We are Blue Ridge Mountain women, Carolyn and I. Providence placed us together at the age of ten in fifth grade at Appalachian Elementary School. How fortunate we are to have forged a permanent bosom-buddy friendship at that young age. I am abundantly richer for it and I know she feels the same.
Sadly, I lost my lifelong friend on April 1. Her daughter Amy and I got a chuckle about her passing on April Fools Day. Carolyn stated clearly, more than once, that it was her least favorite holiday. She said she disliked most surprises and she certainly didn’t enjoy being the victim of silly pranks. She did, however, have a terrific sense of humor. She was a master at telling a good story and making me laugh. I think she would have found humor in the fact that her demise came on her most dreaded holiday – and it sure as hell wasn’t a joke.
It’s difficult to write in the past tense about a friend whose presence I’ve known for almost 70 years. Her presence, I think, will always be with me. It helps that over the years we were more separated than together geographically; but we were always together in our hearts. We were able to pick up the conversation as only good friends can, as if we were sitting across the kitchen table from each other having coffee.
I had my last conversation with Carolyn the evening she died, metaphorically speaking. I was standing next to my bed wondering if I should put my pajamas on early and settle in with a book. I can never think books without thinking Carolyn. When her name came to me I paused. I knew her end was coming soon, just not quite yet. I took a moment to say a little prayer for a serene passage. Then I said aloud, “I’m here, Carolyn, I’m right here with you.” The next morning her daughter called me.
On our last phone call she answered with a deliberate lilt in her voice. That was her way of telling me she was okay. Then she told me she had been lying there thinking about all the things I had done for her over the years.That is so like her. I told her if we were taking inventory I feared I would end up on the short end. She was having none of that.
From the very beginning of our friendship, Carolyn was generous with her love, companionship and her worldly goods. If she had a candy bar she would break it in half and share with me. As we grew up she became aware, I’m sure, of my family life – my dad was an alcoholic, but she never mentioned it. She only ever saw him when he was sober and she talked about how funny and charming he was. That was one of the many ways she protected and cared for me. For me it’s a symbol of her continuing kindness and generosity throughout our lives together.
I believe that all of us (humans) have our angelic and devilish/impish sides. Carolyn was no exception. She was particularly impish as a child/teenager. It seems to me that her imp came out when her intelligent deep-thinking made things too heavy for her. But that wasn’t always the case. Often she was hilarious because it felt good to laugh. Below are a few of the many memories I have of times spent with my dear friend. Some are funny. Some are not. All are indicative of who she was: complex, intelligent, generous, caring, funny, sad, and more. One thing I can say for sure is that we laughed more than we cried.
Carolyn despised stupidity and incompetence. When one of her relatives did something she considered crazy/nutty, she would tell me about it by saying, “Guess what Bob’s cousin did? Can you believe anyone is that stupid?” (Bob is Carolyn’s brother.) It was okay if his cousin was stupid, but she wasn’t going to claim her.
She always thought that her mother favored Bob. I can’t say whether that’s true but I can say that Carolyn was Daddy’s girl. Once, when her dad was far away working (Iran?) he called Carolyn on her birthday. She wouldn’t let her mother have the phone and she wouldn’t tell her what he said. “It’s my phone call and my birthday!” I was a silent observer that day and I think the devil made her do it.
In high school I could recognize Carolyn’s laugh (or her sneeze) from one end of the hall to the other. Also from the top of the stairs to the bottom. One morning at class change, traffic in the stairwell stopped. I yelled up, “Carolyn! What’s the holdup up there?” Her response, “Oh, I fell up the stairs.” Uproarious laughter ensued. Here’s the thing: Carolyn knew she was about to make everyone laugh. That’s why she said it. She took what might have been an undignified embarrassment and made it a dignified conspiracy to be a few seconds late to our next class. Ingenious!
Carolyn was in nursing school when I gave birth to my first two daughters and somehow she managed to be in delivery with me. She was a nurse at the hospital where I had the third. Until she married the love of her life, Randy, and moved away, she was like another mother to my little girls. They loved how she read Winnie the Pooh, especially Eeyore’s voice.They still remember her trips to our house laden with gifts (wrapped) and not just on birthdays. She even picked up takeout on the way. That was for me.
I think my friend would appreciate our remembering her kindness, generosity, sense of humor, etc. But I can’t end this post without giving special space to her innate intelligence. She was promoted to Head Nurse in the heart unit of a large teaching hospital when she was barely out of nursing school. She read every book she could get her hands on and won the Reading Award every year. She knew things. And she didn’t mind letting you know that she knew things; that she was smart. In fact, I think she wouldn’t have minded if you thought she was the smartest person in the room.
Sometimes Carolyn would use that superior brain to argue with others. She used to argue with my first ex-husband. He was a member of MENSA. I’ve heard her argue with her husband Randy. He’s a doctor. I was never around when she went into combat with her children but I’m sure there were a few tiffs. Her daughter Amy and son Rich have a very impressive gene pool. What I’m trying to say here is that she didn’t always win. She wasn’t always the smartest person in the room. There were others as smart. Oh, how I will miss my brainy friend.
This post is for Carolyn’s devoted husband Randy, her daughter Amy, son Rich, granddaughter Violet, Violet’s mother Kristin, Carolyn’s brother and sister-in-law Bob and Kathy. I am so very sorry for your loss.