When it comes to mother-in-laws I won the lottery. That’s not just sentimental hyperbole, I believe it to be true. I write this as the Kline family prepares itself to pay tribute to and honor their matriarch, Joan J. Kline, who passed from this life on July 16, 2022. After a life well-lived (95 years and 9 months) she finished her race.
I first met Mrs. K in the Fall of 1982. The campus ministry of which her daughter Lori and I were participants held a retreat at Tippecanoe Baptist Camp. We stayed in the recently constructed lodge and were hosted by the Kline’s, in their role as resident camp managers. Mrs. K cooked for us and saw to any hospitality needs we might have had.
A few months later I found myself as a guest in her home, as members of that same campus ministry group had shared a deputation service at the Miami Baptist Church. Lunch, with all the fixins was provided by Mom K, with Mr. K. assisting. It was obvious then that large groups of people did not phase her, in fact she thrived in those moments.
Later, when I met her family, and began dating her daughter, I understood why. The Kline clan was large and getting larger. Though a mere shadow of what it numbers today, the Kline’s six offspring group, not counting spouses and grandchildren, made an impression. There in the thick of it all, the spoon that stirred the pot, was Mrs. K.
I learned to eat lima beans for her, not wanting to disappoint her by failing to clean my plate. They were never my favorite, but as prepared by Mom K, pretty tolerable. She also converted me to fruit cake, but only her recipe. And her sweet rolls? As the Kline progeny, and many others, know – without comparison!
Many of my memories come from being a guest at her table. This includes an early meal with the family wherein they inhaled their food in record time. They were used to eating on their feet at camp while also tending a busy kitchen and serving line. Meals, unlike my experience, were not something to be savored – more like conquered. This would change over time, but I can still picture myself sitting there with a mostly full plate, while they were clearing the table.
In forty years of sharing life with this family, and Mom K, I can recount many blessings and personal benefits. She was like a second mother, another Joan (that happens to have been my mother’s name) whom I could consult, share with, or just enjoy listening to.
In 1996 when Lori and I announced our move across the country to serve a church in Washington State, she said, “Go have an adventure!” We enjoyed her visits to the Northwest, just as we had when serving the church in Warren, IN. Congregants loved her and welcomed her with open arms.
When we moved back to Indiana and settled in Bloomington, she soon decided to come south to live closer to her younger grandchildren. She became part of our lives in a more regular way from then on. She traveled with us, went to church with us, and attended the kids extra curricular events.
On a trip home from New England we made a spontaneous decision to visit New York City. I still remember driving between those cavernous skyscrapers, trying to find my way across six lanes of traffic to the Lincoln Tunnel and out of the city. I had Mom K navigating from the seat behind me, and my wife navigating from the seat beside me. This was pre-GPS, pre-Siri days. Maybe Apple should consider a Kline female voice to give directions. It gets your attention!
Another time, after a post-meal conversation she confessed to climbing into the back seat of the car to help her friend Pat navigate their way through Atlanta. She would look out the back window while Pat drove to see when it was “clear” to merge lanes. Hearing this, I volunteered to drive them down to Florida, fly home and then fly back down to drive them home a couple of months later. Talk about driving Miss Daisy(s)! Those two were like schoolgirls. The closer we got to their destination, the more they chattered in anticipation. Fun memories.
When we moved to Columbus and I assumed the pastorate at FBC, I was concerned about abandoning Mom K. in Bloomington. I told her what we were thinking. “I’m up for an adventure”, she said. She was, following us to Columbus months later and becoming part of our life here.
When she decided to formally join the church here I took her aside to say, “you’ve never been part of a church and part of the pastor’s family before. We may need to work on your filter.” I’m not sure she ever quite got the point, but she also never caused any hardships.
During the initial outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic we brought her to live with us for three months. My mornings always began the same way with these two questions: 1) Is the coffee ready? 2) Did anything happen last night? She was by then an avid news junkie and did not want to have missed out on any breaking news.
Hospitality, generosity, positivity – those would be gifts and characteristics I would use to describe my mother-in-law. She never met a stranger. She enjoyed people, loved riding horses (in her younger days), was always up for adventure, extended hospitality effortlessly, and treated her in-laws well.
I am fortunate that many of the things I admired about Mom K. live on in her daughter, my wife. You can close your eyes and hear a similar voice, mannerisms and expressions. Same outgoing spirit. Same embrace of life. Same gracious smile.
When a loved one passes the imprint they’ve made on the lives of their family lingers on. Imagine, if you will, that mark of indentation on your skin when you’ve pressed your thumb down and then released it. That imprint is the retention of influence, that part of them that remains, living in you. I know that for each of her children and grandchildren Mom K’s imprint is significant. No one has quite the same exact memory or shared experience. Some may articulate it differently than others. The comparison is not important, just the thanksgiving. My experience with Mom K. was like that of many others, yet different in its own way. As a young college boy I worked for her at camp, fell in love with her daughter, and became her son-in-law. As a husband I saw the influence she’d had on my wife. As a father I watched her embrace and help shape our children. As a grandad I delighted in her joy over our grandsons. As a pastor I watched her contribute her gifts to the body of Christ. As a disciple of Jesus I saw Jesus in her, and I watched her come to the end of this life’s journey with her eye on the prize of heaven. She fought the good fight. She finished the race. Now there is in store for her the crown of righteousness. Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done!