friends and family,
Shirley Josephine Fentin died one week ago. she was 94.
a good Jewish woman, our David’s Grammy, lived in southern California towards the end of her long life. A woman who raised 6 children to accomplished adulthood was the quintessential Jewish mother.
Yet, this was also a Jewish mother, who welcomed her Christian daughter-in-law from a Connecticut Yankee family as one of her own.
And we’re all the better for it.
Didn’t a famous Jew long ago teach us to love our neighbours as ourselves?
I feel privileged to be related to Shirley.
She was Grammy to our Mekhala and David. But ever more sentimentally, our precious Laila was her namesake.
Our three daughters advanced into the twenty-first century, a centuries-old tradition, unique to the Syrian Christians of Kerala, of naming grandchildren after grandparents, first patriarchal and then matriarchal, in that order. All three named each of their firstborns after a paternal grandparent. I call it grand after grand.
Thus, an Italian-Irish utterly devout Roman Catholic family of new England, a Swedish-Norwegian clan from the Midwest, and a Jewish-Episcopalian family from western Massachusetts, all got inducted into the age-old practice of a people, from a faraway place and a remote culture, by having a grandchild (their oldest in the case of two of them) named after them, thus connecting races across the span of continents and time. One human race.
And we have Laila Josephine Fentin.
Any retelling is best served with anecdotes.
So here goes one.
When Laila was born on a full moon night, (I swear with a lunar luminescence), on an April day of 5 years ago, her ecstatic ‘bampi’ Fentin called his own mother, who was in Florida at the time, to announce to her the good news:
‘ma, you have another great grand-daughter. Her name is Laila Josephine.’
Grammy glanced around with some surprise and exclaimed,
‘why, Gary, that’s my middle name!’
To which, Gary replied,
‘ma, they named her after you.’
I obviously couldn’t see this great-Grammy’s precious expression of the moment, but I’m certain there was pure and well-deserved glee in those 89-year-old eyes.
Susan, Mekhala’s mother-like mother-in-law, always spoke of her own mother-in-law with great fondness, so I’ll paste here what she posted on that ubiquitous social medium called FB. So you don’t have to take my word for it. now we know where Susan gets it from!
“This is my mother-in-law, Shirley Fentin, who never made me feel like I was anything but the handpicked choice for her oldest son and who called me her third daughter. I’m headed out to San Diego tomorrow morning to say goodbye and praying for a peaceful transition to her next destination. Bless you Mom. I love you.”
We might say in 2015, ‘what’s the big deal about a Jew marrying an Anglo-Saxon’?
To put it into perspective, we have to only glance back to the not-so-distant past, when we ‘all’ would have myocardial infarctions (!), if or when our children married ‘white’ people. Someone removed from this culturally might similarly ask, ‘what’s the big deal’?
Our Lord God places certain special people in our lives at various stages, to show us without the aid of any holy books, that such goodness is possible.
Shirley Fentin’s final words were, according to Gary … “no tears, just smiles.”
One of God’s Chosen Folks.
I’m glad that Shirley Josephine came into my life, and that I have a Laila Josephine in my life.