Today is Mother’s Day, and I woke up, as I always do on this day, and felt my heart swell as I said a prayer for my friends’, Maggie and Jody, and now for my Mother. For in this world of unfairness, they can’t celebrate this beautiful Sunday with their own Mothers.
Maggie & Gina:
18 years ago, I ventured onto the Florida State Campus, a foreigner from the North, not knowing a soul. I decided to rush in hopes to join a sorority to meet new people. By a small act of the gods, I got a bid from Delta Delta Delta. The first few weeks of assimilation into my Southern college were tough. I was literally over 1000 miles from home and I was trying to fit into a place I am not sure I belonged. Many of the girls on 524 Park Avenue were Tallahassee natives, or knew someone from their respective Floridian hometowns. I was an outsider. A Yankee, and not one from chic Westchester county, New York, but from bucolic West Chester, Pennsylvania.
I must have been giving off the scent of a stray dog in the dining room that Fall day, when a vivacious Mom plopped down across from me as I munched on lettuce leaves and fat free ranch dressing. Perhaps it was the tattered textbook on the Olduvai Gorge I was reading with my black rimmed glasses, or my ratty Grateful Dead t-shirt, or the fact that I was alone at the table, but this lady was determined to talk to me. With flashing eyes she stated “Hi, I am Gina. I am Maggie’s Mom.” I immediately felt her warmth. Of course I knew who Maggie was – a year older than I, she was fun, outgoing, always quick with a laugh. I was wondering why her Mom was sitting with…me.
Gina spent the next hour giving me the Spanish Inquisition. “What is your story?” and telling me all about her’s. Maggie joined our lunch that day, making me feel “in” and the two of them told me tales of how Gina prematurely announced to her hometown paper that she was engaged to Maggie’s father…when she wasn’t. How Maggie’s father worked for the PGA and as a little girl, Maggie thought the Holiday Inn was home. For the first time since I arrived on foreign soil, I relaxed a bit and felt comfortable. She simply sat down next to me for lunch, but did so much more. For the rest of Maggie’s years at college, and post years in Atlanta, I always looked forward to Gina’s visits.
It wasn’t until years later, at Emily’s wedding, when Gina’s breast cancer was in remission and she was so happy to be healthy and showing me her new diamond ring. She just finished informing me of her GNC natural cleanser when I told her how important her gesture of just sitting next to me at lunch was all those years ago. It was one small act of kindness, but to a very lonely and homesick college freshman, it changed my complete outlook on my new adventure.
Gina died 7 years ago after her brave on-and-off battle with breast cancer. She crosses my mind often. I can’t ever listen to the Stevie Wonder song, “Superstition” without thinking of her. At Maggie’s wedding, her brother sang this song, and I danced with Gina. I can’t be sure, but I think she was wearing a yellow dress. Maggie lives with her children and husband on the west coast, but I am fortunate enough to see her on our annual FSU/DDD girls trip. Every year we mourn for Gina….and for Maggie. She died when Maggie’s son was just 1 and her daughter had not yet been born. Maggie is our only college friend whose children don’t have their Grandmother with them.
Jody & Leslie:
3 1/2 years ago, we transferred back to my hometown of West Chester. I had defected 14 years previous, and as easy as it should have been to “go home”, it wasn’t. We landed on a blistery day in December and the snow started to fall…and it didn’t stop until April. I was happy to be home, but still wrestling with my departure from Florida. Tallahassee was my Southern hometown, and I was leaving the place where my sons were born, strong friendships were forged and many memories were made.
The first day of the boys’ preschool was particularly harsh. This was no Tallahassee preschool- where you had to arrive early to get your children to class on time, as you would be stopped at least a dozen times in the parking lot to chat with the other friendly moms. No one made eye contact with me, and everyone looked so cranky as they were chugging through the muddy grey snow with their toddlers in arms.
I dropped The Oldest off first and quickly ascertained no one was going to ask us to join them at the park later. With a heavy heart, I headed down to the toddler class with The Middle. Immediately, a woman with a dimples and dancing eyes sought me out. “Hi! I am Jody and we are so excited to have another boy in the class! Weee! We need more wild boys….” She said it with an impish grin and a roll of the eyes. A snarky but enthusiastic person… I knew instantly I’d like her. (Incidentally, our sons have been best friends since, and their family recently moved into the house behind us.)
It was probably on our sons’ first play-date that I learned Jody’s mother had died a fast and tragic death from cancer when Jody was only 17. Jody’s older brothers were in college and she and her Dad were left to fend for themselves. Over the years of our friendship, Jody has regaled me with stories of Leslie, making me feel like I knew her. A woman of kindness and warmth. A phenomenal mother who treasured their summer vacations at the beach. I can’t meet a former student of Springfield High School in my age demographic who doesn’t gush about Mrs. J, the greatest Spanish teacher that ever was. Without having ever met her, I know she was an exceptional person. During the Christmas season this past year, Jody showed me Leslie’s Bible, with poinsettia looking flowers scribbled throughout. In their new house, Jody has pictures of a radiantly smiling younger Leslie holding her.
Jody has confessed while it was so difficult to lose her Mother as a teenager, it is even harder as an adult. Jody-the-Mother aches for her counsel and her companionship. She never got to call Leslie to announce her pregnancies, or ask her advice on how to control “spirited boys”. She will never get to sit next to her mother at church and hear the boys sing during the Christmas concert. The other week, when her oldest scored a goal in lacrosse, Leslie should have been there to cheer with us.
Every time I take my own mother for granted, I instantly think of Maggie and Jody. How they would welcome being bombarded at least 6 times a day with phone calls- to just check in. (Yes, she calls at least that many times. Now that it is revealed in public forum, she will punish me and not call for a month.) How they would like to roll their eyes just one more time, to hear their own mother’s nag them about letting their kids’ climb too high in the front yard tree.
Where is the silver lining in this situation? Gina and Leslie did their jobs, they raised “good people”. Maggie has captured Gina’s bright light. She is a vibrant inspiration to her 3rd grade class. Jody is a compassionate and giving person. A Guidance Counselor by profession, she has recently started volunteering again in a school whose contingent is underprivileged. As I tell my own children every night, “I will always be in your heart”, so will Gina and Leslie. Their daughters are outstanding Mothers. Gina and Leslie must be so very proud of these two phenomenal women.
And I am lucky enough to call them both “friend”.
Note: This has been the hardest post I have ever attempted to write. I have been trying to compose it for weeks in the chaos that is my mind. I was nervous asking my friends, Maggie and Jody, permission to try to capture their Mothers’ spirits. I was honored when they enthusiastically granted it. I hope I have not failed you, my friends, and done your Mothers’ justice.