Monday, April 6, 2009

DW: To Go or Not To Go?

About 6 months ago I connected (via Facebook) to a childhood friend who (along with her family) has a very significant place in my past and my psyche. When my mother was sick, I stayed with her family for several months, and her mother was someone I loved very much. In the 1960's she was young, glamorous, and reminded me of Samantha on Bewitched. She even had an adorable widow's peak. We would spend hours sitting in the kitchen talking with her about our 6th grade adventures while she ironed her satin sheets--sipping a can of Black Label beer and smoking her Kools.

One of the many highlights of this friendship were the serial sleepovers we would have at each other's house. Though we were in the same class at the same school for many years, our "day" life was very different than our "night" life. In school, we hung out with different people with some overlap, but sleepovers were different. We would watch "Chiller Theater" or Johnny Carson, or any adult'ish movie we deemed relevant and interesting. We would play Barbra Streisand albums and soundtracks to Broadway shows and movies, singing passionately into our respective hair brushes. Goldfinger was a particularly vivid number that we spent hours choreographing and concluded, in our collective 9-year old perspective, that it would be a great strip tease song.

My parents' friends were people that didn't set their alarms for 7:00 am. They travelled the country playing in or managing burlesque houses where they worked with people like Phil Silvers, Danny Lewis (Jerry's father), Abbott and Costello, and many others. It was very Guys and Dolls, and they had a ritual known as "night lunch." This was something I looked forward to during the sleepovers. Night lunch was something you ate after the last show, around midnight. It could be mussels or a ham sandwich, eaten in your hotel room or a nearby bar. When our parents became suburban they thankfully didn't abandon this wonderful habit, which meant cold spaghetti or leftover meatloaf was always a possibility. I remember staying at the Paramount Hotel in New York in 1967 with my parents, walking to the grocery store around the corner to get bread, cheese, bologna, and fruit. We always had an ice bucket in the room, with a small jar of Guilden's mustard nearby.

My friend and I eventually went our separate ways for high school and college, and haven't seen each other since 1977.

I noticed she hadn't been on Facebook for a few weeks and had a feeling that something was very wrong. I poked around and saw a Wall message that a friend had posted that said "you and your mother are in my prayers." Shortly thereafter she wrote me the devastating news...her mother's lingering cough turned out to be stage 4 lung cancer. She said that the X-rays looked like a snow storm.

I decided that I needed to acknowledge her mother's presence in my younger life, and sent her a Teddy Bear last week telling her how much I appreciated her being there for me, ie, being a mother when I didn't have one, and how her tuna fish sandwiches are one of the strongest sensory memories that I have of my childhood. Her secret was putting in a hard boiled egg, but it wasn't too eggy, it was just perfect. I received an email late last night that contained her obituary and then a note from my friend saying that she had received the bear and was very touched.

My dilemma is whether or not to go to the funeral tomorrow. It's 3 hours and a lifetime away. Part of me wants to see everyone and part of me doesn't want my memories tainted by the present. What is there to say after 30 years and all of the sleepovers? My concern is that I don't want to feel like I sometimes feel with my family, ie, having to regress to my 1972 vocabulary of words and experience in order to connect and get through the event at hand. Maybe I'm thinking too much about it, but I'm apprehensive...maybe I should just send flowers and a loving note and suggest that we connect in a less intense set of circumstances.

She is the last parent to leave this world for the next, and it feels a little lonelier knowing that she is no longer here to make those wonderful tuna fish sandwiches.

1 comment:

sezhoo said...

please go.
i'm sending you love and gas money,