Doris Buchhorn: 1929 – 2019
I heard from my aunt on Monday that Doris Buchhorn had slipped quietly from this world into the next. All departures are gradual and Doris’s was no exception. Her pilot light had been flickering for a while, so the news that she had left us at the age of 90 in this first month of 2019 was neither a surprise nor the cause for immediate sadness on my part.
Fact is, whenever I think of Doris Buchhorn, as I have more times than I can count over the past 50 years, I smile. Always.
Doris did not fear death. She was a godly woman who lived each day according to the teachings of Jesus Christ; what I would call the real deal. She walked the talk, and she did so with humor, intelligence, and grace. I knew her to be someone who viewed departing the material world not as a tragedy but as a promise kept, a return home at the end of a very long journey.
Not for the first time I thought about the always surprising and frequently miraculous trajectory of a single human life. Although Redding, California was a true small town in 1969 when Doris and I met, I’m certain that our paths would not have crossed had my mother’s death not left my sisters and me in need of a new home, new parents, a new blueprint.
Nobody gets through this life without being brought to our knees… from heartbreak, loss, betrayal, and simply the sheer weight of it all. I’m certain Doris was no exception, but her always blithe and bubbly demeanor gave away nothing except for her exceptionally abundant heart. I never heard Doris utter a cross word, and as far as I could tell she was never in a bad mood. I was very suspicious.
From the earliest days in our new home with the Shoffner family, Doris and her husband Bill were a strong and calming presence. They had no children of their own and eagerly embraced the role of Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill. As such they were every kid’s dream: two kind, affable, energetic adults unencumbered by the demands of children of their own. Our new family was big and ever expanding, so “going with Doris and Bill” for an afternoon or weekend trip to the coast, away from the fray of all the other kids remained a very high value treat for all of us, as did her Snickerdoodles.
Everything about Doris was welcoming, soft, and easy. She sang beautifully, loved to gab and kibbitz, and laughed easily and melodiously.
Doris was not the first person to urge me to smile more, but she was the first whose suggestion I took to heart. She was after all an Avon Lady, and spoke with that authority when she said that the natural down-turn of my mouth was something to be challenged. Perhaps not a problem now, you’re still young, but later… down the line…best to form good habits early.
Although Doris and Bill were around a lot, her tips about smiling are among the few verbal exchanges I recall, though not for lack of talking on either of our parts. I wasn’t paying attention to her words but to her actions, her behavior, her warmth, her softness, and her kindness. Still, there was a solid core to the woman and a sturdiness to her stance that told you she knew who she was and what was what. Formidable.
I have been fortunate in my life to have had many mothers, wise women all, and I count Doris among them. Each taught me something of profound value that helped mold and guide me. Doris’s subtle, unwavering, and light-spirited example taught me that mothers come in all forms and at all times in our lives. Some are with us for many years while others slip from our reach long before we are ready to let go. We all lose our mothers too soon yet never stop needing their love and wisdom.
I last saw Doris 10 years ago, in Redding, at Bev Shoffner’s funeral. She called out “Bethally” (a family joke/mangling of my name courtesy of Grandma Shoffner), and we greeted one another warmly, as if no time at all had passed. She was energetic as ever, the full, her soft brown now silver. Still those beautiful, intelligent, deeply seeing eyes, the generous smile, and that magnificent Avon Lady complexion. I assured her that I would visit next time I was in town, meaning to but never actually doing it. You know, like kids do.
I walked across the church parking lot to my car, marveling at how good It still felt to be in her presence. I smiled, as I am smiling now.
God speed, Doris Buchhorn, and thank you.