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"As I retire for the day, my mind is wondering will this letter be of interest to others?"

That humble question, the opening of Elizabeth's first column in August 1991, was the beginning of a literary legacy. I was 19 and naïve. Elizabeth was 55 and wise in the ways of her world. It was the start of journey we would begin together. And what indescribable sadness I feel that our journey came to such a sudden, unexpected ending last week with her death.

I came to her asking her to write a weekly newspaper column that I would edit and submit to newspapers, and she graciously, although maybe skeptically, agreed. We were an entrepreneurial odd couple. I don't think either of us ever expected that she would one day touch so many lives, and appear in over 100 newspapers.

Elizabeth gave me enough memories and life lessons to carry me through the rest of my years. I think of warm summer afternoons, and the sun nourishing Elizabeth's bountiful garden. I think of the tangy smell of fresh rhubarb pie rising from her oven. I think of our quiet chats; my first taste of oatmeal pie; her steaming one-kettle soup; clothes on the line, flapping in the wind; of Elizabeth and Ben sitting around the supper table, their love for one another obvious. I remember Elizabeth at her kitchen table, tenderly transforming a rough pile of picked dandelions into a soothing salad. She always said a dandelion salad for supper would make for a relaxing night's sleep. I think of Elizabeth with her grandchildren, patiently nurturing them from infancy to adolescence. I think of her amazing and equal love for all eight of her wonderful children, who are now all adults.

Whenever I would visit Elizabeth, even long after the novelty should have worn off, I would feel a sense of tranquility come over me. It was as if Elizabeth's home were my shelter, a place that shielded me from our increasingly difficult to understand world. I think her column provided readers with that same sense of shelter.

Perhaps one of my most cherished moments with Elizabeth came this past spring. I was staying at her house for a few days while a photographer was in town taking photos of Elizabeth's farm for her new book. I didn't want to feel like a freeloader, so I told Elizabeth I would earn my stay by tending to her garden. I spent almost two full days in the garden, pulling weeds and clearing ground. I'm someone accustomed to tapping computer keys, not yanking thistles out of the soil. But the warm spring sun felt good and by the second day I had learned the best way to grab a thistle and yank it out by the roots. Once, Elizabeth joined me in the garden with her hoe. She seemed to glide across the soft earth, effortlessly tending to her young sprouts. We talked a little. But mostly we just silently worked, bonding in the satisfaction of work well done. Occasionally, she would break into song, as she often did while gardening. It was a haunting Swiss medley, passed down through generations, from another time and place. Elizabeth was a living link to a more tranquil era, a time when self-sufficiency and family were the medals of a life well lived.

While Elizabeth lived a simple life, she was not a simple woman. Elizabeth cherished her privacy, but enjoyed her celebrity. During the few public appearances she made, she worked the crowd like a seasoned author. Yet when the last book had been signed, she would always remark: "I feel so unworthy of the attention." Elizabeth had an ornery and humorous streak, always ribbing me about my girlfriends and messy car. Elizabeth had little formal education, but she was street-wise. Or in her world, gravel-road wise. As I sometimes clumsily navigated my way into adulthood, Elizabeth patiently waited. To her, life was like one of the colorful quilts she spent so much time creating: lots of labor, many mistakes, but in the end, if one tried hard enough, the journey would create an end worthy of admiration.

"In so many ways we should be thankful. But maybe too often we forget," Elizabeth wrote in an early column. Elizabeth was always reminding us not to forget life's simple pleasures: the song of a bird, the smile of a grandchild, the smell of fresh laundry, warm popcorn on a cold winter's night.

It all ended last week when Elizabeth succumbed, the victim of an aneurysm, before a book-signing in Independence, Missouri. As I stood by her bedside during her final moments in a Missouri hospital, I thought back to the first time I pulled into the Coblentz driveway and those warm wonderful memories, and I grieved that the journey had ended. But through tears, I know that in some small way, our journey will continue: Elizabeth's words remain, motivating us all to seek and savor simplicity.

I think with time, she learned the answer to the question she so innocently asked in her first column: Yes, Elizabeth, your letters were of great interest to others.

~In Memoriam~

Elizabeth Coblentz
The Original
Amish Cook