Friday, May 21, 2010

Getting hit by a freight train

That's what a birthday is nowadays. At least for people of my age.

Most of my dearest friends in the world are gone. They were all older than I when we grew our friendships, but I never anticipated they would one day just not be there... how bleak life could be without them. One by one, they moved across to the Other Side where I know they will be waiting for me when it's my turn. But now, as I look at the calendar for the month of May, 2010, I see a lot of birthdays for friends who are blessedly still with me. I send greetings and wish them health and happiness. But the older I get, the more I realize I need to do more than that. I need to tell them how much they have enriched my life and given me strength when it's been needed.

Friends like Carol Panella, a kindred spirit if ever there was one. Sometimes, I think the Creators made two identical minds, didn't know what to do with them so they gave one to me and then, a year later, the other to Carol. We laugh at the same things, cry at the drop of a hat over who-knows-what, get goopy sentimental about our kids and love to swap grandchildren stories. I don't "collect" anything like Carol collects bunnies (not the live ones, of course)and Santas and steins and Christmas items. Carol doesn't enjoy the casino and hasn't my penchant for spending hours doing nothing. Carol is a phenomenal cook and a world-class hostess. I serve up the same dishes again and again, minus the panache, and am lucky if I have matching candles on the table, but we both love to eat and appreciate each other's efforts. We love old movies, music and good writing. She is articulate and expressive with a killer sense of humor. We make each other laugh.

We met at work in the Evesham School District and are both passionate about public education. We are both fierce Progressives and could discuss politics for hours without pausing for a breath. We like the same kinds of television shows and are fans of NPR, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz. I love "24," but I'm not sure about Carol and I know we share a fascination for "Flashforward." I like a good mystery like "The Mentalist" and appreciate the humor of "Castle." Don't know about Carol because we rarely get to discussions about television preferences when we're cramming our conversations into two-hour lunches (okay, three). After all, solving the problems of the world takes time.

One of the my favorite things about Carol is that we can really talk to each other. Not prattle, gossip or chatter. Talk. Time always goes too fast when we are together and there doesn't seem to be enough excuses to plan another lunch.

Carol has a birthday on Saturday, May 22. That's tomorrow. She's been under the weather a bit and so have I, so I haven't gone shopping and there's no birthday card or gift (for now). But she will be on my mind all day as I flit from one task to another and I'll be certain to call with a rousing version of a song that's supposed to sound like "Happy Birthday to You!" She, being the wonderful friend she is, will not suggest I stop singing.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A rose is a rose

Bev's funeral is over and she is resting in a place where there is no pain and so many people who loved her were waiting to greet her.

I was feeling down this morning. Instead of giving in to the mood, though, I stripped the beds, started laundry, cleaned my bathroom and dusted a couple of rooms. As I was walking through the living room on the way to the kitchen, I glanced out the window and stopped in my tracks. Those knockout roses, the ones we planted last May, have just erupted into gorgeous blooms of various hues... best of all, the bushes grew so much over the winter we can see the flowers from inside the house! And from our screened porch, there is an unobstructed view of the bushes laden with colorful blossoms. How beautiful they are!

Since I was a child, the rose has been my favorite flower. My favorite teacher, and later friend, was named Rose Theresa Abbott. At confirmation time, when I was 13, I took "Rose" for my confirmation name. There is something steady and beautiful about the word... rose.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tribute to a cousin

Most of us have a lot of cousins. Often, we know them all because our families have stayed knit and there are frequent occasions on which to see them. Sometimes, though, families scatter and the time comes when we know only the ones with whom we grew up, not the subsequent generations beneath.

I was blessed to be Beverly Breder’s cousin. She and I had the common experience of spending our formative years in the care of our grandmother, although for different reasons, and we often reminisced about life in the small Pennsylvania town in which we lived.

Thanks to her love for my mother, her aunt Catherine, Bev was around a lot as I was growing up. She was the teenager I wanted to be like, with her beautiful smile and strawberry blonde, naturally curly hair. She was my sponsor at confirmation when I was 13 and she and her family were often in my parents’ house, filling it with the kind of love and laughter for which they were known. I remember always being envious of what Bev had… a husband who adored her and made her laugh and children who made her eyes light up when she looked at them.

But, we drifted apart, too, like family members do. Still, in the last several years, I was fortunate to reconnect with Bev, to travel with her to visit her husband Bart during his final illness, to drive out to Sweetwater to visit Aunt Bert and to just sit in a diner or restaurant or her apartment talking for hours, never seeming to find enough time to get everything said.

If there is one word that describes the Bev I will always remember, it is “love.” She loved her husband with singular devotion; she cherished her children, then their children and their children’s children. She loved her faith and the hours she gave to St. Nick’s. She loved her friends, old and new, and she loved to laugh and have fun. Her eyes crinkled with amusement when she smiled and her laugh was infectious. We joked that we felt more like teenagers than the old ladies the calendar told us we actually were.

The last time we were together, sitting in Mario’s enjoying Bev’s 80th birthday lunch on March 31st, we talked about our lives, how blessed we were to be surrounded by people who inspired us, valued us and made us feel loved. I don’t think I told Bev then that she was one of those people for me. After all, there would be plenty of time for that later, wouldn't there? There would be more lunches, more times to say “I love you.” We agreed, though, that, given our ages, it would be smart not to put things off any longer… to spend as much time as we could with the people who mattered.

Bev mattered very much to me and everyone who knew and loved her. Her passing leaves our world colder and less bright. I will miss her very much.

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