A little over a week ago I said goodbye to my sister-in-law at LAX as she headed to Texas for the baptism of her newest grandchild. She had not been well, and this trip was a trial run for future travel at Christmas and beyond. We were both relieved that the baggage check-in and wheelchair assist went smoothly, and we confirmed plans for her return and as we hugged and said goodbye. In the early hours of Saturday morning I received a call from my nephew that she had passed away at her son’s home. Kathleen Edson Levenick was 70.
Kathleeen and I were friends, allies, and eventually sisters (by law) for over forty years. When I first met my husband, he raved about his brother’s clever and witty young new wife. When I met her, I knew why he was a fan. Kathleen filled every room with her smile and charm. In a family of starke und stabile Deutsche, she was a wild Irish rose whose stories made post-dinner clean up hilarious. She was the first grown-up I’d ever heard use the “F” word. She pulled me outside the kitchen to share a cigarette from her secret stash and would then return to the house and tease her husband when he made excuses to run to the market, code for “I need a smoke.” It took years for me to finally realize that most of her stories were mostly. . . stories.
While I aimed to follow Martha Stewart’s footsteps with one homemade cookie for each of the 12 day of Christmas, she was slicing and baking Pillsbury. I clipped recipes, she clipped open four boxes of Stouffer’s frozen Spinach Souffle, pressed the blocks into a Pyrex dish and passed it off as homemade. Our family spent most summer afternoons lazing around her pool, waiting for dinner. The brothers Lev would torch the barbeque and everyone dined on scorched beef with all the fixins. When I taught at the boy’s grade school, one nephew’s third grade teacher asked me to get the recipe for John’s favorite dessert, Pie in Minutes.
Now I realize how smart she really was.
Together we endured countless family dinners presided over by the family matriarch. We both heard the same refrain: What did we ever do to deserve her precious boys? Kathleen redeemed herself admirably by producing four more males to carry on the family name. It’s was a great irony that the women who weren’t good enough to marry the sons, could be the mothers of the smartest most wonderful grandsons in the world.
Family: Sister-in-Law Kathleen (left), sister Deanna, Denise, and Dan
Our homes were only four short blocks apart, with the grandparents’ between. We spent Ski Week together at Yosemite and celebrated every birthday and holiday with a chaotic family dinner. We attended the same church, were members of the same volunteer organizations, and our six boys attended the same Catholic schools for thirteen years. When the last Levenick boy graduated from eighth grade, the Principal announced the milestone event to a standing ovation from the long-suffering faculty and fellow parents.
Kathleen and I shared a love of all things English, especially Jane Austen, period drama, cozy mysteries, and tea. She remembered my birthday without fail, often with a new mystery series. Like an older wiser sister, she coaxed me into playing hooky from housework and childcare, praised my obsessive creative efforts, and teased me into taking risks with new friendships. Her friends became my friends too, and she generously shared her network of caring, interesting people.
Thirteen years ago Kathleen lost much of the joy in her life with the unexpected death of her husband while they were in Boston for another family milestone, their son’s college graduation. The past few decades have been difficult, but the outpouring of love and support since Kathleen’s death is a testament of the lives she enriched with her laughter and the friendships she nourished in better times. I will miss her deeply.
Kathleen Edson Levenick was born in Sacramento, 8 October 1944 and passed away 6 December 2014. She graduated from the University of Colorado and was a schoolteacher before a chance meeting with her future husband on a flight to Seattle. The couple settled in Pasadena where they raised four sons and were active in church, school and community life. Kathleen enjoyed gardening, playing bridge and travel. She will be greatly missed by her family and many friends.