The older I get, the more often I seem to be confronted with the passing of someone in my life, but this time is different. Both of my sisters knew it when they called me last Saturday to tell me of the passing of a woman from my home town. A woman who held more influence in my life than I, she or her family would ever have realized. Somehow, I suspect that my sisters sensed this when they called.
It started with the lady's daughter whom I met after changing high schools from an all boys one to the public system and we began to date - a situation that lasted almost 5 years. But what a 5 years it was for a kid from the wrong side of the tracks both literally and figuratively. I still remember the first date when a door opened to a world that I didn't know existed. I had no money - barely enough in my pockets to pay the entry fees to the dance - I certainly didn't have a car - high school kids didn't drive Beemers in those days and I didn't yet have an old beater like most of my friends. I took the City bus from my house to hers and in the process got drenched by the cold rain that was falling that night. We were meeting mutual friends (who had a car) and going to a typical kids' dance for those times, held in an indoor shopping mall after the stores closed. I even remember the name of the band, David Clayton Thomas and the Fabulous Shays, (DCT went on to become lead singer with Blood, Sweat and Tears), but I digress.
I arrived on her doorstep like a drowned rat; soaked jacket, shoes and slacks and rivulets of water running down my face but I suspect that my palms were wetter than my clothes as her father opened the door and welcomed me to a home full of warmth, humour and acceptance. After the de rigeur chat with her dad, who has remained a role model in my mind for 45 years, I then met her mother but I was so darned nervous that I barely recall the introduction and besides, I only had eyes for the young girl at her side. As the months and then years passed, this charming woman who was filled with grace, beauty, intelligence and a deep caring for the world slowly but surely came to represent, for the rest of my life, the portrait of the ideal woman, wife and mother. I have often suspected that she knew a lot more about me than I did myself. I think that she had a very keen and developed sense of intuition and many times over the years when I visited my home town, I wondered what it would be like to call and invite her for a chat. I now regret never having done that. I suppose that dovetails nicely with a bunch of other regrets emanating from that period of my life.
Most good homes, in my experience, revolve around the mother and theirs was no exception as she brought a sense of style along with life standards that demanded integrity, truth, hard work, achievement, open-mindedness, charity, intellectual pursuit, discussion and a willingness to listen (even to the bleatings of a raw edged teenager) that resulted in joy, laughter, good natured ribbing and a deep seated love of her family. I suspect that her legion of friends gravitated to this lady who was the unassuming centre of all of this. It is too bad that we often wait until someone's death to spend the time thinking about what sort of meaning they brought to life and specifically what they meant to us personally. Mrs. B became a source of inspiration to me when it came to choosing the life I wanted to create for myself and my own family. She demonstrated the value of caring for others, the gift of inclusion and the joy of giving without expectation. I suspect that most of us are exposed to great teachers in our lives and I also suspect that most of them go unrecognized. That is the case in this instance but I can't allow myself to go forward without acknowledgement to myself, if no one else. I'm not so sure that she was very thrilled about me dating her daughter (I wouldn't have been either) but this gracious person who defined the word "lady" allowed me to do so, welcomed me into her home, treated me with kindness and gave me a role model that lasted a lifetime.
I realize that there is no one in my circle of family and friends who can possibly understand the impact that Mrs. B had on my life but without question, she may be the singular reason that I eventually took a turn in the road. Thank you Mrs. B for showing me that road and the possibility and joy that exists in this world. By the way, she was one heck of a cook too - a sure way to influence a teenage boys life. Thank You