When I was in elementary school, a new couple moved in next door to us in Foxboro. This couple was the first set of adults I ever called by their first name. My story today is about my friend, Jeannie, the wife in the couple we affectionately called Jeannie and Mike, who shared my adolescence and early adulthood seasons of my life with me.
To a shy pre-teen, Jeannie and Mike were 'cool'. Because Jeannie accepted me and my sister as individuals, we chose to spend a lot of time hanging out with her. Mike loved to garden, and Jeannie loved to sunbathe so they were outside quite a bit during the summer. Every year, Mike had a garden in the backyard with green beans that grew along a chain link fence like a trestle. I remember one summer, Mike was standing near the fence when a bolt of lightning hit the fence, fried all of the green beans, and almost fried him! Another summer, I was standing in our kitchen when I heard a loud roar. I looked outside and saw an avalanche of water running through our yard. I ran to Jeannie's house only to find her and Mike standing on the porch as we all watched their above ground, wooden pool collapse.
I don't remember seeing Jeannie or Mike intoxicated, but they did like a drink when they were relaxing. I remember when I was a teenager and Jeannie was sitting on her lawn chair outside in the sun. I asked her what she was drinking, and she said it was a Tootsie Roll. It was Amaretto and orange juice, and it really did taste like a Tootsie Roll!
During the Blizzard of 1978 enough snow fell to reach the bottom of our first floor windows. We also lost power for at least a week. After a few days of being cooped up in the house, Jeannie and Mike decided that they needed to replenish their beer supply, so they offered to take my sister, my brother, and me on a hike to the 'packy' by toboggan. The packy was probably five miles away, down an extremely steep hill that became the most amazing sledding track for the neighborhood. I'm sure my parents were thrilled for the vacation from three housebound kids, but I'm still amazed that Jeannie and Mike survived the trip!
Eventually, Jeannie and Mike completed their family with two children, David and Eric. David was the first child for whom I babysat, and I loved taking care of him. Eric came along shortly after David, and he was just as fun. Jeannie was a fun mom, who loved her kids dearly.
In February of 1987, I was in Pittsburgh at college, and Jeannie learned that she had Ovarian Cancer. She knew something was wrong, but could not bring herself to visit the doctor until her tumors were the size of grapefruits. I remember wondering how she could feel something so large in her belly without wanting to know what it was. By the time I came home for the summer, Jeannie was back at home with all kinds of medical gear and oxygen attached to her as she slowly moved throughout her first floor. I remember that she had trouble hearing for some reason, and when the alarm on one of her machines sounded, I was so afraid I called my mom to rush over to her house. By the end of the summer, Jeannie passed away.
Jeannie died too young, and until I was thirty-four, the same age that she died, I always had in the back of my mind that I would suffer the same fate. She took the time to spend with me and my sister so we could get to know her, but she wasn't given enough time to get to know her own children as fully as I know she would have liked to.
Jeannie taught me a few things. First, go to the doctor when something might be wrong, if not for yourself, for the long-term well-being of your children. Second, take the time to really get to know each person as an individual, regardless of their age. Third, life needs to be really, really fun!
These days, when I miss Jeannie's friendship, I reach for a Tootsie Roll and feel a little better.