She was a December baby, bundled home from the hospital in a Christmas stocking and hat, with music in her middle name: Carol.
I don’t know where our sense of romance and drama came from. We were raised “plain,” with none of the finer things. Meat and potatoes, black and white clothing and rules, hard work, and constant warnings about the perils of the outside world.
She was a few years older than me, and in a large family alliances are made early. A whirlwind wheel of childhood memories: blossoming orchards in Spring, swimming in summer, rolling fields with fall harvests, ice skating in winter, and always laughter and music.
In her early twenties, she left our community and went to California to live and work. I loved visiting her there and I was in awe of my big sister’s confidence as she breezily navigated the busy LA freeways in those days before GPS. We drove up and down the coast, visiting family friends, exploring. One year I was there for my birthday and she bought me a gift certificate for a facial – a facial for my 21-year-old face! – in a Pasadena salon. I witnessed her determination, competitive spirit, strength, humor, and passion, which few fully knew. She was earthier, not quite the great lady she later became. The friendships she forged on the West Coast were among the deepest and most enduring of her life.
By the time she returned to Pennsylvania, I had opened my first, tiny gallery in Intercourse, PA. She took the reins as manager, as well as expanding my wholesale business, giving me courage and self-confidence when I had little of either. We happily spent whatever money we made on what are now called “Experiences.”
In the 1990s, our older brother, Myron, became an international airline pilot. Our resources were limited, but never our imaginations, and thus began our travels abroad. We persuaded Myron to give us any and all extra family passes to board American flights. In retrospect, the ease of travel was remarkable, just before 9/11. We would have one European destination in mind, and then see another city on the departure board and change our plans on the spot. I still feel a thrill of possibility when I see those departure screens. Above all, she loved the English countryside; Cotswold towns with charming inns, tea rooms, and centuries of history.
We discovered that most international flights were nearly empty on December 25. One year we went to Quebec City; the next to Brussels. En route to London, I persuaded her to wear an Amish man’s black-felt hat (the quality is extraordinary; lasts a lifetime and then some!), adding a ribbon and gilded grapes. She wore this with pearls and an all black ensemble, complete with high-heeled boots and gloves. People stopped and stared – we were two creatures from an unspecified time and place. But we had seen a few classic films – we knew how people dressed for travel. We loved the attention – our own brand of performance art. In her hands, every moment had the potential of exquisite expression – cut-crystal precision and refracted light.
At her wedding, she managed another creative gesture, which we both relished – in place of a female friend, I proudly stood beside her as “Man of Honor.” She married Dean in 1998. I laughed because no third-rate novelist would dare signal a heroine’s virtue by giving her such a name: Grace Good. But she was very good, kind and true, and unfailingly gracious - the perfect pastor’s wife. Dean’s love for her, and the love from their Ohio community, were richly returned. Their daughter, Katharine, was born in 2002 and is blooming; a young lady of confidence, character, and intelligence.
Her faith was always stronger than mine, and saw her through; serene to the end, concerned more for the comfort of others than for herself. Over the past two decades, she often said, “I, among all women, am most highly favored and richly blessed.” I always loved hearing this line, with echoes of The Magnificat, delivered with a theatrical sigh in one of her moments of great joy. She said it once more, in a fainter voice in the hospital, when I last spoke to her. I was startled. “Grace, do you still believe that?” “Oh yes!” she replied without hesitation. I finally understood – it came from the core of her being.
It has been said countless times but must be repeated: has ever a name better befitted someone? She embodied extraordinary grace and shared it in countless ways.
It will take some time to keep myself from reflexively sending images to her from the studio, and I’ll especially miss her response: “Oh, Freiman, that is gorgeous!” She was, and is, my gold standard of beauty.
She believed in beauty, in discretion, in fine china and linens, in gardening and flowers, in pearls and expressive fashion, in the importance of décor and the perfectly set table, in the gentle touch and soothing word, in loyalty to friends and family, in God.
My sister, my muse, my friend.
Grace Carol Stoltzfus Good
December 21, 1966 – April 2, 2019