Oneta Fay Furman: April 11, 1919 to January 21, 2017. At 97 one knows that day is inevitable and possibly close. I wasn’t prepared. There have been many words used over the decades to describe my mother. Kind, caring, thoughtful, strong, energetic. All true. The word I always saved for her was “rare.” She was a rare soul. Life incarnate. Smiling. Always thinking of others. Always doing for others.
One of seven children, Oneta grew up on a farm in central Illinois. I enjoyed my uncles and aunts so very much, but as one of the youngest offspring I found myself always having to catch-up to my cousins. She lost her life partner, Oscar Furman in 1992. She watched all her siblings save one, pass away ahead of her. Now there is a lone Marsh remaining; her sister Marguerite, who turns 100 this April.
The life Oneta lived was completely transformed over and over. Witness to the great depression, WWII, countless presidential campaigns (we always voted. Always). Immediately after Pearl Harbor, she moved to San Diego to work for Consolidated Aircraft as part of the war effort. She was not one to let an opportunity slip by.
Oneta was always focused on her family and her faith. As the saying goes, “Goodness by the inch invites evil by the yard.” And so, she had to face something that is the hardest thing for any parent; the loss of a child. We lost Janet (age 21) in 1970. Her strength during that trying chapter was a classic example of her character. We all made it because of her. Because she showed us how to make.
She taught me through her behavior first and foremost. Thanks to her I don’t have a racial bone in my body, although she, and my father were from a generation that had to work hard at it. Oneta showed me that one should be honest, hard-working, care for others and do the right thing. All the while making it look effortless. But of course, I know it wasn’t. I know I fail at this every day, but I wake up and try again.
I would ask her repeatedly through her 70’s, 80’s and eventually 90’s; what keeps you going? It was always a two-word answer, “I’m happy.” Then she would say, “We have a choice. Why wouldn’t one choose happiness?”
I notice that it’s a little less bright out there now. Her smile was a bright glow in the sweep of the galaxy. It’s out now. But it will return.