|It's blurry and resembles milk or Alka Seltzer, but is in fact a delicious gin fizz.
Day before yesterday, I called one of my mother’s closest friends, someone my grandmother had particularly loved, to share the news of her death. I hadn’t seen Mrs. L since my mother’s funeral five years ago, though we’d exchanged emails in the months right afterwards. I knocked on her door once last year. No one answered. I let it go.
I met Mrs. L when I was about 8. She was one of those adults who looked you in the eye and said outrageous, hilarious things that you weren't quite sure how to respond to. At first, she terrified me. Roughly five minutes later, I was putty in her hands. Mrs. L. was a character, a force of nature, politically incorrect, opinionated, warm, feisty. She was extremely candid and I loved that about her: you always knew exactly where you stood. She had this unforgettable gravelly voice and wouldn’t hesitate to tell you if you’d put on a few pounds or that she didn’t care for your current boyfriend. Apparently she was down with Mark because she threw us an engagement party at which she served a stupendous aged beef tenderloin with little soft white rolls. If I ever throw anyone an engagement party, aged beef tenderloin and little soft white rolls are on the menu. Get in line, girls.
Mrs. L knew how to do things right and that tenderloin was just Exhibit A. As an adult, if I needed to find a jeweler or a shoe repairman or wanted to know which brand of chafing dish to buy (this never happened, but it would have been the perfect question), I’d call my mother and if my mother didn’t know she’d say, “Hmm, let me ask Mrs. L.” Soon, I’d have my answer, plus instructions on precisely how much to pay, which salesperson to ask for by name, and strict orders to tell him or her that Mrs. L had sent me.
Although she was Jewish, Mrs. L threw a fabulous Christmas open house every year at which she served gin fizzes. I only went to that party once, but my mother attended annually and always wobbled back down the street in an extra-jolly mood. They were great friends, those two. Mrs. L saw my mother through thick and a lot of thin over 35 years, took her side in every fight, remained stalwart right up to the end.
I set aside some time for the phone call to Mrs. L because she’s a talker. I was looking forward to it. Mr. L answered. He said, “Mrs. L isn’t here.” I pictured her at CalMart, perhaps complaining to a cowed, charmed manager about substandard artichokes.
You can guess where this is going. “When will she be back?” I asked. He said, “Well, Jennifer, Mrs. L doesn’t live here anymore. She’s had some health problems and dementia and I kept her at home as long as I could. . .”
Mr. L sounded the same as ever, wry and cheerful, and that was heartening. That was the only heartening part of the conversation.
You lose track of people and this is what happens. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Mrs. L just seemed unsinkable.
Carpe diem, everyone. That seems like the answer to everything, lately. Unfortunately, I don’t have any idea how to actually carpe diem -- it's so much harder than it sounds -- but last night I decided that making gin fizzes in honor of the inimitable Mrs. L might be a step in the right direction. It does indeed take a village and she was a prominent and beloved citizen of mine. Here’s to Mrs. L.
|milk pudding from Jerusalem, next post