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. 

The Good Sisters

just me, coloring outside the lines

One of our colleagues and close friends rushed into the English Office early one October morning.

It’s going to be Halloween!  Mimi announced.

The rest of us groaned. 

Halloween on a high school campus falls somewhere between Carrie and Zombie ApocalypseII.  It is typically a lost teaching day and is spent keeping marginal control of 150 to 200 students dressed in every conceivable costume and are much more interested in each other than the assignment at hand.

I have an idea!  That was not news to us. Mimi always had a new idea.  We’re sisters.  We can all come dressed as nuns.

We looked at her. We looked at each other.  We grinned. A plan was in the works. 

On Halloween, we arrived, one by one, and looking very nun-like.  With floor-length black habits, 1940s black shoes, white wimples, black veils, rulers in hand, and reading glasses perched…

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The Tesla Sewing Machine

sew machI’ve finished sewing what seemed like thousands of cut, ironed and starched pieces of fabric together into nine blocks for my Century Quilt and am now starting on the trim. 

My seven year old, entry level, little sewing machine that cost $100 and has never seen reverse, until now, has done a more than admirable job. 

I’m very proud of my little machine that chugs along with the refrain, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

But, as the piecing is nearing completion and the quilting on the cusp of beginning, I am well aware that the next step may be far beyond the capabilities of my little sewing machine.

With that in mind, I ventured down the hill and into the valley in search of a more appropriate sewing machine that could handle simple quilting.  The shops that sell sewing machines also sell vacuum cleaners, although I have no idea what that connection is. 

I walked into the nearest Sewing Machine and Vacuum Cleaner Shop and straight into a display of what can only be described as the Tesla Model of Sewing Machines.

The price tag was well in excess of 13,000 dollars.  I think that was more than we paid for having our two kids, buying our first three or four cars combined, and much more than I’d ever consider paying for a sewing machine.

I choked and momentarily considered bolting out the door and racing back up the hill. 

Instead, I took a couple of very deep breaths and proceeded up and down the aisles.  $10,000, $5,000, $4,000, $8,000 — holy mackerel, I couldn’t find even a used machine for under $1,000.  It all got very discouraging, very quickly.

The clerk approached with a warm smile and invited me to try out a lower-mid level machine at $2,500 but was on sale for somewhere around $1,000.  I was still in sticker-shock at the prices.

I sat in front of the $2,500 on sale for $1,000 model that almost resembled a sewing machine. It had 3,252 stitch options, which was 3,250 more than I’d ever use. It also had a computer that was far complicated than my MacBook Pro and could keep track of my two favorite stitches should I ever want it to do so.

Good Grief.

It took about two minutes to realize that this machine was more like driving a car while using a computer than using a sewing machine.  There was something that resembled an old stick shift that you nudged with your knee and it did something dramatic, but I forget now what it actually did. It also went at speeds that rivaled race cars even though most people run it at a much lower speed. 

I didn’t ask if there were speed limits posted with this machine, but I was beginning to wonder if I were test driving a car or sewing machine.

I explained that I just wanted a next level up sewing machine from my entry level little sewing machine that is chugging along so I can do the quilting.  Not interested in much else; I know my limits. But the warm and friendly clerk was adamant that I would grow to love my new machine that could handle basic quilting in addition to 3,250 more stitches, and that I would grow to embrace all the domestic features it offered.

The sewing machine didn’t iron or cook, so I knew it was not going to be something that would be going home with me, especially if I had to pay $1,000 for 3,250 stitches that I would never use, even if there was a computer to monitor the two stitches I would use.

I left, very disappointed and not really sure the direction I was going to take, except that I was not going to take on a huge debt to make one quilt, maybe more, if I survive this one.

I started to consider my options which was pretty much limited to hand quilting and problematic given I can’t sew a straight line, much less sew even stitches.

Fortunately, my Sister Jane called a few days later.  Jane is an excellent quilter, although she says it’s primarily a winter activity.  I can understand that.

Jane cut right to the chase.

You need a new sewing machine.  Yours is too small.

Do you know how much they cost?  Of course she did.

Don’t buy one.  You can have my old one. It’s a step or two up from yours and you can figure out if you want to continue quilting in the meantime.  I just have to find it; it’s buried somewhere in the garage.

Finding the machine may take a while, but that’s just fine. I can wait. I can cut and stitch tons more ironed and starched fabric for multiple quilts while I’m waiting.  There’s absolutely no hurry.

Bless our Sisters for they do take care of us.

And, thank you, Sis!

 

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.