mozar. They lived in Loma Linda, then in Placerville, California for many years. Harold died in 1995 and Margaret died in 1997. Margaret was a prolific letter writer and last year, as I was going through my parents' belongings last year, I found hundreds and hundreds of letters written by Margaret to my mother. Apparently, she enjoyed writing more than phoning, so made it a habit to pen a letter to my mother once a week. That went on for a good 40 years, which explains why the collection was so large. And true to my mother’s nature, she kept every single one of them. She had a hard time throwing anything away, let alone letters from her sister.

My mother's brother, Mike Weaver, barely survived heavy action in World War II, came back home, and became a surgeon. He was one of the co-founders of Parkview Hospital in Brunswick, Maine in 1955. He and his wife, Peggy, had four daughters and our family spent many wonderful vacations with them. My mother was devastated when Mike died early in life from complications related to his diabetes.

My mother graduated from Bassick High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1939. She grew up in the Hungarian section of Bridgeport and remembered with great fondness the traditions from the old country that had been retained in "little Hungary". As a child, she learned piano and quickly showed some talent there. She played all her life, and -- even in her 80s -- could still pull out a lively rendition of "Glow Worm" on her badly out-of-tune piano.

After she graduated from High School, my mother went on to nursing school at New England Sanitarium in Stoneham, Massachusetts. She graduated from that program in 1943, as did a group of other young women. I reference them only because this particular set of classmates became some of her closest and most enduring set of friends. They included names and faces that we saw all of our lives -- Becky Bunker Schmunk, Dottie Demazo Miller, Nellie Millikangus, and one of our more favorite names, Vivian Leigh Low.

After graduating, my mother decided to hit Hollywood. Her sister, Margaret, was living there with her husband, Harold, and my mother was ready for a little excitement. She went west, got a job as a nurse at the White Memorial Hospital, and here's where myth or truth kind of blurs. She may have worked as a model for a while, although none of us quite remember the details. She was an attractive young woman, enjoyed high fashion and looking good, and it may have happened. But, like other stories, we were never quite sure where the line existed between true facts and a good story.

That was a characteristic of my mother that we always were mindful about. She was a wonderful story teller and kept her audiences -- which included her four children -- absolutely captivated. But in order to produce the good story, she was always happy to allow the facts to change just a little to make it a bit more interesting. That tendency stayed with her her entire life, (and, by the way, I inherited from her the same talent.)

In Los Angeles, she rose to position of nursing supervisor and later, nursing educator. Those were great years for her, full of adventure -- road trips across the country, camping trips with her friends, misadventures by the dozen, and the fodder for more great stories. But, as her friends moved on to other things, so did she. In the late 1940s, she returned to college and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Pacific Union College in California in 1950. She then moved to Loma Linda, California where -- in early 1951 -- she met my dad Alfred Hanscom, a medical student from right here in Chatham, New Hampshire. Following a whirlwind courtship, they were married on November 22, 1951 at the home of her sister, Margaret, in Loma Linda.

The next several years were a new kind of adventure for her. In a five-year period -- from 1953 to 1958 -- she gave birth to four children: David in 1953, Alan in 1954, me -- Robert -- in 1955, and Carol in 1958. She and my dad also moved frequently during those years because he was finishing medical school, then going through residency programs in Los Angeles, Portland, Maine, and Pawtucket, Rhode Island before finally settling in Newport, New Hampshire in 1955. I would say that those were not the best years for a woman who had been previously independent and career-minded. She was no longer working professionally, and keeping a large house running with all sorts of ill-behaved children running about. But she managed to find her way through it. She developed a circle of new friends, ran "Operations Toyland" for disadvantaged children each Christmas, and took charge of renovating a rambling, run-down Victorian mansion that we were to call our home.

In 1962, she and my dad moved us out to California, living first in Loma Linda. Her parents and sister were already out there, and she could no longer stand living so far from them. In California, it took a while to find the right place to settle, but eventually, we took root in Napa, California. During those California years, my mother regained her professional life, working as an office nurse in Loma Linda and then later, in Napa, as a public health nurse. She was always the happiest when she had that "just-right" balance between home life and work life.

It was in Loma Linda in 1963 when she happened upon a man brutally assaulting another man in a shopping mall. Although it was occurring in full view, with standers by watching, no one was doing anything to stop the attack. My mother didn't hesitate. She was fearless when she was mad and she pushed her way through the paralyzed crowd, yanked the attacker by his hair off the other man, and broke up the fight. The police later credited her with saving the victim's life, and then asked her to help them. They were looking for a woman who looked like any other average housewife who could help them with undercover work. Would she be willing, they asked, to assist them?

Always drawn to drama, she didn't hesitate. So, for approximately 15 months, she worked as an undercover set of eyes for the Loma Linda Police Department. She helped them with a number of situations, but the biggest case was helping them recover a church safe that had been stolen from the Loma Linda Seventh-day Adventist Church. Ultimately, the safe was found, and that result was largely due to her persistence in looking for -- and listening to -- anything she could subtly pick up as clues for the police to act on.

This is just one of many stories about my mother. We can tell more later today, but the flavor of all of them will be the same. She lived her life in the extremes – she was never tepid about anything. She never hesitated to express an opinion. She never followed the crowd, always choosing her own path. Even when almost her entire family shifted over from being Republicans to Democrats, she held on to her political conservatism and was more than happy to engage in a debate about why. By the way, no matter how well it was argued on the other end, she was always smug in the belief that she had somehow won.

In 1971, she and my dad moved to Michigan where they lived for seven years. In 1978, tiring of the toll that northern winters were taking on them, they moved south. They lived in Hendersonville for 16 years, then moved to Collegedale, Tennessee in the mid-1990s. They always enjoyed living near Adventist colleges and regularly attended weekend programs offered at Southern University.

Around the same time, my parents bought back the “Birches” here in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It had formerly belonged to my dad’s parents, Charlotte and Victor Hanscom, but sold to an elderly couple, the Husseys, in the 1950s. My mom loved coming up to the cabin, although the lack of plumbing there drew routine disdain from her during each visit. Eventually, it was she who made sure that a bathroom was built. For nearly 30 years, my parents spent at least a week each year at their beloved cabin.

In January 2000, my mother lost control of her car and slammed into a brick wall at approximately 40 miles per hour. Ironically, during their long marriage, my mother had always insisted on driving because she didn’t trust my father’s well-known inattention at the wheel. Both she and my father were badly injured, but my dad recovered after a few weeks. My mother, on the other hand, spent three months in intensive care, and then another three months on a med-surg unit. There were numerous times when the doctors and nurses were sure she wouldn't make it another day -- and yet, she always did. Ultimately, she came back home, although her life was never the same again.

That was the hallmark of my mother's last few years. She suffered from diabetes, phlebitis, congestive heart failure, and, most recently, cancer. Time after time, we were told she could not survive much longer and, indeed, she would go to the brink of death. But then she would come back and keep living among us. I was always amazed by her ability to do that, and eventually I understood why. Once, when she had come through yet one more near-death experience and I was by her bedside, she whispered to me, "I'm just not ready to go yet. And I won't die until I'm ready."

That's why it shocked me when she finally lost the battle. I have to believe that it happened only because she was truly finally ready for it to happen.

She was a complicated woman – probably the most difficult person at times I have ever known. She was a perfectionist – placed high demands on herself and on her children as well. As a teenager, I often resented her for that, and battled back when I felt she was expecting too much from me. And yet, I now understand that to whatever extent her children have had successful lives is in part due to her intolerance of failure.

She mellowed in her later years, and her grandchildren most frequently saw a less demanding side of her. She passionately loved her family – my dad, her four children, David, Alan, me, and Carol; and her eight grandkids, Carol’s kids – Lisa Haney Henson, Matthew Haney, and Laura Haney Sutton – all of whom attended the memorial service in North Carolina last Sunday, but who can’t be here today; David’s kids – Nick and Jasmine, both of whom are with us today; and my four children – Rachel, Michael, Alex, and Amelia, all of whom are also here today. She was thrilled to become a great-grandmother last year when her granddaughter Laura gave birth to Abby. She had special relationships with her daughters-in-law, David’s wife, Babs, and my wife, Diane, whom she and my dad often credited with “straightening Bob out”, whatever that is supposed to mean! She and my father placed a huge amount of trust and confidence in their son-in-law, Tom Haney, who helped them considerably through the years and about whom we would joke was “the son they never had”. In reflection, I believe that it was this large affectionate family that was at the root of her unwillingness to easily leave this life.

What legacies are left to us from my mother? Certainly, the high value of friendships. During her lifetime, she had many, many friends, and not just those surface types – these were solid relationships.

I would also say that she leaves a legacy of story-telling. She loved telling her tales and who cares whether they were true or not. In my own family, that’s a trait we plan on holding on to for as long as we can. I’m a story-teller and apparently, so are my kids.

She also leaves a legacy of high standards. This is complicated, because her inability to meet her own standards had the effect of sometimes paralyzing her. And yet, we all knew that she wanted all of us – including herself – to live life to the fullest.

My mother was a remarkable woman and, despite her flaws and her struggles, lived what I would describe a rich life.

Goodbye Mom. I love you and I'll miss you.