I’ve found in the past couple of weeks that it is hard to describe my relationship with Pat to others. Some relationships you can encapsulate in a few words: my childhood friend, my grandmother, my next-door neighbor. Pat was different. She was a mother of a friend, but also a friend in her own right. She was somebody I knew such a short time, but it felt like she’d always been there. She came into my life through tragedy but stayed because of love and friendship, and I wish I had met her sooner than I did. How can I describe that in only a few words?
In my own family, an odd set of circumstances meant that my father’s oldest sister and my mother’s mother, my aunt and my grandmother, were the same age. As I grew up, I watched their lives go in drastically different directions. My grandmother continued to paint and craft, making clothes and doilies and dolls and ceramics, but her health declined dramatically, and her last years were spent sitting on the couch and in bed, unable to get around on her own, as system after system in her body wore out and shut down. My aunt, on the other hand, is still alive, riding her bike, hiking, camping, occasionally going back to the nomad lifestyle I admire to travel and visit friends and family. She is so active, she walked out of the hospital just days after bypass surgery a decade ago and never looked back.
Watching these two relatives of mine grow old and approach the end of their lives in such divergent ways made me feel like I had a choice, to either stay strong and active, or stay indoors with my more passive crafts and have my body fail me in the end. What a choice! I’ve always said I wanted to be like my aunt, the Bicycle Lady of Kenya, physically strong and capable, able to live on the road out of a van and also able to cook a gourmet vegetarian Thai dinner from scratch. But I wanted to be like my grandmother, too, continuing to make things with my hands, cooking hearty soul food and sharing stories and skills with my descendants.
And then I met Pat. Here was a woman who embodied both of these ideals. She was strong and active. She made me feel like a wimp every time I tried to work outdoors with her, as I would falter and give up after an hour or so, and she’d just keep going all day long. She had all of the independence and survival skills I’ve always wanted to cultivate, and then some, growing and preserving food, gathering food. I can see where Chris’ love for the outdoors and skill in making do originated. She faced whatever came toward her head-on, making plans and making things work out. She was always happy to share her knowledge, her skills, her home and her land, looking for ways to help others. She was so unassuming, never wanting credit for the things she did. She would show up at my house while I was gone, plant some pretties in my yard and my garden, and then leave, never saying a word. Whenever she had extra of something, she would give it away, saying, “Here, take this, take this home with you,” and I at least could never say no. She loved to make things with her hands, too. She did painting, and she did quilting. Her whole life seemed in balance to me, quiet and strong, passionate but reserved, active and creative, wise and knowledgeable in so many things.
I saw in Pat the woman I really want to be when I grow up. I wish I had gotten more time with her, as we all do. But she will live on in our hearts, in the heart of her husband, in the faces of her son and her grandchildren. Pat’s strong and generous spirit will never die, for what is remembered, lives.