oh, Suzanna…

IMG_0226We began as colleagues and grew into Sisters, ten women with a close friendship of almost forty years.  Mimi was the first to leave, almost five years ago. and we suspect she has spent a good deal of the past five years re-decorating the Pearly Gates, and whatever lies beyond, in a Country French theme.

Last week, Suzanna joined her.  Mimi would have no doubt been among the first to greet Suzanna, ready to show her the ropes for this new adventure.

Suzanna probably had some pithy observations to add to whatever Mimi might have shared.

Suzanna was a formidable woman with a moral compass set solidly to True North. She was down to earth with a quick wit and a heart as big as the great outdoors she so dearly loved. 

Suzanna was quick with a smile and good counsel, a comforting and stabilizing presence. Her tidbits of sage wisdom are still shared with novice teachers:  If the choice is between your sanity and theirs, always choose yours…Have an arsenal of quick comebacks for those very special moments with those very special students…Practice Teacher Conservation.

Suzanna kept an old fashion paper fan on her desk and when she told the occasional risqué story, she’d quickly fan her face to ease the bright Irish blush that was sure to follow. As our conversations thrived on innuendo, we knew a beet red, laughing Suzanna would soon be crying Where’s my fan? while frantically searching for it under piles of student papers.

Peggy and Dianne would visit Suzanna’s classroom with a subtle reminder from an ongoing office conversation, such as a piece of chocolate, an aspirin or a metaphor, and, without a word, hand Suzanna the token and her fan. They’d leave, with Suzanna in full blush in front of thirty students.

One year, Suzanna and Dianne decided to swim laps in the school pool before classes began. Of course, the kids got word of it.  Keenly aware of the teenage gawkers, Dianne hesitated. Suzanna just shrugged, They look at us; they turn to stone before plunging into the pool.

And when Jane and Carla were newly single and contemplating a brave new dating world, Suzanna shared her one and only dating rule: Date men half your age with twice your income. 

Suzanna was generous in sharing her love of nature, taking us kayaking and to Hume Lake. Once, with Mimi and Alice and their kids, Suzanna was determined to share the full outdoor experience and had Blaine leave a little something on the porch for a bear. The bear showed up and wanted to join them in the cabin. Suzanna said she looked in those eyes and the small amount of space where the brain might be, and declared she would never do that again.

Suzanna was fiercely proud of her husband, Reece, and their children. She found joy in their three young grandchildren and, as her health failed, Suzanna delighted in listening to their kids and grandkids laughing and talking outside her open window. She was so very appreciative of Reece’s love and especially the care that he provided in her final months.

While we are finding it difficult to imagine a world without Suzanna, sisters sharing in celebration, heartache, laughter and adventure ~ all while creating lifelong bonds and memories ~ our comfort is in knowing she is now without pain, hopefully enjoying a fragrant flower garden or kayaking in clear, calm waters. 

Turning a Page

This pwatchast weekend I attended a memorial service for my aunt and uncle — a couple well into their nineties when they died within months of one another, having lived long, fun-filled lives.  My aunt was the youngest of my mother’s two sisters and the last of nine siblings to pass.

Most of us attending the service were cousins.  We had all grown up together and spent many hours at family outings. A subset spent many more hours playing while the three sisters laughed and visited over coffee.

We also had to re-introduce ourselves to one another, not recognizing our childhood playmates. In some cases, almost forty years had passed since we had last seen one another.

It was a bittersweet reception that followed, catching up, watching old extended family movies, laughing and sharing memories, highlights of our lives, children and grandchildren.  We reminisced about the family picnics in Stevens Creek and Huddart Parks, the splashing and netting crayfish in the meandering streams and pools, Thanksgiving evenings at my family’s home, and the weekends at the Pope Estate at Lake Tahoe, where one of the brothers was the grounds keeper. 

As the Pope family only visited once a year, we had our “own” private beach, complete with roaring bonfires, bar-b-ques and s’mores.  I can still see my elderly grandmother, in her early 60’s, quietly sitting in her chair, smiling and watching over her brood of twenty-some young grandchildren frolicking in the very cold and crystal clear lake.

Those of us at the memorial service agreed it would be a fun idea to get the remaining cousins together once a year, especially as nearly a quarter of us have already passed. 

Fun, yes, and also a tad sobering, recognizing that we are now the oldest generation living.

While I’m not the most senior of the group, this is my year of turning Seventy.  The big 7-0.  70. No matter how I write it, it looks old. 

Not so long ago, that 7-0 seemed so very ancient, so far off, so decrepit, so…oh, one foot in the grave and the other not too far behind.

It’s not that old, even though I don’t buy the current mantra of 60 being the 40, 70 being the new 50 and so on.  My body and mind don’t lie and both are daily reminders that I am no longer as young as I’d like to pretend to be.

I am aging no matter how it’s framed and, while I may not be as rocking-chair ready as my grandmother, I am nonetheless on the downhill side of life and that downhill trajectory sometimes feels like it is traveling at warp speed.

Even now, I realize there are life chapters that have closed — and probably not necessary to re-live — and dreams that may never be realized.

And yet…  And yet… 

There are still adventures to be had, dreams to be dreamt, and life to be experienced.

I wonder at times if fear and angst are the true shadow culprits that snake around the edges of an aging body or mind, painting a person’s world so much smaller and intimidating than it needs to be?

Of course, fear and angst can accomplish that task regardless of a person’s age.

The challenge may well be in keeping minds and hearts open to new possibilities ~ embracing new ideas, learning from misadventures and contributing to the world and people around us.

ah, 70, big deal. It’ll just be another day, another year. I think I’d rather focus on those adventures still to be experienced ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

January’s Memories

IMG_0328Januaries are difficult; the gloomy days and early nightfalls seem to linger far too long, especially with Christmas lights having long since been taken down and packed away.

Januaries are long. I’ve notice it especially since moving, given that I’ve moved farther north, not fully aware of the longer nights until smack in the midst of them.

Januaries lend themselves to still more reflection.

My blogs on dating have gathered a bit of an audience, surprisingly among young women who are struggling with the drama of dating, including one young writer who wrote a piece delightfully entitled You may be Hot, but so is Hell.

Touché.

Many of these young women are now sharing about refocusing their energy on developing female friendships. And that leads me back to Januaries and reflections.

Words fail in sharing just how important female friends are and the role they will play in your life; your female friends are the ones who will know your history, fears, hopes, successes, failures, and spirit — possibly even better than a future partner. 

In many ways, female friends will become your chosen family, your sisters.  Select them with care, nurture the friendships and, with luck, those relationships will last a lifetime, sharing in celebrations, heartaches, laughter and adventures.

Four years ago today, our circle unexpectedly lost Mimi.  She had just celebrated her 64th birthday two weeks earlier and was far too young and vibrant to have died.

Mimi had been our sister for over thirty years. The ten of us grew from being colleagues in teaching into fast friends and then realized we really had been sisters all the while.

Mimi could see through any situation, cutting right to the chase with an expressive face followed by a wry smile and her infectious laugh. And you just had to love her.

We knew Mimi as a bubbly whirlwind of activity from decorating homes to organizing parties and theatre outings, from teaching creative lessons to being an advocate for students and teachers, from entertaining family and friends to traveling around the world and hosting sister city events with Russia.

Mimi showed up to work one Halloween dressed as Wonder Woman and a tradition was born: the next two years, she convinced our English Department to dress as nuns and the following Halloween, Mimi talked most of the school’s 100 plus staff members into buying bright red and white striped polo shirts that we knew we’d never wear again.  But we all had tremendous fun playing our roles in Where’s Waldo? much to the delight and surprise of 2,000 unsuspecting high school students.

Mimi loved to share stories, especially about her two sons and, later, about her cherished granddaughter. Mimi would speak of her love for her husband, and because he was her rock, she could fly.  And fly she did.

We all loved Mimi and sorely miss her and the grace, vitality and merriment she so generously shared.

For those young women seeking friendships, I hope that you are as fortunate as our sisters have been in creating lifelong bonds.  Your friends will be far more important in your life than you could ever imagine…

 

 

 

 

 

Last Exit

IMG_0226My friend Jane has a background in theater and music. Over the years she has occasionally been assigned to direct high school student musicals.  Usually, however, she hides and pretends she’s merely another English teacher, while keeping her fingers crossed that the current administrator doesn’t learn of her expertise. 

However, I think Jane is a frustrated director in need of an adult play and cast.  She’s been bugging me for years to take her concept idea for a Broadway hit and write the script.  She already has the title, Last Exit.  As soon as I started this blog, she called to remind me once again of the play.

As any of you reading these entries know, Jane and I consider ourselves sisters, part of a larger group of sisters and a decades-long friendship.  We’re pretty sure we were all family in some weird past life, and it’s always delighted me how we can simply pick up the thread of a conversation even if we haven’t been in touch for a while.

Dianne found us earrings that remind us of our sister relationship — taken from early cave dwelling artwork illustrating four women.  We wear the earrings at sister events or to lend support when it’s needed. 

I remember walking into a School Board of Trustees meeting and sitting down next to one of the principals.  Mary, one of the sisters, was presenting so of course I had on my earrings.

The principal leaned over to say hello, spotted the signature earrings and grimaced.

OK, I knew about you. I even knew about Suzanna and Peggy, but Mary? Mary? Mary is a sister too? Tell me it’s not true.

I smiled.  We’re everywhere.

He sighed. We do know about The Sisters.  If the group shows up to advocate for anything, we’ve all agreed to just let you have your way.  It’s easier.

I smiled. The administrators of twelve high schools and a central office prepared to acquiesce without debate or bloodletting. Countries should take note.

As we’ve retired, we still get together, but now we also show up en masse for illnesses or injuries, taking a day here, a meal there, a drive to the doctor’s or just visiting. We’re very fortunate to have one another.

With that kind of background woven through the fabric of our lives, Jane and I are certain it will continue until our final curtains. At least we came to that conclusion one evening over plotting, laughing ourselves silly and a bottle of something or other.  

Jane wants to make us into a smash Broadway hit, so we can all retire well above our current teacher-retirement means.  She has the plot down and most of our parts cast. I believe Jane has selected Ellen Bursten to play herself and Judi Dench to play me, which, in itself, it’s pretty darn cool. Jessica Lange, Allison Jenney, Shirley McLaine, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren and Cathy Bates round out the headliners.  You really won’t want to miss it.

While not giving away the entire plot, because we will want you to purchase tickets, the play follows a group of aging sisters reflecting on their lives with lots of laughter and some tears.

The play opens with the sisters at Mimi’s grave site following her unexpected passing, which, in reality, happened almost four years ago.  We make a pact over a bottle or two of wine that when one of us is dying, the next youngest will, um, accelerate the transition — gently and with love, of course, but eliminating as much suffering, lingering and impact on the savings account as possible.

And, so it goes, one sister at time, until only the youngest — enter Helen Mirren — is left standing alone at the last grave site, waiting to face the music and police.

As she is escorted off stage by police, exiting stage right, she smiles grimly with her final words.

At least now I’ll have free room, board and medical care for the rest of my life.