Last week, a dear friend’s mother died at the age of 93. While she lived, this woman was full of fire and giggles. She loved learning new things, meeting new people, and discussing current events that affect our world and culture. She unapologetically loved fancy parties and gallant gentlemen. Never in my 51 years of knowing her did I ever hear her utter a catty or condescending word about anyone she knew personally… or not. If ever anyone in the room dared to gossip about another person, her response was always the same. It was to effectively shut down the toxic chatter with one statement, “Well, if we were all exactly the same, what a dull world it would be.” Because everyone present respected her so much, the room quickly became silent before another more productive topic trumped the blushing atmosphere.
When she was a young 90, my husband Tom and I invited her and her darling daughter to ride with us to a Christmas party in New Orleans. On the ride to the city, this lady-always dressed in her favorite color, pink,-declared, “After the party, I would like to go to Bourbon Street. I haven’t been there in yee-ahs!”
The party was perfect. It was beyond festive, complete with old friends and new; all seated at tables of 8 in a second floor, private room overlooking the French Quarter in one of New Orleans oldest and most gracious restaurants. Ironic, huh? My husband and I were in heaven. We were in a room filled with our favorite people, eating puffed potatoes and bacon wrapped shrimp. I was reveling in my once-a-year-big-girl- Christmas-cocktail of bourbon, bitters, orange and whatever. My better half would glance at me from across the room, then glance at our 90 year old friend, assuming that her energy would shortly begin to ebb (she was 90 for goodness sake!), then glance back at me and shoot me a wink. As much as we both love the magic of the French Quarter, it sometimes begins to fade as midnight approaches and we hear the voice of our big down comforter calling our name. He had this one under control. Our golden girl friend would no doubt have forgotten her silly declaration of Bourbon street carousing. Every once in a while, Tom would wander over to her and put his chivalrous arm around her shoulder to, once again, remind her that she was the prettiest girl in the room. She would laugh out loud and thank him as she denied even the remotest possibility of truth in his statement. Dinner proceeded along with toasts and loud guffaws as each table seemed to compete for the title of Most Gregarious.
Later that evening, as the dessert plates and coffee cups were cleared, Tom glanced at me and gave me a whimsical thumbs up. This had been a flawless evening, one of the true highlights of our holiday season. We both appreciated how special this night was for us, for our friends and for our hosts. And now it was over. It was time to load up in the car, head home, and relive the evening with stories of the past few hours. But wait. The lady in pink had not forgotten her appointment with Bourbon Street as she quickly reminded me, her daughter and my husband. So Bourbon Street it was. Now don’t get me wrong. Our friend had no intention of darting in and out of bars and strip clubs. She had no desire to slam back a few more glasses of Christmas cheer. What she really wanted to do was stand on a corner, all bundled up, and watch the people go by.
“People are so interesting, aren’t they,” she happily proclaimed as a teeter-tottering transvestite in heels swaggered past us, blowing kisses to her all the while. She was fascinated at taking it all in and felt no urgency to escape the cold air of December. So we three ladies stood on the corner of Bourbon and Bienville for quite a while as Tom nervously left us to retrieve our car. As he backed away, he was clear of his mission.
“OK, M________________. I am going to get the car now. I will pick you ladies up in just a few minutes. Behave now. Don’t get into any trouble.”
She dismissingly waved him away and replied, but her eyes never left the crowd in front of her. “Oh, all right, but take your time. This is fun!” Indeed it was.
When I think of M__________I think of three things. First of all, I think of the color pink, for it was her signature color. Pink was the backdrop of her life. It covered the bricks of her home; it danced throughout the fabrics that covered her furniture and on the towels that hung in her powder room. It dominated the dresses that dangled from pink hangers inside her closet. If I live to be 100, I will never see pink without thinking of her. Second, I think of her laugh, which was lilting, and gentle, yet full of hot pink too. And last, I think of her commitment to speak only kind words about other people. This is the part of her that I hope rubbed off on those of us who had the good fortune to know her, for pink can be purchased and laughter can be manufactured. A nonjudgmental heart, however, is a rare and priceless thing.
At 93, M_____________was inquisitive, opinionated and probably just a little bit tired. Still, I must admit that, until shortly before her passing, she was still having fun. Really, she was. She was still laughing and still wearing pink. And of course, she was still speaking kindly of others. Indeed she was.