Eulogy for Hazel I. C. Geissler
Hazel Irene C. Geissler.
Also known as "Totsy."
Born March 21, 1926 in a little west Texas town that had, as its
best attribute, the care and loving of her large and growing
Died April 23, 1999 in a little Central Virginia town that has,
as ITS best attribute, the care and loving of her yet even larger
73 years of a rich and varied life, far too complex to summarize
in the usual kind of eulogy.
A life of difficulty and of challenge, a life of travel and of
diversity, a life of peace and of love, a life hard to capsulize
in a few minutes.
If you asked about educational achievements, you'd hear that my
mother never finished high school and from that you might think
she was an uneducated woman. And you would be wrong.
Remember that she was almost 16 on a fateful day in December 1941
when bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor made things like finishing
high school seem unimportant. She went to work in oil and geology
research instead, hoping to contribute in her own way to the war
effort. From that day almost to her last she never stopped
She read everything she could get her hands on, from the classics
to Dean Koontz. One of the first major expenditures she insisted
on, long before my sister and I could even read, was a full
Encyclopedia Britannica, and she used it and read from it as much
as we kids ever did. She taught herself to play chess from that
Encyclopedia - even surprised our father one night by playing him
to a draw when he'd been playing for years. We all learned early
and well that books were treasured friends in our household.
Her abilities were so well recognized when we lived in New Jersey
that the League of Women Voters turned to her for leadership and
guidance when our town needed to change its name to gain a
central post office. It was our mother who helped choose a new
name, singularly appropriate for the town where Thomas Edison did
so much of his work - and Edison Township came to be.
And she not only learned first aid and rescue techniques; she
taught them to hundreds of others over the years.
Not to mention the fact that she always, always knew the six-
letter word for a mammal with winged toes for 34 down in the New
York Times Crossword puzzle. (The word is "aliped.") A puzzle I
might add that she always finished, in pen, not even needing to
erase a word here or there.
No, she was not an uneducated woman.
If you asked about her family, you might be told that she had
four sons and three daughters and nine grandchildren - five boys
and four girls. She had a rich and warm and different
relationship with each of her very different children and
grandchildren in all of our diversity. She was proud of the
degrees and the accomplishments of her children, proud of the
sports skills and arts skills and college aspirations of her
grandchildren. She delighted in learning the languages of
bioethics and business, of computers and technology, of lunar
landings and the law, in finding a soulmate in a daughter who
loves the rocks and soils of the earth as she did, a
granddaughter who loves the charcoals and oils of art as she did,
grandsons with the same love of books and same twisty sense of
humor as she had, daughters- and sons-in-law who are real
teammates and partners to her children. She rejoiced in all of
our successes, commiserated with us in all of our setbacks,
joined with us in much of our fun. We will all treasure our
memory of her 70th birthday weekend in New York, with a Broadway
play, and a dinner and brunch, and before - after - in between -
during -- the kind of cutting up and horseplay she was so fond
But that doesn't tell her story either: there were also the
children she adopted in her heart, and the children who adopted
her. You can't talk about my mother's children, for example,
without knowing that - from the day she was born - she had a
daughter of the heart that she shared with her sister Cladyne.
Our cousin Bobette has always been Mother's other child, and she
Bobbi's other mother.
Nor can you talk about Mom's family without talking about all the
kids over all the years that she ran and worked in the stores
around here who brought their school pictures FIRST to Ms. Totsy
BEFORE the rest of the picture packet went home to their own
No, she didn't just have seven children and nine grandchildren.
Her heart was bigger than that.
You might look at worldly possessions and see that she never had
a lot - and probably never had a positive bank balance in her
life. But that doesn't tell it all. It doesn't tell, for example,
of the years she ran Kents Store, and so many times even after
she had locked up for the night, someone would knock on the door,
needing a gallon of milk for kids at home, needing credit for
that gallon of milk, never really going to be able to pay. When
you have enough to share a gallon of milk, time and again, with
others in need, and when you have the generosity of spirit never
to regret having done so, you are not truly poor yourself.
And there isn't any usual eulogy category that begins to capture
her love of a good story or her ability to tell it. There are so
many stories that she loved and told so well that it's hard even
to know how to choose a few to share. One of my own favorites is
how a man who might have become my father became my uncle because
of a dresser drawer. Seems my mother was dating this serviceman,
and she kind of liked him, but her older sister liked him a bit
more. At that time, things were a bit crowded with 10
kids sharing quarters, and my mother - as the younger sister -
had to keep all her things in boxes under the bed. My Aunt
Cladyne - as the older sister - had the treasured dresser drawer.
High level negotiations resulted in a swap. It's because Mom got
the dresser drawer that some of you out there are Barretts.
Or the story about the little boy who came into the store one
time and Mother was explaining to him how a thermos for sale
could keep his milk cold on one day and his soup warm on another.
And her eyes would always get as wide as that little boy's must
have as he looked down into the thermos and then up at her quite
seriously and asked, "How do it know?"
Or perhaps the most recent that she was just perfecting about the
letter from my nephew, her grandson Max, who told her how he had
worked hard and saved his money and now he wanted her to convince
HER SON to let him buy a car.
No, eulogies usually don't cover storytelling.
And you might look at the diseases she battled at the end - two
different cancers, chronic obstructive lung disease, and you
might think how sad it was that she had to fight so hard. But the
last years of her life were not sad, were not unhappy. She was
constantly surrounded by the love and - more - the genuine
friendship of her own brothers and sisters. She never had a
doctor's appointment or a treatment scheduled where at least one
and usually more of her sisters wasn't with her. The Cancer Unit
at the University of Virginia Medical Center still wants Aunt
Marianne back to entertain both the patients and the staff. Her
days and her evenings were spent with that love and friendship
all around her - watching game shows together, sharing a meal,
above all else sharing a laugh. Even when all that could be
shared was a warm hand or a soft kiss, she was never ever truly
And what, you might ask, did this woman who never really owned
anything leave to those she left behind? The answer is so simple
and so clear: look around you. She left us each other. To care
for. To forgive. To share a story with. To laugh with. Above all
else, to love.
We will take care of each other, Mom. We will tell the stories as
best we can. We will keep them, and we will keep you, alive in
our hearts forever.
-- Read at Byrd Methodist Chapel,
Kents Store, Virginia, April 26, 1999