mom was a wonder 1

Mom’s marker, after we three sons covered her ash box in dirtHere are a few shots from Mom’s first (of two) memorial services. She died in April, having survived – and then thrived after – an accident which led to a double leg amputation six years prior.  Half her ashes were buried at her mother Elizabeth Borden’s gravesite at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.  A reception was held afterwards at the Bigelow Chapel, where the food was southwestern, the music classical, and the stories soul-stirring. [please hover over images for captions]

Here is my eulogy for Mom at Bigelow Chapel, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Oct. 22, 2022:


I’m here today to celebrate Mom’s life – with your help.

Thinking back to the early years, one of the things I most recall is Mom holding forth. Holding forth at family gatherings, holding forth at dinner parties, holding forth at cocktail parties.

By holding forth I mean that Mom enjoyed telling stories. She was a natural storyteller. (In fact, I like to think of her paintings that way: each one tells a story.

So I’d like to honor Mom’s memory by telling a few stories about her – with an emphasis on her adventurous side.

The first was back in 1972, when Mom decided to drive our beige VW Hippie Van, with Jack, me, and Nikko’s babysitter, Muriel, all the way across the U.S.

It is funny the things one remembers from one’s first major roadtrip at a young age. I recall that at the end of the day I marveled at the afro sheen on the window by the front seat passenger where Muriel always sat.

I also recall Jack and I bickering a lot. I was a tween, Jack already a teen, and we had nothing better to do than complain about each other. Mom was incredibly patient – I don’t know how – and told us that someday we would be the best of friends.

I also recall that she seemed to stop at each and every historical marker along the road, which elicited loud groans from Jack and me, as she came to a stop and forced us to read each sign.

The funny things is that now, especially out West, I stop at nearly every historical marker myself.

The second story is unlike the others, in that it is about the night in the mid-70s when Mom, crying, woke me up to share the news that Annie had just died.

For those who didn’t know my older sister Annie, she was born with a hole in her heart which, while it was sowed up soon after birth, had depleted the oxygen reaching her brain – eventually retarding her brain’s development.

When I was five or so she started boarding at the Perkins School, in Lancaster, Mass., and it was there that she died one night in her mid-teens.

I recall Mom crying in my arms that night – and there is nothing really notable in the scene. Why I describe it – and what I do find notable – is that in thinking back I never recall Mom once – in my presence at least – complaining about having given birth to Annie. Not once. Mom was not a complainer.

The third story is about some time we spent together in Mexico – and the rather shocking consequences of it.

I need to tell you some “backstory” that includes my younger sister, Lily, on Dad’s side. Just graduating from Milton Academy, Lily asked me if I would like to join her in the interior of Mexico to learn Spanish together. As I was graduating from business school – and fortunately had been given the summer off before starting my marketing job outside of New York to pay off my student loans – I immediately accepted.

We ended up going to a school in San Miguel de Allende, a charming colonial town in Guanajuato. It was so pleasant that I called Mom mid way through our 6 week program and invited her to come visit for our last week. Which she gladly did.

She enjoyed San Miguel so much that she ended up returning with some frequency. Now here comes the shocking part.

While Mom had flown down to visit Lily and me, that was just a little too easy, so for her subsequent visits she decided to drive: from Santa Fe through northern Mexico to the state just north of Mexico City.

Now, when it comes to roadtripping in general or in the Third World, I am far from a wilting flower. When my black Lab died earlier this year I did a quick calculation and figured out that if you stretched out all our roadtrips together they would wrap around the earth ten or more times.

I have also driven extensively in Costa Rica and in Brazil, and even some in Mexico.

But I would think more than twice about driving in northern Mexico. I just wouldn’t do it.

Not only was Mom remarkably brave as a lone woman to drive several long days through northern Mexico. There’s something else about Mom that you may have never known. She was tone deaf. I recall when younger Jack and I being endlessly amused by her trying to sing Beatles songs. This is pertinent, because a musical ear greatly aids acquiring foreign languages. In Mom’s case – despite living for decades in Santa Fe, NM where Spanish is common – I don’t believe she ever picked up more than pleasantries in Spanish.

So I find it shocking that, nonplussed, she decided to drive to San Miguel more than once.

The last story is one that Mom related to me.

Mom, as you already know, liked to drive. So she drove back and forth from Santa Fe to Boston or to Santa Barbara, CA with some frequency.

On one trip, while going through some part of the Rockies no doubt, she took a short cut on a secondary – even tertiary – road over a mountain pass. The thing is, it was later in the afternoon and the gas tank was not full. And, what do you know, it started to snow up in the mountain pass, and snow enough for her to get stuck.

Back then Mom used to drive a Dodge Caravan, or perhaps a Toyoto version, as they were good cars to fit a number of her paintings. But they are not the best of off-road cars.

So Mom in her Dodge Caravan slipped off the road and she couldn’t get out. No doubt she rocked the car back and forth – throwing the gears from, say, 2nd gear back and forth to reverse – but nothing work.

At the mountain pass – which, by the way, was remote enough to be untrafficked — she noticed a small house off to the side, so she got and tramped through the snow to see if anybody was in. She knocked and knocked – no answer.

Back in the car she realized she was in a jam. There likely wasn’t enough gas in the tank to keep the car going all night, so there was the real risk of freezing. It was then – as she relates it – that she heard a distinct voice telling her to return to the shack, to look on the porch for a wooden box, and to open the box.

So she did just that. She returned to the shack and looked on the front porch for a wooden box. She found the wooden box and opened the lid. Inside the wooden box were ashes – from the fireplace no doubt – which she carried back to the car. The ashes were sufficient to give the tires traction and she freed herself.

Now Mom was not a religious or, as we say today, a very spiritual person. But I like to think that those ashes were a saving grace in her life.

We just now placed some of her ashes in her grave by her mother’s tomb here in Mt. Auburn.

Memories, also, are only dust to dust – and not forever.

But I’d like to think that the memories I just shared, in addition to your own memories of Mom, can be saving graces in each and every one of your – of our – lives.

So thank you for honoring and celebrating Mom’s long and adventurous life with us today!


About ben

Ben Batchelder has traveled some of the world's most remote roads. Nothing in his background, from a degree in Visual & Environmental Studies at Harvard to an MBA from Wharton, adequately prepared him for the experiences. Yet he persists, for through such journeys life unfolds. Having published four books that map the inner and exterior geographies of meaningful travel, he is a mountain man in Minas Gerais, Brazil who comes down to the sea at Miami Beach, Florida. His second travel yarn, To Belém & Back, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. For more, visit

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