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. 

A Creek Runs Through It…

When I first lookeimg_0854-1d at this house, now my new home, one of the things that caught my attention, other than the spectacular views, was a dry creek bed meandering through the property. It wandered down from the golf course on the knoll above the back yard, worked its way around the house and decks, under a delightful bridge and through a large culvert under the street to the lake just beyond.

It was bone dry.  Neither the realtor nor I could figure out why it was so dry, other than it was the height of summer and a drought, but the other man-made creeks in the area regularly ran in order to keep the lake filled.

I thought perhaps it had something  to due with the upgrading at the small park across the street, so the next time I was down by the administration building I stopped in to ask about “turning the water back on.”

The ladies looked at one another, not knowing the answer, and then said, We need to get Sean. As it turned out, Sean was just down the hall and was more than happy to answer my question.

Ah.  You have a real creek.  It will run all winter.  He could barely contain a grin.

Good thing I don’t embarrass easily.

Sean was right. Now, a few months later, the rains have come — hopefully for more than a few days — and the creek runs full. 

It’s another unexpected delight, watching the water splash its way over river rocks and under the bridge on its journey from the hillside to the lake.

It also brings back unexpected and fond memories from childhood.  There was a creek at the end of our road, owned by a gruff, weathered old man whom we all knew as Mr. Scrabo, one of four Serbian brothers who settled in the rural valley and planted orchards.  There was an old road that ran along one side of his apple orchard and a wide creek that bordered the other side.

I don’t think he had any children of his own, other than the orchard that was, indeed, his child.  Mr. Scrabo would only allow children on his property, he’d say with a wink to the adults out walking. He hired the young neighborhood boys to help pick apples for a quarter an hour and all the rotten apples they wanted for after-work rotten apple fights. Girls were not supposed to do hard labor or fight.

But, Mr. Scrabo gave all of us access to the creek, even helping by clearing a wide path down its banks to a large clearing where the creek lazily snaked around a generous hairpin turn.  We spent many hot summer afternoons wading in the cool waters or fishing with with strainers from our moms’ kitchens, occasionally catching minnows and tadpoles while having great fun away from the eyes of any intruding parents.

The creek was gentle and babbling in the summer with waters so cool and clear you could see bugs and minnows alike, but, come the winter storms, the creek became swollen with water and part of the adventure of walking to school and having to cross the creek by balancing on a large fallen oak limb that, at the time, seemed oh-so-high above the raging waters below. 

When it was my young children’s turn to grow up in their mother’s childhood home, it was a gift to watch them relive many of my memories at the creek at the end of our road.

Of course, by then, Mr. Scrabo was another memory, too, the old road widened and paved over, and his prized orchard sold for homes, although Mr. Scrabo had made certain that a path, deeded in perpetuity, allowed the neighborhood children access to the creek and all the adventures that awaited them.

Sweet memories.  Sweeter man. 

I think I’ll get a mug of hot, spiced tea and sit by the window for a while, watching the rain and the creek, and see what other memories are waiting to be found.

The Hundred Year Quilt

 fabric1My good friend Gail visited me last week. We typically begin each conversation by laughing and making sure that we are indeed still friends.

We met while serving on our county’s Behavioral Health Board and quickly realized we had a long list of similar interests, including a love of art and creativity, the outdoors and community service.

Then, one day, I made the mistake of sneaking out of the meeting for a few moments and came back to find I had been elected chair.  Stuck, I shepherded the Board through a challenging two year transition period of sitting on far too many committees with the tasks of integrating Mental Health with Alcohol and Drugs, finding a new Department Director and changing our bylaws.  I had hoped that I would leave the Board with a predictable schedule in Gail’s capable hands when I moved out of the area.

No such luck. Gail has had her hands full.  We both know I got out at just at the right time, with one crisis after another landing at her feet.  She’s doing a great job and I am very, very grateful it’s not me. I’m also very glad we’re still friends, despite me setting her up as the next chair. 

Last week when she visited, we wandered over to our favorite local Quilt Shop, looking at the fabrics and ideas, knowing full well that my expertise is limited to a Quilting for Dummies’ rag quilts and Gail’s not even sure where she stored her sewing machine.  But, it’s fun to imagine what we could do, if only we knew what we were doing.

When we returned home that evening, I showed Gail a pattern I had downloaded three years ago for a Mixed Brick Quilt.  It is large enough for a queen size bed, very attractive and supposedly for all levels of expertise, including beginner.

uh huh.

As I said, I’ve had the pattern for three years and can only get through the first two paragraphs before zoning.

Gail read it, also zoning, but kept reassuring me that she had full confidence that I could successfully make the quilt. And, if I could, she could…

I think I gave Gail the same pep talk as I packed up my stuff, handed her the chairperson’s gavel and bolted out the door.

So, last Friday, I spent two hours back at our favorite quilt shop, purchasing twelve different materials that I think will go together.  Hope may be the operative word. Then, I brought them home, with directions to first wash the fabric with something called a color catcher and then iron with a light starch.

I had to iron? Iron? Starch? Before starting? Are they kidding?

All of which meant I had to find the iron and ironing board.  I knew I had gotten them when I married almost 50 years ago but have avoided using either one.

In no time at all — ok, I was watching the Warriors do a number on the Pacers so the ironing wasn’t all that tedious — the yardage was properly washed, dried, starched and ironed.  It dawned on me as I stood at the ironing board, more engaged in cheering on Curry than starching and ironing, that somehow I had missed out on all the domestic stuff I could have learned as a child.

Of course, I had two brothers, a father and a mother who had five brothers and was herself a bit of a tomboy. It’s no wonder that I never learned to cook, iron or sew.

But I could catch, throw and hit a baseball, and catch and throw a football — and not like a girl.

I remember back to my teaching days, when a football bounced its way across the quad and I scooped it up.  The boys shouted out, asking if I could hold it for them. Fat chance.  I threw it — a perfect spiral — across the quad, over the heads of the mob of students and right into their midst.  I gained a few brownie points that day.

Today, however, I am looking a paragraph 2 of the quilt directions — something about cutting out 386 bricks and blocks before proceeding to paragraphs 3 and stitching them all together and then cutting them again.

Holy Mackerel, this is going to take a hundred years or more to complete.

The next conversation with Gail should be very interesting.

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Bit of Magic

crt_logoRegardless of our professions, we all hold memories of special people and events. That is especially true when teachers start to share their stories, usually about individual students and sometimes about classes that, if we were lucky, were pure magic for the entire year.  Those classes were few and far between, but they were the reason we got up and raced to work every morning.

I was recently chatting with my Sister Suzanna and we got on the subject of kids and classes.  She recalled a magical class from her early years in the profession.  When June rolled around, the students complimented her with you’ve been just like my sister.  Fast forward and another perfect class appeared, this time with the closing appreciation of you’ve been just like my mother.  In her final year of teaching, yet another special class appeared and her kids surrounded her voicing, you’ve been just like my grand —  Stop right there, there is no need to finish that sentence.

I remember both individual students and some very special classes. I still recall one young girl who walked into our Healthy Start/School Linked Services offices late on a Friday afternoon.  She was leaning on her sister, crying and seeking help. I ushered her back to a young therapist, who quickly came back to my office and said this was out of her area of expertise.

The four of us sat down in my office.  The girl was pregnant, certain her parents would kill her and wanted an abortion. We calmed her and made her an appointment with Planned Parenthood, knowing that she was well past the point of any abortion. We also up future appointments with a therapist in our center so she could be supported in the future months.

Four months later, she gave birth to a beautiful little boy and, in large part due to the expertise at Planned Parenthood, had the full support of her family.

I wish her story had ended there, but it didn’t. Six months later, I received word that the young girl and her boyfriend had been killed, bound and shot execution style in the back of their heads.  I recall something about drugs or gangs, but that’s all rather vague.  I just remember thinking that it was such a loss, especially to their infant.  I have no idea what happened to the child, except that he’s now a grown man and, hopefully, on a much better path than his parents.

Those are the students that continue to haunt — what didn’t we know and what could have we done?

Those memories are balanced by the classes and students that made every day magical. There was one very special Sophomore English class where every day was a delight. Alas, I had arranged to take a leave of absence the second semester to join the soon-to-be ex in Pennsylvania. The kids and I grew more heartbroken as moving day loomed. 

The class had a surprise party the last day before the winter break and my leaving.  They had food (of course), thank you cards, speeches and gave me a beautiful delicate gold bracelet that I still have.  We were all in tears.

At the end of the day, I walked out to the faculty parking lot.  Standing next to my car was one of my students. He was the shy, polite student-athlete who sat in the back of the room and earned excellent grades.  He was on the cusp of becoming a very handsome young man and many of the girls already had crushes on him, although he seemed oblivious to it all.

I started to ask him what he needed, but he beat me to it, blurting out, But you can’t leave!  I’m in love with you!

 oh my, if he had only been 30 years older and a few years later…