another farewell

This photo was captured on my last afternoon with both my mother and my godmother, and it will be a precious memento for years to come. We stood on a balcony in the Palm Beach sunshine and did nothing but smile in that embrace. Now, they are both gone, but I count myself the luckiest of girls to have been with them for six decades, for their love is an epic tale.

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The two, Eileen McAllister and Barbara Rice, met while in elementary school in Brooklyn, and soon became fast friends. Friends who became related when Barbara married my mother’s cousin. Throughout my childhood, I knew she was my godmother, and my Aunt, but Barbara’s role as my mother’s best friend took precedence over any other. Those two would hide away in each others’ bedrooms, or speak their special invented language if we children drifted within earshot, and for the entirety of their years, this special relationship never altered. Children? Between the two they had 14: Barbara had 8, while my modern mother only 6. But the responsibilities we 14 brought into their lives never stopped them from laughing up a storm hour after hour.

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As I rode the Bridgeport Ferry into Port Jefferson, through the breakwaters into the harbor I scanned the homes nestled along the shore, and in my memory I could still see them there, up on their respective porches, waving a sheet to welcome me back to our summer place. These were mothers whose doors were always open. Who were the happiest surrounded by family. And that meant hordes of people and all the chaos we brought with us. Didn’t matter. Arms opened. These mothers were our safe place.

harborImmediately in the front door, there would be a talk of corn and lobster and peaches. Of taking a dip in the sound before dinner. There would, eventually, be conversations that hit the bone, and those might come as we walked along the rocky beach but without fail there would be those two off laughing. Feisty Barbara, as so many referred to her, was not one to back down or to beat around the bush. She let you know exactly where she stood. And as the water lapped our feet, she often did just that. On this day, that of her wake, I imagined how we would argue politics or environment or even dinner options, but then my mother would laugh, and turn the talk back to their children and grandchildren and they would both strut out all the latest accomplishments. Those proud and fierce mothers always showed me what matters most. Those voices will never diminish.

FullSizeRender-1Many of Barbara’s children revealed that after my mother passed, their mom just lost her will to go on. She outlived her almost a year, but life’s luster was diminished without her dearest and oldest confidant. I understand that loss, for all of us miss my mother’s exuberance daily. Sadly, now we have Barbara’s own radiance to miss, for her light was one of great beauty.

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On the day of Barbara’s funeral, there was, of course, plenty of talk of my mother too. Especially as we come upon the anniversary of her passing. A cousin asked me if I feel my mother’s presence, if I still feel her in my life. I paused, and after thinking for a minute said yes. I tried to explain that I feel her inside me. I feel her when I stand tall. When I speak the truth. When I remember that I am stronger than I think. Standing on this beach, on their beach, where they raised all 14 of us, and a dozen or so cousins and plenty more beyond even our clan, and struggled through our antics, and their own marriages, and careers after the kids were raised, and all the loss and beauty life showered upon them, standing here, I can feel them both loving me still. Loving us all.

14 thoughts on “another farewell

  1. Tearful through the whole story. Yes Barbara and your mom shine on in you. Their energy and presence are dearly missed. Thank you for sharing your insights and emotions so clearly and honestly.

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  2. Dearest Cousin, Yes! They would want us to stand tall, to speak the truth, and to remember that we are stronger than we think. And they would want us to laugh. Uproariously. Thank you, thank you, thank you. For the reminders. And for the support. With love.

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  3. I don’t think it’s possible for a love like that to disappear; it’s more like a cosmic force, as evidenced by the fact that you 14 satellites remain in your loving orbit.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this story with us. The black & white portrait of your mother and Barbara is precious. The memories of the both of them will live on.., through you and their other children.

    Vivienne X

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  5. Reblogged this on Nine Cent Girl and commented:

    I’ve been thinking about many things this week, from Senate Republicans blocking a bill over the debt limit to What’s what with the Boosters to YouTube banning videos with vaccine misinformation. I have also been listening to news about the increased restrictions for women in Afghanistan and in Texas. Both are troubling and represent a major step backwards; for women in rural areas and women living in poverty these restrictions are oppressively cruel. At the same time I have been watching with wonder the green fade to gold in the maple trees surrounding my home, and there has been a healthy debate over when we will start making fires in the evening because it is getting just that chilly.

    But mostly, because it is still September, the month of not only my mother’s birthday, but that of her best friend, and fortuitously my godmother’s, I am thinking of them both. Born only days apart, these two found each other at grammar school and spent the next eight decades whispering all their joys and hurts in a secret language the rest of us strained to follow. They were bold and beautiful and held us spellbound as we tried to keep up with their expectations for what a life could be.

    By the time I was born, my mother’s fourth child but first daughter, Barbara had six babies. She became my godmother, but I learned early on that my role in that combo would be to join the long line of her admirers. She was soon to be the mother of eight, and in what seemed a blink a grandmother, and then the next generation had babies. Barbara was a legend for countless reasons, but from my vantage it was always because my mother adored her. My mother became a school girl around her. Chatty and silly and happy. She would go to any length to be with Barbara, and if we little ones were still in tow, inevitably they would shoo us away and a door would close between us. Theirs was always a private world. Even now, years after both their deaths, their relationship remains formidable. Lofty. Legendary. Enviable. Certainly worth remembering. This week I really only want to think of them, of their big laughs and how they endured like stars through every battle. I offer an older post here as a tribute to them both. Read on my dears. Stars for sure.

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