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Shooting Stars

Though she has left, her words still linger

Eileen Gatton rests while on a trip to East Traverse Bay in Elk Rapids during September 2004. Photo provided (click for larger version)
April 05, 2006 - So much can be said with a card.

Happiness, sadness, joy, pain and love can be found in the pictures and words of even the smallest note.

For Mildred "Eileen" Gatton, of Springfield Township, her hand-made cards were a way to express her love for God, art, nature and others. She would give her unique cards to those who lost a loved one, those who did something well or those who merely looked like they needed a kind word.

When Eileen passed away on February 22, 2006, her family and friends thought the cards had passed by as well – until Eileen's son-in-law Scott VanNorwick helped her to send one last card.

Scott, an Honor, Mich. resident, surprised many friends and family members when he took the time to complete Eileen's last creation – a card with a Stargazer Lily on the cover. He wrote on the inside a poem about the life and work of a woman he cared for deeply.

"Mom made so many cards before and she gave so much love to everyone, so I thought that would be a way to give her a poetic gift," said Scott. "My inspiration was to embrace her with words of love and honor in the way she showed her love to so many others through her art and poetry.

"For me, being the last card she painted, this was her memoir. She was a person who loved flowers and gardening, but whose soul was grounded in the heavens. This card is a good representation of her. This to me seems like it was done on purpose."

Eileen created her final work the morning of February 18, right before she went into the hospital for the last time.

"Mom was staying with our sister Rose in Columbiaville at the time," explained daughter Maureen Ingles, of Ortonville. "They had a room there set up for her to sew and paint. That was the last card she made."

Pictured are several of the hand painted cards created by Eileen. In center is the last card she ever designed, the Stargazer Lily. Photo by Matteson (click for larger version)
Scott wrote his poem shortly before Eileen's funeral on February 26. The family displayed the card during visitation hours and Scott read the poem during the service.

"It was perfect, just perfect," Maureen said, her eyes bright with the memory. "Finishing that card, that's what Mom would have wanted."

Eileen was hand-making cards and gifts for others as long as her children could remember.

"Mom painted beautiful water color paintings for years," said Maureen. "She would tell stories of drawing when she was in school."

Maureen remembers her mother always enjoyed art and crafts.

"She would sew, bake and paint," said Maureen. "We always had holidays at home and everything was always just beautiful."

However, Eileen's children said she was never idle in her artistic ability – her work always had a purpose.

"Mom was always doing something to be useful. She wasn't one to waste time," remembers daughter Cathy VanNorwick, Scott's wife.

"Mom was a pioneer in many areas," said daughter Margaret Thorpe, of Ortonville.

In fact, in her early 20s, Eileen was the first draftswoman ever hired by Fisher Body in Pontiac. She continued her ground breaking efforts at St. Daniels Catholic Church where she started bible studies and helped in organizing "Stitching for Babies" in 1990.

"Mom was just so thankful and so elated when bible studies began," said Maureen. "Mom had a tremendous faith in God. She had arthritis in her entire body, and yet the Lord enabled her to do this. Mom loved to spread the joy of the Lord. Her cards were just one way she did that."

She added Eileen "loved God and loved his nature."

In fact, Eileen always planted and cared for her own flower gardens, and made crafts and gifts from the buds.

"Mom would make flower wreaths. She would pick and dry her own flowers," Maureen explained. "I would go to craft shows with her and she always hung this sign that let people know 50 percent of the money she made would go to the poor. She would always send money to where it was needed, always. Lighthouse North was one of her favorite.

"Mom had a spunk and determination that was something, truly something," concluded Maureen.

Eileen was born on April 5, 1922. She married in 1942 to Jim Gatton, who passed away in 1988. The couple first lived in Birmingham and then Pontiac, finally moving to the Clarkston area in 1969.

The couple have nine children: Faith, Therese, Maureen, Jim, Cathy, Joe, Margaret, Rose and Paul. Everyone but Cathy, who lives in Honor, live in southeast Michigan.

"Mom always shared her faith and she taught all of us that love," said Maureen. "Her faith just reflected in everything she did, even in us."

In a Clarkston News article published on March 31, 1999, Eileen is quoted as saying, "I wonder what would happen if I got to the Pearly Gates and God said, 'Why didn't you use those gifts I gave you?'"

With her last work complete, everyone touched by Eileen's kindness knows the answer to her pondering – God would never ask the query in the first place.

Jenny, a native from Ohio, is Clarkston News Editor. Her husband is Tom and their son is Ethan.
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