Monday, April 23, 2012

The Gifts of Cassie and Chuck

It was my age and my "title", I think, that drew her to me about twelve years ago.  I was the youngest, by many years, in our local Woman's Club at the time, and a "pastor's wife."  She seemed intrigued by my choices and life's path. There was also the "Texas Connection", which there often is. Cassie was from Tulsa (so, there was the "Oklahoma Connection", too), but she had spent summers in the Texas Hill Country at a place called Camp Waldemar.  I knew of it, because just down the road was another camp called Mystic.  My grandmother's best friend ran that camp, and our family visited there many times. So we "clicked"  ~ over Texas, over Oklahoma, over Camp Mystic and Camp Waldemar, over our youth (hers in heart and mind, mine in age and season of life), and over faith....somewhat.

At the very next meeting, Cassie handed me a book called The Good Book.  Cassie held its progressive-thinking author in very high regard, and had, at the same time, sized me up as an evangelical  ~ probably with all of its negative connotations. She wanted to see how I would respond to this liberal-in-Theology, homosexual, pastor's point of view.  It didn't take much reading to discover that Cassie and I differed in our beliefs about Scripture.  I tried to return the book, but she insisted I keep it, and it still sits on a bookshelf in Robert's basement office.

A few of the other women in the club picked up on our blossoming friendship and felt compelled to inform me that this was no other than Cassie Steinway ~ wife of Frederick Steinway, who was grandson to the creator/owner of the famed Steinway Piano Company. Cassie was, at that time, nursing Frederick in the final days of his life.

Spring arrived and Cassie followed through on her promise to have me over for tea.  It had to be within a certain window of time, because her husband took his meals and tea at very specific times of the day.  She invited Kayla to come along as well.  It was wonderful.  Not only did she have tea all prepared, but a special drink for Kayla (chocolate milk, I think), as well as a way to keep Kayla occupied so that we would be able to talk freely.  She had hidden little foil-wrapped Easter eggs all over her living and dining rooms, and had given Kayla a basket to keep them in once found.  Cassie even had them all counted, so that we would know if Kayla had indeed found all of them.

I felt very honored to be in this important woman's home, and blessed to hear about her life, including her courtship story which began during World War II, and while she attended Radcliffe.  Summer and holiday transportation sources were all being used for the war effort, and so Cassie could not travel from Boston back home to Tulsa. She was forced to spend the school break at the nearby home of her roommate, who also happened to be Frederick's sister.

When the eggs were all found, Cassie had another activity planned for Kayla: playing with the dollhouse her father had hand made for her with all of its original furniture, rugs, wallpaper, and dishes.  What a gift and privilege I felt this was, which also made more time for us to discuss faith and religion.  While Cassie was a faithful giver to the local Episcopal Church (she had an upcoming meeting with the pastor regarding her contributions), her loyalty was purely as an artist (her college degree) and devoted community member.

"Why do you give money if you don't believe in its purpose or mission?" I asked, after finding out that she did not believe in God, and that the moral teacher, Jesus, had followers only because they were poor and maligned and He gave them food (literal food, that is) and attention.

"To preserve the beautiful architecture," was her response.

"What about the meaning of life? And do you believe in any kind of an afterlife?" I asked, curiously.

"I don't believe anything happens after life," she replied. "You just die, and it's over. Nothing happens."

I was able to share some of my beliefs about the Bible and its historical evidences of accuracy, that the disciples of Jesus chose to die over their conviction that He was indeed God (no man chooses to die for something they know to be a lie), as well as the limiting and logical "Lord, Lunatic, or Liar" categories for Jesus, but she seemed unaffected and moved us on to different topics.  She was really the first person of her generation I had ever met who thought faith silly, and while it sincerely grieved me, I still counted her friendship as an honor and a gift, and naturally began to pray for her.

In return for her gift of The Good Book, I gave her The Hiding Place and insisted on her keeping it.  She reported enjoying the book, but did not even hint at admiring the faith and miracles which sustained Corrie Ten Boom and her sister, Betsie in the midst of a German concentration camp.

Once, we enjoyed a lunch date together at my favorite downtown restaurant, Judie's.  I have always loved being around older people, fascinated by their lives and experiences, and so I had some prepared questions for our time together.  Questions that I thought might just reveal that somewhere deep down she did maintain some kind of faith or belief in God.

"Cassie, how in the world have you been able to stay married all this time? 50+ years is a long time.  How do you do it?" I inquired.

"You just do it." she replied matter-of-factly and the discussion was over. She was, at least, consistent in her worldview, I suppose. 

Beside our Texas/Oklahoma roots, we also shared a common disdain for feminism.  Like her contemporary, Margaret Thatcher, Cassie seemed to think the feminists were just plain silly, and I agreed.  Here was a highly educated and successful woman who had become so, in her mind, in spite of any help from men-haters. The funny thing was that she chalked up my convictions to forgo career, live on my husband's income, and stay at home to raise my children to my being a part of the "swing back" generation, simply a pendulum shift from the era of second wave feminism, and not due to loftier ideals, biblical patterns or principles.

Frederick died eventually, and she began preparing to move into a local retirement community.  She called after dark one evening and asked if I would stop by for some things she wanted to give me. I loved walking through her garage and kitchen, receiving things she would not have need or room for in her new place. She passed along her heavy duty bundt cake pan and her large and small, made-in-France souffle dishes and ramekins, all of which I continue to use on a weekly basis. The things I treasured most, though, were a small trunk of doll clothes her mother had made, and the book of American and British poetry she was given upon her "High Honors" high school graduation from Holland Hall in Tulsa, OK in 1942.

After her move, I didn't see her as much, only occasionally at a Monday Woman's Club meeting.  My prayers for both her health and her spiritual salvation continued, spurred on, in part, by Kayla, who had also come to love and treasure "Mrs. Steinway."  Last year sometime, we learned that Cassie had moved into the nursing home which is only a short walk from my house, literally around the corner.  I mentally vowed to visit  many times, but never followed through until a Providential trip to my local Home Depot early last summer.

I was buying "chalkboard paint" for my kitchen doors as well as some trim paint for our upstairs bathroom.  The very friendly man behind the paint counter asked me about my pending projects, and we got into a lively discussion about home improvements, as he had just purchased an old home downtown.  The more he described the house, and its location, the more I knew he was talking about Cassie's house.  There had been one owner between he and Cassie, but when I asked him if it had been the Steinway's home, he said "How did you know that?"

"I know Cassie," I said. "She's a friend of mine."

"Really!?! Were you ever in the house?" he wondered.

"Yes, several times," I answered, and went on to tell him about Cassie's hospitality and our tea and dollhouse dates. (There were several!)

While he went on to tell me about all of the renovations he and his partner were doing, mostly by themselves,  my mind was distracted, and my heart was being strongly stirred to make a beeline to the nursing home. I said goodbye, paid for my paint, and arrived at the nursing home in about five minutes flat.

"No, we don't have anyone here by the name of Cassie Steinway," the receptionist explained after looking in various locations for her room number, "but you can go up to the second floor and ask at the desk there."

As soon as the elevator doors parted, there she was, sitting in a comfy chair in the hallway, reading a book. (They had her listed as "Mary Kathryn.") She smiled upon recognizing me, and then told me she was about to move to our beloved state ~ Texas.  She would live in a retirement home there, and get to be near her son and grandchildren.

"When will you be leaving?" I asked.

"In two more days," she said.

It was confirmation that those heart stirrings were, in fact, the Holy Spirit.

The Reason for God  (Belief in an Age of Skepticism is its subtitle) kept coming to mind as I prayed about what book to send her off to Texas with. (She was a voracious reader, and had read all that the nursing home had to offer.) Barnes and Noble did not have it, and there wasn't time to order, so Robert handed me his personal copy, and I wrapped it up with a goodbye card and headed back to the nursing home on the morning of her departure.

"You just missed her!" the nurse, who was cleaning her room informed me. There were dying flower bouquets on her bedside table. "She only left about 10 minutes ago." And seeing my gift in hand, she said, "I'm so sorry!"

Disappointed but determined, I asked if she could possibly give me the address of her new facility in Texas, and after searching around a bit, she found it and wrote it down for me.  The post office was my next stop.

I received two cards in the mail from her months later, one near Thanksgiving, and one Christmas card, neither of which acknowledged the book, but both of which seemed in response to receiving a piece of mail from me. She never failed to acknowledge a gesture with a thank you note, and I received one after each lunch date or book gift. (Those notes are treasures of mine as well.) I prayed many times that through the logic and intellect of Tim Keller, Cassie would come to know the Truth of Christ, and experience His love for her.

On the same day that I learned of the impending death of Chuck Colson, another older hero of mine, whom I only know through his memoir Born Again, I also received an email from the current president of our Woman's Club informing us that Cassie had passed away in Texas a few days prior.  Grief-stricken with the news of both, I began to think about Mr. Colson's life and conversion, and then go searching my house for his book in which he explains how it was through the logic of C.S. Lewis's writings in Mere Christianity, that this sharp lawyer and conniving political "hatchet man" became convinced of the Truth of Jesus Christ.

"Today no one questions the Court's power of judicial review, which it has exercised with dramatic effects thousands of times since.  Even a neophyte law student would prefer to argue the validity of the case for Marbury v. Madison.  There isn't much going for him with a contrary position, because of the way in which the doctrine has become so well established by its long history of acceptance.

So why should I worry as I once did about being accused of mindlessly following the pack by accepting Christ?  And why struggle so hard with concepts about God when I wouldn't question legal principles that have far less historic validity than the one laid before our eyes in the life and impact of the Carpenter of Nazareth?"

Once faced with the staggering proposition that He is God, I was cornered, all avenues of retreat blocked, no falling back to that comfortable ground about Jesus being a good moral teacher.  If He is not God, He is nothing, least of all a great moral teacher.  For what he taught includes the assertion that He is indeed God.  And if He is not, that one statement alone would have to qualify as the most monstrous lie of all time - stripping Him at once of any possible moral platform."  
~ Born Again, p. 139

Chuck came to the logical (and yes, supernatural) conclusion that Jesus is God and therefore worthy of belief and a surrendered life, and it is my hope that Cassie did as well.  If one thing remained sharp is was her ability to read and discern. Both gifts of grace to me in that they each built up my faith in one way or another, my hope is that these two great minds are now enjoying sweet fellowship together and a lively discussion about (or possibly with!) President Nixon while sitting at the feet of their King Jesus.


Recovering Church Lady said...

Wonderful, wonderful post! I usually do not stick around blogs that appear long, but yours kept my attention all the way. So beautiful and elegantly conveyed.

Melanie said...

Hello Susie! Thank you so much for taking the time to read it ~ even though it WAS so loooooonnnnngg! I really appreciate your encouragement. Hope you are well!

Anonymous said...

Lovely, Mel. I'm remembering our visit with Cassie in her home. So glad you were a part of her life and that you listened to the Holy Spirit's nudging to go visit. Love you, K&J

Melanie said...

That's right! I always forget that we visited her together that time! So glad you got to meet her, too.