On February 27, 2012, an elderly lady passed from this life after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The world didn’t hold an all-night candle vigil for her passing. There were no heads of state giving speeches concerning her passing. However, a stay-at-home mother in Maryland curled up next to her husband and shed tears for her Great-Aunt. My great-aunt Irene was a truly classy lady.
Irene LeClere was the second born child of ten. My paternal grandfather was her younger brother. This family was close knit, clustering around the small towns near Cedar Rapids, IA. The family home was very near the Quaker Oats factory and that famous “burnt oats” smell that permeates the city. I remember my father talking about this family and the patriarch who would jump on the beds with his grand kids. This fun loving family taught Irene to care for others and fostered a giving heart.
I remember how involved she was with her family even though she had moved away from our home state of Iowa. I remember looking forward to the annual family reunion and the games she organized for us little kids. She even brought prizes!! Probably intended to keep us away from the lake nearby 😉 But also because she loved her family.
I knew her vaguely as a child but I was blessed to know her as an adult. During the summer of 2001, my summer Reserve duty sent me to Kansas for training. This just happened to be where my Aunt Irene had settled after marrying a young man who joined the army back in the shadow of WWII. I picked her up for dinner at her favorite local eatery (just down the block from her home) and we shared stories of our lives as Army wives.
You see, Irene’s love for others led her to become a nurse, completing her nursing degree in DesMoines, Iowa in 1940. We each shared stories of how we met our soldier husbands. Irene laughed about the tactic Everett employed to get her attention. Whatever he did, it worked, and they were married in 1942. He shipped out for the Army, but Irene couldn’t join him right away. Just like me, she had to head out all by herself to go meet the man she married at his duty station. Everett was not ‘combat ready’ due to an eye problem, so he had been assigned to the bowling alley for duty. However, when the Korean war broke out, the Army decided to fix Everett’s eye and send him into combat as an artillery guy. Irene shared her fears about Everett going and how her Mother-in-law blamed Irene for getting this eye fixed. Irene also talked about how she felt when she got the telegram, delivered by a man in uniform, informing her that her husband had been killed in combat.
What struck me during this interchange was her attitude and demeanor. There was no bitterness, no anger, she missed her husband, hadn’t remarried, but she trusted in what was meant to be. She spoke of her loss with dignity and grace….classy!! Right there, I wanted to have that same grace as an army wife. I wanted others to see me the way they saw Irene. Graceful, faithful, elegant, fun, humorous, giving, loving… I especially want people to enjoy being in my company. Just as I enjoyed being in the presence of my Aunt Irene. This can be a challenge when your life is controlled by ‘Big Army’. You move about the world, you deal with whatever is dished to you, your spouse follows orders, they deploy, you have to live in limbo being a family united yet living separately… and often a nasty attitudes appear. Not with Irene. Even after ‘some gave all’, she continued to give of herself. Wow!!
Irene, thank you for sharing your life with me. Thank you for loving your family enough to travel hours to attend EVERY reunion held at Pinicon Ridge. Thank you for the fun games and prizes you provided. Thank you for being proud of me in uniform, even though it brought many memories back to you. Thank you for knowing exactly who I was even though I was dressed in camo green! Thank you for almost letting me take you for a ride in my Humvee 😉 Thank you for sharing your memories with me and for showing me where Everett was buried. Thank you for showing me that being an Army wife can be classy and elegant. Thank you for being an example to us all that disappointments can be overcome with grace and class.
You can read her obituary here and leave a kind note in the guestbook, should you wish to do so. Thank you for reading my Memory Lane today and honoring one very fine lady 🙂