Archive | October, 2017

The Obituary

17 Oct

I’ve been a cat lover almost from the moment I popped out of the womb. My very first word, according to my mom, wasn’t mommy or daddy, but CAT. A friend that use to occasionally travel with me commented that I could spot a cat a mile away, so when I was skimming through the Sunday paper & had reached the obituaries, the word CAT jumped out at me from the middle of the obituary of a woman I didn’t know. That peaked my interest & I decided to read the whole thing.

What caught my eye initially was the paragraph that said the deceased was preceded in death by a number of people (all were named) “and her not very friendly, but much loved 22-year-old cat, Jenny.” How delightful! I smiled & clapped my hands! And I began reading the obituary from the beginning.

It seems the deceased went into surgery at 8:03 a.m. & by noon she was, “at home with Jesus.” Apparently something very unexpected happened during her surgical procedure, ending her life. The author of the obituary, however, seemed to know the deceased very well, so much so that at the end of that paragraph the author added that she passed away unexpectedly, but peacefully. “She always did love her naps!”

The deceased had had a rewarding career from which she’d taken time out to raise her children. She had many hobbies including, “traipsing all over North Carolina & beyond for horse shows & motocross competitions, tag teaming with her children’s father. Hats off, Mom & Dad!”

There followed a detailed description of how the deceased spent the few days before her surgery; the people she interacted with, snippets  of conversations she’d had & little bits of phone conversations with friends & loved ones. She had “several puppy-petting sessions that she called, ‘puppy therapy’ with Buddy & put her bird feeders out daily for the birds & a few now obese squirrels.”

At the end of the delightful obituary, “friends, family & colleagues are invited to ‘Marti’s Party’ to celebrate her life.” It was also noted that she will be “deeply missed.”

The obituary ended with, “For God so loved the world He gave His one & only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” I believe that ending was the author’s way of saying that this wonderful woman who gave so much would continue in heaven.  He or she found great comfort in that.

This obituary that touched me on so many levels contained all the stuff of obituaries; next of kin, the career of the deceased & things she enjoyed in life, where to send donations instead of flowers, & funeral & family arrangements. But it also said to the reader, Here was a special person. She had so much in her life and so much LIFE. Even the smallest things were important to her. She enjoyed animals & the company of one grumpy cat for 22 years that meant the world to her.

When I finish reading an obituary, mostly I know very little about the deceased unless I knew them beforehand. After reading this one I felt as though I’d actually KNOWN the woman. Through her obituary I had enjoyed her personality & felt, through her, a specific joy in life.

And isn’t that the way we’d all like to be remembered … with an obvious connection to the people who read our obituaries whether they know us or not? I think it’s so very important to be able to smile while reading & remembering.

My hat is off to the author of this particular obituary. Because of the charming way the obituary was written I will remember the deceased for a long time without ever having met her.

And being a cat lover of the highest order, I will also remember that “not very friendly, but much loved 22 year-old-cat, Jenny” & imagine her personality.

 

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Ruby

1 Oct

October 1 is World Communion Sunday; a day shared by many churches & denominations. The observation of the day attempts to promote Christian unity & cooperation. We had communion at our church this morning.

Whether you are a religious person or tend not to be, the simple act of sharing food & drink with people … friends & acquaintances … is most often a pleasant experience & one that brings us closer to our tablemates & encourages us to commune with them.

Taking a cue from World Communion Sunday & its many considerations, our pastor chose today to bring a sermon to his congregation about what it means to be “white” in this country & conversely, what it means to be “black.” It was one of those “out on a limb” topics that sometimes carries with it feelings of discomfort for some listeners, especially in today’s world filled with heightened racial tensions, Black Lives Matter, racial profiling & the rearing up of that ugly head of the  KKK.  While the sermon may have engendered a feeling of discomfiture in some, it was a timely sermon that resonated with me on many levels.

I’m not writing this blog entry to argue black & white. We all know the issues, we SEE the inequality that continues to exist today & we try to make a difference where & when we can for a cause we are passionate about. I have very strong feelings about those issues but would certainly over-use my allotted WordPress blog space if I allowed myself to debate those issues or attempt to make a ton of points here on this warm, beautiful, early fall Sunday afternoon. Instead, I’m simply writing this blog entry about Ruby.

Even before my dad died when I was 6, my mom had a close friend. Her name was Ruby. To this day I have no recollection of how Ruby & my mom ended up being friends & neither is alive today for me to check that point with.  At the end of the day, it probably isn’t so important to my story & if it is, I will never know. What’s important to me is simply Ruby & that today, many years after both she & my mom have died, I am remembering her because of a heartfelt sermon delivered on World Communion Sunday by our pastor.

I was born & lived the first 10 years of my life in the south; in Salisbury, NC. My mom, especially after the untimely death of my dad, was the central focus of my life. She worked at the local telephone company as an operator, she took me to movies on her days off, dressed up with me on Halloween, took me to feed stale bread to the ducks on the lake in the park & she had a black friend.

I really can’t remember when Ruby wasn’t a part of my life. She would sometimes baby sit for me when my mom had to work an evening shift & occasionally stayed overnight with me if my mom had to work the night shift. It all seemed very natural to me in an era where such things were considered MOST unnatural.

Ruby took me fishing for the very first time in my life & to lunch at her house where I sat beside a niece who was in a high chair. The baby kept touching my arm, then touching her own, apparently marveling at the color difference & even THAT didn’t seem unnatural to me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t “aware” or that I wasn’t a bright child.  It WAS that Ruby was a part of our lives & we hers, & that was what I considered natural in the days long before it was.

Ruby was a single mom & after my dad died she & my mother had even more in common. She had a job doing what she called “day work” but she was always available to help my mom when she needed someone to stay with me if she had to work a late shift. During those times Ruby became very much like a second mother to me. There are no words for how I loved her.

The very first time that I became aware of the racial difference between us was on a Saturday when my mom had to work & Ruby stayed with me during the afternoon. She decided we should go to a movie & I was excited about it. So we walked the several blocks to the old Capital Theater & Ruby bought our tickets.

In those days … days of segregation … Rosa Parks had not so long before defiantly refused to sit on the back of that bus & white people still sat in the main theater at a movie.  Black people sat exclusively in the balcony with “their kind.”  Because that rule was pretty solid on the day Ruby took me to the movie, & because she was the adult & I was pre-school, we headed to the balcony. I was excited because I’d never sat in the balcony & I was with Ruby.

Children see things so differently. As children we are not born with prejudice. It’s a LEARNED behavior. There is so much to be said for the title of the Star Trek episode, “And the Children Shall Lead.” While it was not one of the best Trek episodes, there is much to consider in the words of the title & so much we could learn from our children; perhaps now more than ever before.

So Ruby & I took our popcorn & found a seat in the balcony; a balcony filled with black people who had suddenly gone totally quiet while staring at me. Just a reminder: I was a VERY white little child with cottony white / blond hair & very blue eyes. I couldn’t have been more conspicuous had I been seated directly under a black light. People in the balcony said things. A couple pointed. Ruby glared at them & told me just to eat my popcorn & watch the movie. After the first little while everything settled down, the movie came on & I was no longer the center of attention in the balcony of the Capital Theater that particular Saturday afternoon.  Like a mother hen protecting her chick, Ruby, with her I dare you to say another word icy stare that she spread around the balcony, saved the movie & saved the day.

When my mom remarried & we moved, I cried from the moment we left NC until we crossed the state line into Virginia. I wept for leaving the only home I’d ever known & for leaving Ruby; a woman who loved me & became one of the most important central figures of my life.

My mom & I stayed in touch with Ruby until her death in the mid-1980s. Sometimes I would drive the 4 hours to Salisbury & visit with her. On the mantel in her living room was a child’s toy; a stage coach being pulled by 4 running horses driven by a cowboy wearing a vest with fringe. It was a toy I had loved as a child & when I outgrew it, Ruby made it a decorating reminder in her living room of a part of her life that she was all too aware was far ahead of its time.

I am forever grateful to my mother for being the loving, special, strong woman that she was. In many ways she was courageous. In her time & in Ruby’s it took courage to have a black friend, or in Ruby’s case, a white one. Together they taught me to love or dislike a person because of their “character” & not their color. They taught me to appreciate people for their “gifts” & not their race. They taught me to appreciate diversity.

Because my mother was the woman she was who possessed that amazing strength of character & her huge capacity to love, Ruby was a larger-than-life influence & positive part of my life. Without my mom’s direction I would never have known Ruby’s love & that would have been one of the great tragedies.

As our pastor spoke this morning, my mind took me for a quick travelogue experience back to NC & I thought of the beautiful experience that was Ruby. In the midst of current racial tensions we see each time we turn on the nightly news or in some cases, experience, I wish the world could suddenly be transported with me back to all those years ago when I was the only little white person sitting in a theater balcony with the warmth & protection that was Ruby.

Children are often smarter than we give them credit for.

Thank you, Pastor Josh for a lovely sermon & my personal trip down Memory Lane.