Geri was my aunt; my mother’s twin. Fraternal twins, they were as different as night and day:
- Geri was blonde and blue-eyed; Mom was dark-haired with hazel eyes.
- Geri was studious and introspective; Mom was athletic and vivacious.
- Geri chose a path of higher education and a fulfilling career; Mom chose marriage and family.
With a relationship that only twins understand, these differences sometimes led to misunderstanding and hurt, but the underlying dynamic that drove Geri, always, was love.
Geri loved many things passionately:
Throughout her adulthood, she remained close to her parents, living less than 2 hours away. She was close to her older brother, who lived in Northern California and her twin, my mother, who lived in various places predicated by my father’s Air Force career. Whenever she had the opportunity, she headed north to visit Bob and his family and even traveled to Japan to visit Jo and her family.
Her extended family grew to include seven nieces and nephews, too many great-nieces and great-nephews to count with many who have now blessed her with great-great nieces and great-great nephews.
And nothing gave her greater joy than to be surrounded by family celebrating a holiday or birthday. Geri was always the “ring leader” at Christmas, planning some kind of Christmas Eve celebration, whether it was a visit from Santa Claus or caroling or a reading of the Christmas story from the Bible. She always went out of her way to make family gatherings fun, joyful and memorable.
As a social worker in the adoption field, Geri’s career spanned 40 years in service to others. Placing at-risk, disadvantaged and disabled children into loving homes was a passion she never tired of doing. After the end of a long work day, Geri spent countless hours counseling others on her own time. Her generous spirit and unique and loving perspective won her life-long friends from all walks of life.
Geri didn’t know a stranger. When meeting someone new, she was disarmingly charming, wanting to learn only about you. Focusing on her friends with great intensity, she remembered details about her friends with alarming accuracy. She inherited her sharp mind from my grandfather, who had a photographic memory. She inherited her charm from my grandmother, a social butterfly. The combination – laser sharp memory and charming warmth – was a lethal combination and it was difficult to tell her “no.” This gift served her will in her later career years, when she was the Executive Director of the Children’s Home Society of Los Angeles (an adoption agency) and fund-raising was a major part of her job.
Naturally inquisitive, Geri traveled extensively throughout her life. In her lifetime, she visited every state within the United States and over 80 countries. To afford to travel, Geri ate a packed lunch at her desk every working day. She used to say she didn’t mind eating a homemade sandwich every day if it allowed her to see the Great Wall of China.
An art lover, she never tired of visiting museums all over the world. After she retired, she took up painting and surprised every one of us with her natural talent. Creating over 400 paintings in her retirement years, she painted until she was 80.
Geri loved music and one of her favorite things was attending concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and other venues. When I was 18, she took me to see my first opera – Aida – in Rome.
Geri read endlessly. Interested in many things, her book collection was vast and varied. She loved books so much that it was her favorite gift to give others. It was not uncommon for her to walk into her local Barnes & Noble store and leave with 30 copies of the same book. If she liked a book, her generous spirit required that she share it with everyone.
Geri loved to throw parties. She’d spend hours planning and decorating for a special party. During the holidays, it was not unusual for her to throw back-to-back parties for 5 days in a row. She had so many friends that having them all at her home at the same time was an impossibility, so her solution was to have party after party after party. So what if she was exhausted after 5 days of parties? She wanted no one to feel overlooked. Inclusion was always Geri’s purpose.
Geri loved the out-of-doors and Yosemite was a favorite destination. She never tired of visiting Yosemite and didn’t need an excuse or her arm twisted to visit it time after time. My first visit to Yosemite was with Geri. I was 19 and had taken a train to Los Angeles to meet her at her office. After work, she drove us to Yosemite, at night. Since it was dark, of course I didn’t see it the way most people do when descending into Yosemite Valley. We arrived and checked into the lodge and went to bed.
The next morning, we walked down a path to Yosemite Lodge’s cafeteria for breakfast. Tired, I was looking at the ground, watching where I was going. Geri said, “Carole, look up.” The mountains towering over us took my breath away. I always felt so lucky to have experienced my first site of Yosemite from this perspective. It was magical.
Geri loved all flowers, but roses were her favorite. In all the homes she lived in, she had an extensive rose garden. One of the reasons she chose the assisted living facility where she lived her final years was because they have a rose garden.
Geri loved her Shelties: Bonnie, Laddie, Amber and Sonny. Each one brought her endless joy and she grieved the loss of each deeply.
Whether I like to believe it or not, Geri was a major influence in my life. As a young child, she showered me (and my siblings) with fabulous dresses, so pretty you dared not wear them except for the specialist of special occasions.
When I graduated from high school, she took me and my cousin, Mike, on a trip to Europe. She so wanted to share with us the world beyond our front door. Forty plus years later, I still consider this trip one of the highlights of my life.
She taught me the art of setting a beautiful table to make a party special, one that I have passed on to my nieces and great-nieces. One time she sent me 300 small artificial floral bouquets in various pots and vases that she made. I was the one who had taken over the family holiday gatherings and she wanted to make sure I had enough different types of bouquets for every possible holiday and birthday gathering! I’m not making this up – she really did that!
Throughout my life, she listened to me with an open heart and offered advice, counsel and love. And, through her influence, my loves are her loves: family, friends, art, music, literature, nature and pets.
One of my favorite stories about Geri includes her life-long friend, Lois. Out somewhere together, Geri exclaimed, “oh, Lois; look at the sunset!”
“I’ve seen sunsets; many times,” responded Lois grumpily.
“Oh, but you haven’t seen this one,” Geri sighed.
Life is a gift. A gift we often take for granted. So, whenever you are overwhelmed by life’s challenges and just want your day to end, remember Geri’s story – you haven’t seen this sunset yet.
Until Next Time,