Sunday, August 2, 2015

Leona Fisk: A Life Well-lived

One of the things I enjoy most about doing research for my books is meeting interesting people. Of all the people I have been privileged to meet, however, there is one who will always hold a special place in my heart.

Through interviews with people who grew up in the small town of Charlestown, New Hampshire in the 1950s and 1960, I had heard many stories of Leona Fisk, who was known to all as Lee.

Virtually every interview eventually worked it's way to her, always in loving, reverential tones. They spoke of her phenomenal athletic ability; I heard how she had been a great softball player, once even breaking up a no-hitter in a men's fast-pitch game. She had once shattered the head of a pin in a duck-pin bowling alley because she threw so hard.

They spoke of how she always made time to play sports with area kids in her yard during the summers. The large field next to their house was the gathering point and sports arena for all neighborhood kids. And she always seemed to have more fun than they did. She could kick a football and throw a baseball farther than any of the high school athletic standouts.

They spoke of her renowned abilities as a cook, especially her famous home-made cinnamon rolls, which were always setting out for anyone who passed by. They spoke of how she maintained the family farm, grew beautiful flowers, delicious berries and canned untold jars of jelly and vegetables each year.

She had a beautiful singing voice and continued to sing publicly at church into her 90s. This past Christmas Eve, she sang "Away in a Manger" in church for the 60th consecutive year--at age 95.

She taught Sunday School and kindergarden and coached high school softball championship teams. Her marriage lasted 69 years. She raised six children who were highly successful, in no small part due to the wisdom and work ethic imparted by her and her husband. In brief, she cast a giant shadow over the entire town. "She did all that without complaining," said her oldest son Calvin. "She was a wonder woman."

"If you went to Sears and Roebuck and ordered the ideal mom, it would be Lee Fisk," said one of the guys who grew up with her children.

The ladies at the Charlestown Historical Society told me, "Everyone in town loves Lee Fisk."

And then I met her.

I found that all the previous stories did not do justice to this wonderful lady. It wasn't their fault--it's just that words could not possibly ever do her justice.

Even though she had been battling health problems, she bounded up, greeted me and welcomed me into her home as if I were an old friend. As she showed me around and poured out stories, I felt very fortunate that my son, on a break from medical school, had accompanied me. I somehow felt that being in the presence of this great lady would provide a lesson for him.

When she mentioned that she had not had time to pick the bountiful crop of berries yet this year because she had slowed down for some reason (not mentioning that the reason could have been that she was 95), I offered to help and so my son and I found ourselves squatting in the backyard, picking blueberries and blackberries and listening to stories.

Ten minutes after we left, I received a call from Mrs. Fisk's daughter--her mother had one more detail she wanted to be sure to tell me. I am convinced that Leona Fisk is one of the finest people I have ever met and it was indeed an honor to be welcomed into her house.

I received a phone call Thursday morning from one of the guys I had interviewed who had grown up in Charlestown with her children. I found myself fighting a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as he told me she had passed away this week.

The world is somehow diminished by her departure, but I believe few people have ever gotten more out of life than Leona Fisk. Charlestown, New Hampshire will never be the same, but neither will anyone who ever had the privilege of meeting her.

Leona Fisk  1919-2015

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