I had the opportunity to speak on behalf of my mother and her siblings at the funeral for my Grandmother. Eva Birr was a special person to many people, and it was an honor to formulate a few thoughts and share them for such a wonderful Grandmother. Below is the transcript.
Eva Birr, 100 years. 1912 to 2012. It has taken me two days, but I have finally gotten this reflection down to one-minute. One-minute for every year of her life, that is. Father Tom, now I don’t want you checking your watch…lunch will still be there and 4 o’clock mass is 5 hours away…we’ve got plenty of time.
It is an honor to be speaking on behalf of Eva’s children: Ginger, Karen, Kay, and Roger. We come together today to celebrate a delightful woman who touched so many lives in so many different ways. We are here to share in the joy of her ascension and the dawning of her new life, a life of peace and abundance in God’s Kingdom. I am going to spend a few moments reflecting on Eva’s story, a story rich with adventure, immersed in family, and generous with love.
Eva’s story begins in 1912 on the country roads of Oconto Falls. Allow me a moment to put the span of her life into perspective:
- In 1912, the US population was 95 million people – today the US population is over 311 million people
- 17 Presidents have looked after our great nation during this span
- Eva’s generation was the first to experience automobiles, traffic lights, airplanes, pop-up toasters, hula-hoops, and bubble gum
- While the world’s population grew, the communication capabilities of all people were enhanced by computers, the internet, cell phones, shrinking the world making it possible to communicate anywhere, anytime to anyone in the world.
- The highly advertised ‘unsinkable’ ocean liner, The Titanic, did, in fact, sink on April 15, 1912, Eva was just three months old.
Navigating through tempests as well as calm seas, Eva set sail on her voyage in 1912 and was unsinkable for over 100 years, telling a captivating story, leaving us with powerful influence that has helped shape all of our lives.
While our nation was on the cusp of the great depression, Eva’s story was emerging, sculpting a chapter filled with happiness and hope right here in Two Rivers. Beginning in June of 1930 and continuing for 56 years, Eva shared her life with her one true love, Leonard Birr until he went home to the Lord in 1986.
Boy, did they love life with each other. They shared their dreams, did their best to make them come true, and joyfully danced to the beautiful melodies and harmonies they created.
Out of their love for each other, they brought into the world four spirit-filled, loving children: Ginger, Karen, Kay, and Roger. Oh, Eva was protective of her children, had a strong opinion from time to time, and didn’t hesitate to share her mind with her children. But I do know this, she never tolerated any one else to say a bad word about those kids. Eva raised three strong daughters and a devoted son.
Eva and Leonard enjoyed their time in the northwoods on Kelly Lake, building their modest slice of paradise here on earth, their escape from the responsibilities of work in Two Rivers and their desire to be in the comfort of an area in which they grew up. Imagine a park where all the sound came from singing birds, chattering chipmunks, and hungry woodpeckers and the intoxicating aroma of summer blossoms hangs in the air. This is exactly what it felt like to be with them at Kelly Lake. You couldn’t help but be consumed by the desire to rest, relax, and enjoy the total experience of their company, maybe with an ice-cold glass of lemonade or tea basking in nature’s beauty beneath the shade of one of those abundant, beautiful trees.
The latter years of their marriage found Eva and Leonard wintering in Clearwater, Florida. Eva loved the vibrant colors of the foliage, the warm friendships, and the numerous refreshing visits from her children, grandchildren, family, and friends.
She loved her grandchildren, all 15 of us. I can remember how her cookie jar on the kitchen counter was never empty; her homemade cookies were always a treat. I remember how the candy dish in her living room was always full…full, at least, until we all went home. I remember where she kept the toys for all of her grandchildren; tucked in a deep closet that seemed to never end beyond the spray of light and this closet became a little room for all of us to explore if we dared to creep into the unlit unknown.
Grandma helped us whenever we asked. She was a model of God’s love for us by being generous and patient, even when she had to remind us boys to keep our dirty, dusty hands off her immaculate walls. She willingly shared her wisdom with us, teaching us about money, responsibility, loyalty, and family. Some of us lived with her, some of us stayed with her, and some of us couldn’t resist the longing in our hearts to visit. She helped all of us who ever spent five minutes with her to become better versions of ourselves. Blessed are we to have had the opportunity to know and learn from this amazing woman.
Her great-grandchildren, all 27 of them, were icing on the cake. She loved all those children and got to know them as best she could. How she kept all the names straight is beyond me, but it was part of her gift, part of her story. When any of us would show up for a visit, she always had a smile on her face and questions to ask the little ones. Eva was blessed, too, to live for the joy of three great-great grandchildren. God knew just how important she was to so many people that He gave us the opportunity of her presence for so long.
Her four children loved Eva too. They honored her all the days of her long and beautiful life. All of the children simply enjoyed Eva’s company. Ginger would spend her evenings with her mother playing cards or just talking. Karen invited her mother to accompany her and her family all over the United States traveling and seeing the sites that have made our country famous. Kay shared her evenings with her mother playing cards, laughing, and learning. Roger, most recently, escorted Eva and cared for her on a four month trip to Florida; taking her for walks to look at all the flowers, for visits with family members or friends from years past, and just spending precious time with his mother who soon would be passing to her new life.
About a year ago, as her story on earth was drawing to a close, Eva made a bucket list. That’s right, at 99 years old, this brilliant, strong hearted woman, decided she needed to accomplish two more things. Her bucket was small, but it held two big ideas she housed in her heart. She fancied a grand 100 year birthday party and she craved one more trip to Florida. In January, many of us here shared a meal and celebration with Eva commemorating her 100th birthday. Shortly after that cool Wisconsin Sunday afternoon, she was on an airplane with her son Roger to warmer weather, Florida. Her bucket wasn’t empty though. No, in fact, it was filled…with peace. She had accomplished all she had aspired to grasp in her lifetime.
Eva was a faith-filled woman. I remember in my impressionable years as a teenager, I would be in awe of her dedication to her Catholic faith. On Saturday evenings or on Sunday mornings when the weather was nice enough, you could see her walking across the 22nd street bridge on her way to mass over at St. Luke’s.
Eva was hospitable; her door was always open to anyone who might pay a visit. She enjoyed sitting and chatting on her front porch. There was always room at the table, there was always enough food, fellowship, and grace for all. And, oh, what a treat it was during the summer time to have a meal at Eva’s table. She always prepared fresh vegetables just hours…even minutes…after she picked them from her large garden. I can taste those cooked carrots with hot, melted butter just now. I always knew where to find her when she wasn’t in the house on those summer mornings…out in her garden, preparing to enjoy the fruits of her labor.
I remember how she would enlist several of her grandchildren, any who might be available, to pick strawberries in June. It seemed like she kept us out there for five hours on the hottest day of the summer. She didn’t mind though…and neither did we, especially when we got to have her delicious homemade strawberry jam on fresh bread.
In the evenings, when the day’s hard work was finished, Eva enjoyed playing cards…heck, she would play solitaire, double-solitaire for more of a challenge, if she was alone, which wasn’t very often. She loved to challenge others to a card game called 500 Rummy…that was enough entertainment for the evening…she didn’t need the radio or the tv, just friends and family and a deck of cards.
Eva took life in stride, never getting too high or too low. Heck, she had to be laid back with the amount of change and transformation she saw over the course of 100 years. Her advice to any of us when we were concerned with anything was ‘everything will come and go, just be patient and things will work out.’ Eva’s story is a beautiful one, one I am happy I had a chance to experience. It is a story of adventure, courage, love, and family.
I know that when she arrived at the gates of Heaven St. Peter said, “Eva, you’re room is ready for you. It took a few of the angels a little longer to prepare it because you have been just so special and so useful to the Lord.” My guess is she replied, “Well, I was wondering what the heck was taking you so long!”
Then I am certain God approached her and said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, now savor the beauty and joy of the Kingdom of Heaven.” In all her humility, grace, and dignity Eva might simply say, “Thank you, this will do just fine, I am happy to be home.”