Do you remember that I wanted to visit an old friend, and take her flowers and a cake? Well, let me tell you about her. I called her my surrogate mother because as my own mom began to falter with dementia, I relied on my surrogate for motherly wisdom. We met in the schoolyard at the school where I taught. Teachers were required to do regular cafeteria and playground duty, but we had volunteers on hand to assist us. This lady was more grandmotherly than others, and she was such a lovely person. We’d walk around the yard together, keeping the kids in view, but having our own little conversations. I learned that she lost her mother when she was only twelve, and she and her three sisters had a succession of nannies and governesses. Her father insisted that the girls attend college at a time when most women didn’t. She was a year and a half older than my mother, but her mind was sharp.
One day as we walked, she asked where I had gone to school, and when I told her, she stopped dead in her tracks. It was the small academy in Philadelphia that her daughter attended! Here, I knew her daughter – we were a year apart in school. What a small world. After that we were each other’s mutual admiration society. I even looked forward to yard duty so I could have my conversations with her. As time went on, we started meeting in the summer for lunch. We’d always have a vodka tonic, and we’d toast our friendship. When I became a principal, I called her immediately to share the good news. I drove her down to see my new school, and I took her to a nice restaurant for lunch. Of course, we spent all of our time there just chatting away. One suggestion she made was that I get a mirror in my office so I could always check my appearance before meeting with anyone. I purchased one the next day. Once was I no longer able to drive, our summer lunches ended, but we still spoke on the phone and exchanged cards and notes.
I could take her advice easily because she exuded intelligence. She had risen to be a corporate vice president in one of our largest department store chains. She was no slacker in the business world! When I was invited to her 80th birthday party, there were so many big-wigs in attendance, that you just had to be impressed. She also never hid her faith, and she openly professed her beliefs. She taught religious education in the school one day a week, and I know those children had a wonderful role model.
Mrs. M. was always on my list of Christmas cookie receivers, and she would call me when they arrived. We’d catch up on everything and have one of our famous chats. This year when my husband went to drop off her tray, the name on her box was changed. I called her daughter only to learn that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer and she now lived with the daughter, M.J. I told M.J. that I’d come to see her after the holidays. Unfortunately, I waited too long. My dear surrogate mother passed away last Saturday, and her funeral was yesterday. I feel as if I lost two mothers within six weeks.
It’s sad, but I refuse to let it get me down. I need to just remember all of our good times and know we’ll one day be having a nice lunch in the Paradise Restaurant. Who knows, maybe she’s hoisting a vodka tonic up there right now. À bientôt, Mrs. M. – you will be missed!