A Bittersweet Family Gathering

Hopewell Presbyterian Church
Hopewell Presbyterian Church

Yesterday Winnie and I were up in Pine Bush, New York, for a bittersweet family gathering.  We attended a memorial service for my mom who passed away March 1 at my sister’s house in Tennessee. The service was hosted by the church mom was a part of since 1972, the Hopewell Presbyterian Church on Thompson Ridge, New York. 

Mom had been attending services at the Hopewell Church since we moved to Burlingham back in 1972. She was baptized and brought up Lutheran, and we were very active in a Lutheran Church when we lived in Farmingdale, Long Island. But there were no active Lutheran Churches in the Burlingham area and the Hopewell Church was close by the house, and the parishioners were all very welcoming. A few years after we moved there mom formally joined the church. About 20 years ago she became one of the church deacons and was always active in church events.

Martha Wilkens-Charest
Martha Charest, Photo Taken in 2012. Martha Charest (Wilkens), passed March 1, 2019 at age 91. She is survived by four children, seven grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

Planning The Service

Even before we moved mom down to Melinda’s house in Tennessee, back in 2014, we had contact with the minister and other deacons. They saw mom’s deteriorating health and wanted us to be aware of their concerns. After we moved mom to Tennessee, Melinda kept in touch with the minister and deacons advising them on mom’s condition. 

After mom passed, Melinda arranged a memorial service at the church. Mom’s remains were cremated, and Melinda’s daughter Melissa arranged a service in Tennessee for the immediate family and local friends the following week. We needed a little more time to arrange the service at Hopewell, and were able to arrange for April 13, yesterday, to hold the service. 

It became a very bittersweet service. The church members arranged a simple but joyous memorial service remembering mom’s life. For a small church, there were quite a few people present. Even nicer, we had a mini family gathering, which doesn’t happen very often. 

The Gathering

My youngest brother Jeff flew back to the ‘states  from Wales, where he is currently studying. His girlfriend Karly from Ohio came with him, knowing she’d be meeting most of Jeff’s family, brave woman that she is. Howard, his wife Pam, and daughter Katie all flew in from California on red-eye specials, arriving at LaGuardia Airport early Saturday morning. They were met by my sister Melinda’s youngest son Steven, currently living in White Plains with his finance Dayna. Dayna would also be meeting a lot of Steven’s family for the first time.

Melinda, along with her husband Lazlo, middle daughter Elizabeth and her three children made their way up from Tennessee and stayed overnight with Steven, then drove up to the church Saturday morning. Melinda was carrying mom’s funeral urn along with a poster board of photos from mom’s extensive life-time collection.

Winnie and I drove up to Middletown, New York, Friday afternoon and stayed overnight at a local Hampton Inns, then made it over to the Church Saturday morning, arriving at 11:00 just as the presiding Deacons opened up the church to get ready. Meanwhile, some cousins from Rhode Island also made their way over. My cousin Denise along with her girlfriend Sandy, twin sister Jeanne, and cousin Roger drove over together. Another cousin Richard and his girlfriend Judy came separately.  

Amazingly enough, considering the inability of the Charest family to actually make plans, we all arrived at the right place more-or less on time for the 1:00PM service. One of the reasons I insisted on getting there early was so I’d be available to rescue anyone who got lost and reported themselves driving aimlessly around the local country-side. 

Meanwhile, back at Hopewell Church, other church members starting arriving to help with the setup and bring food. I met met the first former Pine Bush classmate of the day, Jean, who was member of the Church. The last time I saw her was about 1980. We chatted for a bit, catching up on almost 40 years of living, then drifted away to take care of different arrangements. Our family members mingled as well. Some of our cousins hadn’t seen Melinda, Howard, or Jeff for as long as 30 years!

Other people started trickling in. Some of mom’s close friends arrived and I chatted with them. I met another former classmate Holly, along with her mother who had been a Pine Bush school teacher. I wasn’t in her classes but my brother Howard was, so when Howard and family arrived I made sure to introduce them. I hadn’t see Holly since graduating in 1974, but we’d been connected on FaceBook and were able to chat a little. Some more family trickled in and started mingling. Then a third former classmate Debbie, along with her husband, arrived. 

Debbie had organized a small social circle during our senior year in high school and had invited me to be part of it, along with Jean and several other people, some of whom I’ve maintained contact with over the years. I’d last seen Debbie and her husband about 1984 while in Pine Bush on leave, when I was still on active duty. 

Pine Bush High School Friends
High School Friends Holly, Jean, Ron, and Debbie

The Service and Remembering

Shortly after 1:00 the last of my cousins arrived and the deacons started our service. Jeff was invited up to give the eulogy, and it was lovely.  

After the service we were all invited to a luncheon prepared by the church members. our family, as the honored guests, were invited to go through the line first. I hung back and moved around chatting with people. I finally went through the line for food, then back again for some of the wonderful deserts that probably provided me with a year’s worth of sugar. 

About 3:30 the luncheon was winding down. Our Rhode Island cousins made their good-byes so they could head back home. The church members slowly trickled out. Our immediate family, after much discussion, decided to relocate over to the iconic Pine Bush diner named the “Cup and Saucer,” a UFO-themed diner so named for Pine Bush’s notoriety as a UFO sighting haven back in the 1970s and beyond. 

We all met at the diner and spent another couple of hours talking. Melinda had brought bundles of old photos her and Howard had already organized from mom’s life time collection and passed them out, along with a few other trinkets from mom. We had our own small party, remembering and celebrating mom’s life through stories and reminiscing triggered by the old photos we looked at. 

Finally, we all had to leave. Winnie and I needed to head for home, but the rest of the family would relocate to a German restaurant that had been one of mom’s favorites, for a final dinner. Winnie and I arrived home about 1:30AM  this morning.

This was a very bittersweet family gathering. It was great to see old friends and family again, but a  memorial service for mom wasn’t the best of reasons. 

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