Years ago I promised I’d sing at her memorial. On Friday I kept that promise and along with my guitar, two daughters and youngest granddaughter, sang two songs for the celebration of her life. Caryl Steere was one of my first professors in early childhood at ASU. She taught me about child-centered education and was an excellent role model for honoring the spirit of each and every young child. When I studied with Caryl I sometimes took my three-year-old daughter Sarah with me to class. Caryl always went out of her way to make her feel welcome and later on welcomed my whole family into her life.
When Sarah and her sister Astraea were a little older, Caryl invited us over to her house on several occasions. She had an array of interesting artifacts around her lovely house, many of them native American storytellers, baskets, and paintings. The girls never remember her saying, “Don’t touch” or “Be careful.” She always let them explore, touch, and handle her household treasures. One of my favorite visits to Caryl’s house was the Saturday we made baskets out of bread dough. It was her idea. First we mixed up batches of dough, which were then placed in long snakes over the outside of an upside down stainless steel bowl. Once the dough was baked, it was removed from the bowl. This produced a beautiful dough “basket.” I don’t remember how successful the baskets actually were, but I do remember Caryl’s flour dusted kitchen and the extra trip to the store to get more flour midway through the process. I also remember her sheer delight with the day, including the messy kitchen in her otherwise impeccably clean house. The memory of that day remains one of my fondest memories of Caryl.
Over the years she attended graduation parties, weddings, receptions and Seed anniversary celebrations. We included her as part of our extended family because she included us. When Caryl turned 90, we joined her to celebrate her special day. Although I hadn’t seen her in awhile, she looked remarkably the same. Assisted by a walker, Caryl worked the crowd with ease. She was dressed in one of her signature cute outfits and sported a plastic tiara and heart necklace. She wore her jewels with grace. Somehow seeing those plastic, childlike jewels adorning Caryl on her 90th birthday reminded me of the day we made the dough baskets. Although she had a flair for always presenting both herself and her living space in a meticulous, orderly manner, there was always room for playfulness. Caryl was a lady, and at the same time reserved a part of herself to respond to life with the spirit of a child. It’s what we all loved about her, and what we’ll miss. It was an honor to be a part of her life, a part of her memorial service, and a part of her work with children that continues on a daily basis at the Seed.