Thursday, January 08, 2015

Lifting a glass to Mrs. L

It's blurry and resembles milk or Alka Seltzer, but is in fact a delicious gin fizz.
Thank you for your sweet notes of sympathy. I promise I’m not turning this blog into a pity party, but I have one more story about transitions to tell. It happened since my last post. After this, it's back to good cookbooks, good cheer, and bad photography. Swear.

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

25 comments:

  1. Thank you for allowing us these beautiful glimpses of the people you know. Your descriptions are so evocative that I feel as though I know them.

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  2. Jennifer, we are living the same the same life. I feel like I am saying goodbye to a whole generation of aunts, older friends, fathers. It is like the earth is shifting on its axis. I know it is how life is and how it progresses and I know someday it will be me and my friends, but in the meantime it is just hard. I hope good things for you (and me) as we go down this part of the river but I also wish I could stop the journey, not forever, but for just a little while so I can adjust my brain.

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    Replies
    1. It's strange how it all seems to be happening at once. I waltzed happily through my twenties and thirties and then, whoa, the impermanence of everything hit me. Indicative of how lucky and naive I was for a long, long time.

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  3. Although I have never enjoyed a gin fizz, I will give it a go. It sounds like the sort of cocktail that would be offered in the movies of the 30's and 40's I so enjoy. And when I do, I will toast my mother's friend, Ida Rodriguez. When she lived upstairs from us, she could be counted on to provide a sympathetic shoulder and good cheer to us four girls.

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    Replies
    1. Not my absolute favorite drink, but I wouldn't turn one down. You can leave out the egg white.

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  4. You are a writer. The food and cookbooks lured me here, but I stay to read because you are a writer. Thank you for sharing your stories.

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  5. I have tried to post a comment on this blog for days! New computer with kinks - never mind. Jennifer, I was so sorry to hear about your grandmother, but what a remarkable woman! How lucky you were to have her for so long. It's never long enough, but there you go. I am envious of her life and the way she died. A really good death that appeared to be preceded by much joy. Now, Mrs. L is a problem of a different stripe to me. Her decline is of the insidious sort, the ones that happen that you don't know about, and when you find out, it's somewhat stunning that the infrastructure of your world changed and no one notified you! What else has happened while I wasn't looking? If you keep looking, you will find more. Life, eh? Here and gone. Here's to to your grandmother, your mother, and Mrs. L, great dames all!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Beckster. It's hard to keep up with my mother's friends. My mother was extremely social and her funeral was SRO. Dozens of people I knew and cared about whom I've completely lost touch with because I only knew them through her. I'm sure there have been some big changes. . . Mrs L was in a category of her own, though. I'm going to see her in a few weeks, but I should have done it a lot sooner.

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  6. Hello Jennifer. Thank you for the lovely post about your grandmother. I'm so glad you were able to have those special final years. I think I'd love nothing more than to live to a good age and pass away in my sleep in front of the Christmas tree.

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  7. Thank you. This hit me hard, because what happened to Mrs. L is happening to my mother right now. She went into a home two weeks ago after a very fast decline. In one year she went from a thoughtful, gently ironic, observant, funny woman to someone who can't speak words that make sense and is constantly trying to escape. She is lost to the things she loved- good books and walking with friends and quiet conversation. Dementia is a long, slow goodbye.

    Sorry for depressing the heck out of everyone.

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  8. Hi, Really great effort. Everyone must read this article. Thanks for sharing.

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