"Brings back a lot of memories... Nice memories.”
My mother smiled. It was a gentle smile, maybe a sad smile. I reached out and took her hand, wanting to tell her that even though her home was gone, this one was still here.
Milk Without Honey, by Lorene Hoover
Edythe Lorene Hoover, 91, passed in the community of her longtime home at Northcrest in Ames, Iowa, on January 13, 2022. Though she never reached five feet, she was a tower of self-determination, kindness, and talent. Lorene was the mother of three, grandmother of five, great-grandmother of one, beloved sibling, cousin, aunt, and friend of far too many to count. She traveled extensively and was a teacher, novelist, essayist, poet, and playwright. From the moment she was born, she multiplied and endeared.
Born in Moulton, Iowa, on April 5, 1930, she inherited her giggle from her mother, the late Angelia Etholin Marshall, known for her gentleness and perfection at the piano. Her father, the late Carl Dewey Marshall, was the more boisterous of the two, quick with a story and song. Lorene was the third child of five. The oldest, the late Lowell Marshall, would later be the family’s soul and chronicler. Her second oldest brother, the late Lyle Marshall, had an easy-going grace and never met a Buick he didn’t like. Her younger sister, Letha Neely, was the family’s truth-teller, regal in looks and manner. And her baby brother, Loran Marshall, proved sweet-voiced like his father and gifted in music composition. The fact that the letter “L” kicked off each of the siblings’ names caused great confusion among the younger generations but proved appropriate for a family that might have rivaled the von Trapps. As the middle and most diminutive child, Lorene learned to say “No” early on.
Lorene made many lifelong friends at McPherson College in Kansas, then earned her Master's at The University of Iowa. Later, she taught English at the same high school Ronald Reagan attended (though she did not teach Ronald herself). By the time she neared thirty, she’d met a tall, blue-eyed man with a profile like a ship’s captain. Lester Lee Hoover had lost his mother when young, and this leaned a certain softness to him. Plus, he had his doctorate. In early letters, he joked that Lorene had to prepare for her day of teaching by “looking in the mirror and practicing her stern face.” She said: “Yes.”
They settled in Ames and soon had children. The irrepressible eldest, David Lee, smart, with a mischievous twinkle and a heart of gold. Their second, Lisa Lorene, was tall and graceful with enough love to move mountains. In their early years, they both stirred so much trouble that their parents were desperate to assume a pregnancy at the age of 41 was instead a gall bladder infection. Then the newest Hoover model arrived: Michelle Deanne—a chubby cherub who never ever did anything wrong. When Lisa married, Lorene worried about the groom’s white suit and rock-star hairdo, but Michael Carstens soon proved a family stalwart. Lisa was pregnant when Lorene lost her beloved husband at the early age of 59. By summer, little Hannah helped renew the family’s spirit as well as their sense of humor. Her younger sister, Cayla, soon followed, a white-haired angel they couldn’t stop staring at. As they grew, Lorene made sure to teach her granddaughters the word “moderation” at the breakfast table when they wanted another spoon of sugar. Both girls soon towered over her.
Widowed too young, Lorene returned to her old love, to storytelling. She began the family tradition of reading a new story or poem aloud on Christmas mornings, something her granddaughters considered as necessary as the tree itself. She attended writing groups in Fountain Hills, Arizona, where she wintered, as well as in Ames. She returned often to the Green Lake Writers Conference, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and the Desert Nights Rising Stars Writers Conference. Her work appeared in THEMA Literary Journal, Rosebud Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, The Des Moines Register, and the anthology Grandparents Cry Twice, among others. And she traveled: to the U.K. and Europe, Nova Scotia, and throughout the U.S., including Hawaii. The Marshall clan gathered every February in her Arizona house to sing, tell stories, and eat as much as possible. The desert had sensible weather and beautiful sunrises. In the early mornings, while spooning up her Post Raisin Bran, she liked to sit at her kitchen window and watch.
Lorene’s eighties proved even more fruitful. Her son expanded the family’s grandchildren by three: Jacquelynn, Tyler, Andrea, and soon after, a great-grandchild, the bubbly James. Her youngest finally married a good man, Randal Bailey, with two children and four grandchildren of his own. Her two eldest granddaughters married Jeff Sigl and Matthew Gordon in turn and got the family dancing. There were many, many dogs and a few cats. Lorene debuted her first novel, MILK WITHOUT HONEY, to great acclaim: “an evocative page-turner,” “I love this book,” and “a master storyteller.” The novel sold in at least three countries and won honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest self-published book awards.
When asked if she’d wanted to marry again, Lorene said, “No.” When asked if she was ready to stop traveling, stop writing, or stop enjoying her daily routines, she said, “Why?” When asked if she wanted another bowl of vanilla ice cream, she said, “Yes.”
She died thirty-five years to the day her husband passed.