Sunday, June 29, 2008

Four Ladies

A single year saw the passing of four women who, at different times in my life and for different reasons, had great influence on me. You have known ladies like them who served the same purposes in your life. Remember the ones who affected you as I remember these four who touched me. I did not call any of them by their first names, but I will use their first names here as I introduce them to you.

Frances was a part of my life when I was a very young child. After her death, I discovered that she called my mother her “best friend.” I never knew that when she was alive. I simply knew her as the slightly unusual lady at the church who wore wigs and sold cosmetics out of her house. I remember her as funny and optimistic and always cheerful. I remember the pleasure she brought to my family.

Jenny was the mother of two of my very good friends in high school. After her death, I learned of numerous projects and groups and influences she had that made up the bulk of her life. I never knew about those things when she was alive. I knew her as Jody and Kevin’s mom – the strong, welcoming, faithful one whose house was always filled with our friends. She talked to me as though I were an adult. She raised incredible kids. Her marriage was a model.

Anne was my favorite college professor. After her death, I learned of many, many dozens, if not hundreds of others who also counted her as “favorite”. I might have known that if I had thought about it during her life, but I did not. I knew her as the brilliant mind and quick wit who gave me myriad insights into literature. I remember my first day in her class, when she called the roll and required us to respond by quoting a line from American literature. We could not cite an author whom someone else had referenced; I listened anxiously as Twain and Frost and Hemingway were quickly quoted by those lucky enough to have a name beginning with a letter early in the alphabet. Thankfully, Emily Dickinson was still available when my name was called (the only other American author still available I could think of as my backup was Dr. Seuss!), and I responded “I heard a fly buzz when I died.” Anne liked that.

Della came into my life as an elderly widow. After her death, I learned of her life as the wife of a minister in another state. I had never known about that. She decided, for reasons surpassing understanding, that my clan was her “favorite family”. I sat and marveled as I listened to her, as an eighty-something year-old, sing recitals with a voice of someone a third of her age. We had the opportunity to take her to dinner mere weeks before she passed, and her joy, even as her body was deteriorating, was contagious.

Four ladies. None of them will ever be in a history book, appear on a stamp, or serve as the subject for a movie of the week. All of them were precious and vital and unique. Each of them touched my life in ways they probably never really understood or appreciated. They have all left this world for what is beyond, but their influences and their memories will never leave.

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