I once had a friend who was known to be somewhat of a private person. She kept her feelings mostly to herself. Sometimes I felt I needed to pry open her heart to find the sentiments that gave her such calm serenity. On the other side of the coin she was as mischievous and full of laughter as anyone I have ever known.
We had almost drowned once in a ram-shackled canoe we decided to try out on a mountain lake one fall. “Why did you stand UP, Mary’’! I had yelled. We were hanging on for dear life and laughing like the raccoons we favored. I don’t remember her answer. I just remember her soaking wet, grinning in that faded, old, blue bathing suit of hers. I have a picture of this moment, and it gives me mixed feelings to look at it. The plastic sheeting over it has grown scratchy and dull, and Mary and I seemed silent and sad, which wasn’t the case at all.
We had raised our children together, shared those special moments; traveled that bumpy road of young adulthood with all its detours and craziness. And I always thought (in my complacency,) we would be right there for one another-embracing old age smugly, as we rocked and talked, remembering our youth and its giddy time, in the autumn of our lives.
It was not to be. Mary became very sick. Suddenly that fall, she found out she had a terminal illness on a day that seemed to be created for singing and laughing, not sadness, not dying.
In the last days of her sickness, which traveled so quickly and came long before old age had time to lay its hand on her; she would in late afternoons lean on my arm and we would stroll around her yard or sit in the swing. Her own strength was quickly fleeing, but she seemed to find reservoirs of inner peace.
She would gently smile with those luminous eyes of hers, and I would grab her hand and hold it tightly, anxious to keep her earth bound. No, I’d think, unable to accept the happening of the thing; don’t be heavenly; please don’t be heavenly; let’s talk of parties and old loves. Let’s put on swingy earrings, hot pink lipstick, and drink a glass of wine. Let’s remember our beach trips, Christmas. But, it was not to be, and there was little I could do except hold her hand through the dark times.
For such a long time after she died I would find myself heading for the phone to call her. She just walks into my mind. Often there was a problem, or a joke I needed to share. Some days I longed to just pick her up, go rambling somewhere, anywhere just leave. I still feel the need to tell her goodbye. There wasn’t enough time we were too busy just living.
There are, days, even now, when I think I see her fleeting image in a passing car. She seems to appear across a busy street. Often I would spy a woman in a soft blue coat with golden hair and generous eyes, hurrying along and sometimes she would wave, and it would seem to be Mary.
Mary gave abundantly back to life every moment it loaned her and more. She made the whole trip, the living and the dying seem simple.. With her quiet strength she preserved enough memories, and enough laughter to last a dozen lifetimes.
To her children she gave homemade quilts, walks in the woods, hugs, and constant reminders of her love. She gave more than she received, or so it seemed; never missing a beat, a loving mother and friend, with great serenity, great serendipity.
Once or twice, maybe only once in a lifetime these special people with their unpretentious ways are sent to brighten the grays of winter, sweeten the days of spring, and blaze their messages through the summers of our lives. They are the “givers” and when they leave on golden sunsets, we are left with the distinct feeling we have shared time with an angel.
And I must tell you, I believe she was.
Micki Cottle was a long-time columnist with The Sampson Independent and is a current member of the Sampson County Historical Society.