This morning was a day when I wanted to hand my adulting card back. Another one of the great ladies of my childhood is gone. No, not my mother, one of her friends, a family friend.
So I have some bad news. My mom died this morning. She loved 95 good, healthy years. And if she’s right about the afterlife, she is now with my dad. We have no arrangements about services, but when I know something…we will share the details.
Loss truly is the companion of aging. Shit. Some days you do just want to curse. This morning was one of them.
We can’t escape death, as it is literally part of the cycle of life. But there are those people who touched your life whom you just wish would go on. Or you just think will go on.
This lady was someone I knew from the time I was a little girl. She and her late husband were friends of my parents, neighbors at one time. Yes, another one of those fabulous ladies of my Society Hill childhood. We also went to the same church, Old St. Joseph’s on Willing’s Alley. One of the first things I remembered was being in church with this family. I remember our first holy communion because one of the daughters was in my communion class.
An eminently practical person, but never dull or preachy or stuffy. Always fun to be around and she made you want to be a better person. She loved you for who you were.
I think our parents met when my mother and she would take kids to the park nearby. My mother may have been pregnant with my sister. The park is known today as 3 Bears Park. Maybe it always was because of the bear sculpture we would climb on, but to me it was just the “park” or “Delancey Park.”. It had a sliding board that kept breaking because the sun would dry out whatever it was made of – fiberglass I think. But they had great swings and we the kids would pump higher and higher.
The lady had a wonderful husband. Big and tall with a wide smile and a laugh that made his eyes twinkle. Her daughters were so close in age to my sister and I. The oldest daughter and I were in the same grade. The youngest daughter was maybe a year or so behind us, my sister was the baby of this little girls bunch. There were two older brothers as well.
This morning when I got the news, it kind of felt like the world of today spun into a kaleidoscope of the past. From being a little enough girl that this lady kept a straight face when we kept putting my sister into the youngest daughter’s doll bed in her room. Or patience when the tiny turtle’s living area needed to be cleaned. And laughing her wonderful laugh when they finally figured out when her husband’s pride and joy imported Italian car smelled. (The Alpha had an Italian worker who had dropped a salami sandwich inside the door of the car when it was being assembled. Who knows why the worker did it but it was a great mystery of our childhood for a while trying to figure out why her husband’s car smelled to high heaven.) I also remember day trips in a big old station wagon big enough for kids and moms.
Their house was where I first learned peanut butter and jelly was an actual thing you could eat. That was offered one day when one of the kids she was feeding lunch to along with us didn’t want a tuna fish sandwich. I remember where their dining room table was next to the kitchen, and the walled garden out back. I remember there was no messing with the big brothers, even if they were fun. They seemed so big to little girls at that age.
The family moved a few times over the course of the lady’s husband’s career. Before Philadelphia I want to say they were in the Princeton, NJ area, which to a little girl with no frame of geographical reference seemed a million miles away. After Society Hill they moved to Bethesda, Maryland. I remember the road where they lived was Arrowood Road. And for some reason I remember they lived near two big deal golf clubs for that area, Burning Tree and Congressional. And to get to their house you went on this crazy windy road. The kind where the dips and turns could be felt in the stomachs of little girls – River Road. For me initially visiting there as a then still city kid, it was so magical to be in suburbia with big lawns, backyards and big trees. For a while a raccoon inhabited one of the trees in their back yard. Don’t ask me why I have never forgotten that, but I never have. Probably because the lady’s husband hated that raccoon.
When the family moved away, we would go to Maryland, they would come to visit us. Going to visit this family was the ultimate in fun. The lady always had things lined up for us to do. One year it was the King Tut exhibit at The National Gallery in Washington, DC. I remember waiting in a long, long line to go in. That was I believe around 1976. I also remember the summer my parents house sat the pink stucco house that no longer exists on Cheswold Lane in Haverford and the lady and the daughters came for a longer visit. That was one of my favorite summers and they were part of it. That was a couple of years before we moved to the Main Line but my parents were contemplating moving to suburbia.
The lady was incredibly bright. I seem to remember that she went to a 7 sisters school, and when my family moved to Haverford, an adult neighbor’s sister had been her roommate in college.
This lady was a tremendous cook. Kind of Julia Child-like meets Galloping Gourmet, truthfully. (And yes I am dating myself because many won’t remember the Galloping Gourmet.) A few years ago I got a hold of her Florentine cookies recipe from when we were kids. I also remember one New Year’s Eve when she and her husband and the girls were up at our house, she decided to make a chocolate roll to take as a dessert. Only our springer spaniel Abigail jumped up and ate a section of the sponge cake cooling on the stove. I remember cursing, yelling, and a quick recovery and she made the remains of the cake into a decadent trifle.
We often spent Thanksgiving with them, and they with us. I loved being in her kitchen at Thanksgiving. She would put us all to work, but I think in part, this is why I know how to make Thanksgiving dinner today. I remember one Thanksgiving they came with us to my aunt and uncle’s home in Chestnut Hill for an awkward family dinner gather of part of my father’s clan. The dining room was dark and cold. But it was much more fun with our friends with us. One Thanksgiving when they were with us, my parents made a reservation at The Greenhouse in Radnor. You all know it today as 333 Belrose. When you did Thanksgiving there, it was an entire dinner, including your own small turkey and tons of leftovers to take home, but no clean up.
I remember being at their house in Maryland when the news broke on 3 Mile Island. I was in the kitchen with the lady, one of the brothers had the TV on in the family room.
The family moved from Bethesda to Summit, NJ and then in a way they were closer. Either way, Bethesda or Summit, as I got older I was only an Amtrak ride away to visit them.
I loved their house in Summit, NJ. And Summit was just a nice town. I have more memories of the lady again in the kitchen which had a lot of natural light, and a garden you could see from the kitchen. These were the days before gargantuan kitchens in houses, and I loved the kitchens of my childhood which is probably why I don’t mind my smaller kitchen of today. Except I remember the kitchen in Summit, NJ had stools you could sit at.
Today as I have processed this loss, I will admit there have been a lot of tears, And memories popping into my head randomly and out of order. But this was one of the families of my childhood that we stayed so connected to. I remember the lady and her husband going to a black tie in Washington DC with my parents to some dinner to honor Jacques Cousteau. I remember one spooky neighbor of theirs in Bethesda when they had a cocktail party that everyone thought was with the CIA whether that was realistic or not.
But one of the things I remember most about this lady is she never treated you like a kid even when you were a child. She spoke to you, she saw you. And she never judged. She might not always tell you what you wanted to hear because she was straightforward and plain spoken. With four kids of her own and all of the kids in and out of the house, she could be like a very affectionate drill sergeant. I don’t remember her yelling per se, but I do remember her with a stern raised voice when something was going on that she wanted to stop, or if there was something we should be doing. But even when I was a child, I just liked to talk to her. I feel so lucky that I had these adults who were interesting and loving in my life growing up.
Since she and her husband had retired to a warmer climate, the visits turned into phone calls, letters, Christmas cards. And one last text message early into the new year this year. She was a New Year’s baby essentially. I saved the message to remind me to call her soon, and then life went on and today my world paused to take in a loss combined with being so lucky to have known such an awesome woman.
Fly with the angels, we know your memory will indeed be an eternal blessing. Selfishly, I will say my world got a little smaller today.
I do feel your loss, be it once-best friend who could cause you to laugh for no apparent reason or a neighbor who was ‘the other mother’, someone you could talk to and helped you through a dilemma….with calming words.
The poem by Henry Van Dyke below has helped me and others I’ve sent it to.
I hope it will help…to relieve the profound emptiness ….at this time
Gone From My Sight
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other
Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
I am so sorry for your loss. What a fantastic person.
Thank you, she was.