Audrey Hoshaw: Ms. Independent

Strength emanates from this survivor of adversity

HARD UPBRINGING <br>Audrey Hoshaw, a Canadian native, was just 7 when she lost her mother and soon became a ward of the court.

Audrey Hoshaw, a Canadian native, was just 7 when she lost her mother and soon became a ward of the court.

Photo by meredith j. cooper

It’s 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon and Audrey Hoshaw has just finished her lunch at the Sycamore Glen Retirement Center.

She walks toward me, smiling. I catch myself wondering: Is this what I will look like at 94?

After our initial greeting, she immediately confesses that she had chosen the wrong dish for lunch; the meat turned out to be tough and chewy. But Hoshaw laughs it off, not really taking the complaint too seriously.

I soon learn that this attitude is part of Hoshaw’s manner. Refusing to let matters out of her control bog her down. Accepting things for what they are. Having faith that there is a reason. Somewhere.

We sit down and stare at one another and there is a 30-second span of silence. She breaks her stare and now looks annoyed, waiting for me to lead our conversation in some sort of direction.

I want to eagerly announce, “I want to know everything about your life!” But the pragmatic side of me takes over. Flashing a closed-mouth smile, I say, “So where do you want to begin?”

The noise of the air conditioner overhead forces me (then her) to speak loudly. I sit facing my knees toward her at an angle, wanting and willing to soak up every ounce of detail she’ll share. Her knees face the wall straight in front of her, not willing to take part in my plan.

She places her soft wrinkled hands on her gray trousers. “Well, I was born in Canada …”

Her graceful white pearl necklace and lady-like allure are indicators that she may have lived a privileged life. To my surprise, it turns out that Hoshaw worked long, hard hours most of her life, and did much of it with very little help.

Born in 1914 to Vergie Hale and Troy Harrison Shoaf, Hoshaw saw her life shattered into pieces at the age of 7. Her mother became ill after giving birth to the family’s sixth child and passed away a couple months later.

Hoshaw scrunches her nose and looks at the floor in disgust as she talks about her father’s response to her mother’s illness and death. “The morning that my mother was in a coma, he made all of us stand at the foot of her bed, and watch her.”

Her father later was sent to prison for child molestation, and Hoshaw and her younger sister became wards of the court. Each was given to a family to work as a mother’s helper in order to pay for room and board.

Hoshaw was then in her early teens, and she finally felt safe, independent and able to realize that she wanted something more for her life.

Hoshaw looks and me, and for a brief second I can feel the inner strength that pushed her through every stage of life. She starts to laugh. The lines on her face are very apparent; the ends of her smile extend so far that they could easily fall into her eyes. Her laugh becomes contagious, and within a couple seconds we laugh together.

Times were not easy in the 1920s and ’30s, as Americans struggled through the Great Depression. Yet Hoshaw secured a job in a dime store in San Francisco. Joseph Lanouette first was Hoshaw’s manager, then, a few months later, her husband. The couple soon welcomed a daughter, Rita, and then a son, Joseph Dean.

The Lanouette children were raised on the couple’s poultry farm, where days started early and ended late. Everyone was taught to be punctual and useful. Lanouette was strict and unwilling to be anything other than the head of the household and boss of the farm.

When asked if she believed Lanouette was her soul mate, she looked at me as though I was some college kid, perhaps in love with my college boyfriend, living a carefree life. Naïve.

“He was a difficult soul mate,” Hoshaw responds, not willing to go any further.

When Lanouette passed away in 1981, the family’s farm was sold. Hoshaw met her next husband, Harry Kopsey Hoshaw, at a Bible study meeting.

She stops to think for a minute. Her eyes fill, but a tear never emerges. She shakes her head and looks at me.

She was married to Harry Hoshaw for 17 years. Sometimes she catches herself looking over to the other couch, thinking he is sitting right there, with her.

Now, she sits across from me.

“I hope I’ve given you an interesting story …”

Her knees are now facing mine and we sit opposite one another staring into each other eyes; two women who have lived worlds apart but are here in this moment in time, sitting together. Our knees finally meet, and we no longer face different directions.

It’s eventually time for me to get back to class, for Hoshaw to get to her game of pinochle.

I walk out of Sycamore Glen thinking of all that I have to do: homework, go to work, look for an internship, cook dinner, pay my rent, grocery shop …

However, for the first time I don’t feel overwhelmed. I have learned from Hoshaw that I am the captain of my own voyage. All I need to do is own it, take advantage of it. Live.

As I continue walking to my car, I wonder: What story will I tell at 94?