Tuesday, January 10, 2006


In memory of Alvine Adams Clausen, October 16, 1915 - January 9, 2006. She is shown here with her great-grandson, my son, Adam Christopher Baker. We named him Adam after her maiden name, which she kept as her middle name. (Though she always said that if we were going to name him after that we should just call him "Adams" rather than shortening it to Adam. Right before her death she pulled my wife aside and admitted that, OK, maybe "Adams" would have sounded funny!)

Alvine was almost 89 when my wife and I announced that we were going to have a baby. Because of her advanced age and some recent health problems we were just hoping and praying that she would live to see his birth. But, stubborn and vibrant as she was, she not only lived to see his birth, but was his favorite playmate for most of his first year.

The first time Alvine saw her great-grandson Adam she asked him, "Brother" (she called everyone either "Brother" or "Sister", and was in turn called "Sister" by almost everyone who spoke to her or of her) "Brother, where are your teeth?"

Adam, of course, did not say anything in response, so his mother explained that his teeth hadn't come in yet. Alvine looked him over, smile gently, and said, "That's OK. I don't have any teeth either."

Adam and Alvine got along spendidly, perhaps because they were on about the same level. Whenever anyone saw them playing together they would make some comment about how life is a cycle, and how we are the same coming in as we are going out.

Every Thursday I would take Adam to Oldham County to stay with his Me Me and his Great Grandma. He is a very shy kid, and doesn't like many people not named Mama or Daddy. But every time he saw his Great Grandma he would squeal with delight. If we tried to hand him to anyone else, he would scream and refuse to go, but if he saw Alvine he would try to jump into her arms, even though, of course, she couldn't catch him.

She had a dry erase board in her bedroom to help her remember what day it was, and what was going on that day. Every Thursday Dana, her personal caregiver, would put a picture of Adam on the board, along with a sign that said "Adam is coming today. WATCH OUT FOR BABY KISSES!" He loved her so much he would just slobber all over her.

Every time he kissed her she would say, "Brother, you don't want to kiss me, my face is dirty." But you could see in her eyes how much she enjoyed the attention.

At the end of last week she fell into a coma, from which she never emerged. At that point we were making it a point to visit her almost every day. When we went out to her house Adam would leap to the ground and crawl as fast as he could (faster than I can run!) to her room to see her. The first time we visited her after she had fallen into the coma he did the same thing, but when he got to her room he could tell something was wrong. He squealed out his usual greeting, but she didn't respond. He tugged on her bed, but she didn't respond. He crawled up into bed with her, but she still didn't respond.

He started crying, and reached out his arms for his mother to pick him up. He knew, he just knew, that something was terribly wrong. At that moment, though she had not yet died, Adam lost his favorite playmate.

Alvine Clausen died yesterday while we were in the car on the way to visit her. By the time we reached her house several other family members had arrived, and were congregating in the living room, reminiscing about the life of this precious saint. Adam can only say a couple of words, and somehow I doubt "Dada" or "dog" could capture the depths of his emotions, or do justice to his memories of his first and favorite playmate.

But yesterday Adam honored the memory of his great grandmother, not by saying anything profound, but simply by looking at those who had gathered to mourn, and smiling. His smile was contagious, and reminded us of her love.

Adam and Alvine were, when they knew each other, bookends, marking the beginning and the end of life. Their love for each other helped me to see just how joyous life is, in the middle no less than in the beginning or the end.

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