Life can certainly slap you in the face when you are least expecting it. Last week, I received an email saying that a high school mate died. The news hit me emotionally and unexpectedly. Others in our 1965 graduating class have died over the years, but Linda was only a month younger than me. We were the bleeding edge of the baby boom generation. Cancer, heart attacks, and a few other blasphemous diseases are eating their way through this once robust class of grain-fed and well exercised mid-westerners, who grew-up in a small town surrounded by great expanses of corn, wheat and soy fields that swept across the horizon. It was a place where a mixed marriage was one of a Catholic and a Protestant, and where we all remembered what class we were sitting in when John Kennedy was shot. And, there was no such place as a shopping mall. We thought we would live forever, fleeing the Ozzie & Harriet generation and diving into the Age of Aquarius. Now, we face another reality — it is no longer our parents that die, but that we are now doing the dying. It’s very hard to get used to.
Most of us hit 70 this year; we hope we have another 20 or so years left to enjoy friends and family, continue meaningful work, or, if we are lucky, work our way down the bucket list as best we can afford. Our hope is that some health issue doesn’t take center stage, slashing our retirement dreams, trapping us in a reality not of our own making. I’ve seen it happen to several very close friends this past year. It scars me.
To be more familiar with becoming cosmic dust, I’ve taken to reading newspaper obits. Through the reviews of other people’s lives, I am remembering my life, what I liked, what I didn’t like, the little things that are always remembered. Instead of being depressing, I take comfort in the obits because no matter what happened to the people I read about, their accomplishments, disappointments and life events trigger my memories. For instance, this past week provided these memory moments:
- E.M. Nathanson, author of “The Dirty Dozen” dies at 88. I remember my dad, a WWII veteran, his smile in the wedding photograph taken when he married Mom in 1942 in St. Augustine, Florida just weeks before he shipped out to fight in Europe. His short blonde hair, straight slim body and pressed uniform was the embodiment of ‘call to duty’; while the way his eyes sparkled at Mom showed clearly his love for her and their hopes for the future.
- Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette, a Pioneer in Treating Sickle Cell Anemia, dies at 89. I remember two friends, John and Don, who I worked with at Bell Labs and at AT&T in the 1970’s. John, one of the first African American electrical engineers at the Labs, and the other, an outspoken consultant and facilitator/trainer determined to know power, take power, share power and teach white male supervisors to accept it. From these two men, I learned the unending struggle required to succeed in the white man’s corporate world. They awakened me to who I was and who I could become.
- Caro Mastrangelo, a Doo-wop Voice for Dion and the Belmonts, Dies at 78. I remember all those Friday and Saturday night dances at the YMCA where we danced to the music, me, hoping the ‘right gu’ would ask me to dance; feeling like a wallflower most of the time standing in my shoes with white anklets, not nylons like the other girls. I wished I was grown-up so I could escape my overly conservative and protective parents. Dad always made me be home before everyone else and I couldn’t ride a cars at night until I was 16, armed with a driver’s license. In rebellion I drank rum and coke in cola cans up in another guy’s loft above the garage. I was always afraid of getting caught.
- Zaha Hadid, Groundbreaking Architect, Dies at 65. I remember how determined I was not to be “just a housewife”, to have a career beyond the acceptable choices of teacher and nurse as we burst into the 70’s. My mom thought I was crazy to abandon the name of my (first) husband, swearing never to give up my maiden name again (which I never did). I was determined to make my own way, to have my own money and to stay free. I am proud now that my daughter takes her success with career and family for granted and assumes she can have both as she has done so well.
- Patty Duke, Child Star and Oscar Winner, Dies at 69. I remember the Mickey Mouse Club, though Patty Duke was not one of them. I remember coming home from school, planting myself in front of the small black & white television in the pined paneled basement, ensuring that I would not miss any episode of the Mouseketeers because every day, Monday through Friday, was a different day. I loved “Special Guest Day” because you had to ‘sweep the floor clean and dust of the chairs so the Welcome can be seen.’ I wished that Doreen Tracey had more face time that Annette Funicello. I was jealous for Doreen.
By the way, Betty Crocker lives. She never dies, she is reincarnated into a better, younger Betty. Let’s hear it for Betty.