I got word today from Dad that Kathy Ebelt had died. He’d forwarded a note from Jerry, via Jon their son, with the news. Congestive heart failure. I didn’t have any memory of it, but it turns out my mom and dad were Jon’s sponsors (that’s Lutheran for “godparents,” as in “baptismal sponsors”—and I don’t even know: is there a Jewish role comparable to that?).
Dad wondered whether I even remembered the Ebelts.
Of course I remembered them. Jerry was the pastor at the church we went to in Miles City, Montana, which is where we moved when I was four and stayed until just after I finished second grade. Kathy was the pastor’s wife, in an era and place where being the pastor’s wife was a full-time job with all of the pressure but none of the authority or benefits of actually being pastor. (I’ve heard it can be like that for rabbis’ spouses, too.) I think she also had a full-time job, but that part’s fuzzy.
So here’s what I remember:
Their kids, well enough that I can still just barely recognize those kids I knew when I see pictures in their family Christmas card in my parents’ basket full of Christmas cards, but I have very little memory of ever having done much with any of them, except play in:
Their indoor sandbox. They had this fabulous sandbox-table thing in their basement—it was a big, wide, deep box of moist sand that was at perfect kid-standing height. You could make anything in that sandbox, because the sand was so fine, so clean, the perfect wetness for molding. You didn’t have to squat or crawl in or around the work area trying not to mess it all up.
Come to think of it, there was a ping pong table in that basement, too, if I’m not mixing up my basements. I was lousy at it—even as a kid I had the hand-eye coordination of the little old lady I’m rapidly becoming—but I remember thinking it was the best sport-like activity I’d ever played. I especially liked the sound of it. I was a music nerd waiting to happen.
The Ebelts went completely overboard on Hallowe’en. At least one year we went trick-or-treating in their neighborhood. I have no memory whatsoever of my costume, which was surely quite important to me at the time, but I do remember so clearly being confused that at one house they didn’t give us candy at the front door the way they were supposed to. They were in costume and invited us inside, and horror of all horrors, my Dad went along with that. “Dad! We’re not supposed to go into strangers’ houses!” But he just grinned and led me inside. Downstairs. “Dad! This is creepy!” To where a ginormous orange painted-plywood pumpkin-shaped face thing was flapping its ginormous orange painted-plywood pumpkin jaw thing and talking to us in the Voice of God over a loudspeaker. The Voice of God that was strangely familiar-sounding because it was the voice of—
Of Pastor Ebelt. Whose voice I was quite used to hearing over loudspeakers.
We were at the Ebelts’ house. No wonder! Candy did eventually land in our plastic pumpkin-shaped candy-collecting things. Can’t remember what we called those things, either.
And now I remember why I remember the Ebelts.
She was nuts about kids. Little kids. She did the mom-of-little-kids thing really well. That’s why they had a mess of them. I think that full-time job of hers was some kind of teaching thing. More little kids.
I can just barely picture her, but her hug I remember.
A kaddish for Kathy Ebelt.