I’ve been in Minnesota with my Dad this summer. There’s a lot to do since Mother passed on March 25th. Grieving and dealing with loss has been a big, big job. Helping Dad figure out his next steps — how to live without her — is one of them. While he’s weighing possibilities, I’m doing some of the heavy lifting, physically and emotionally, in their home at the lake in Minnesota. There’s a lot to go through. They had sixty-four years together and there’s much they threw away.
I’ve been going through dusty, unidentified boxes in the garage; cleaning out “their” closet and turning it into “his” closet; sorting through drawers and cupboards, trying to simplify for whatever comes next for him.
I didn’t know what I’d come across inside those boxes and drawers. For instance, a box that contained old electric mixers and random kitchen utensils also held red, blue, and purple pocket folders. I opened them up and discovered evidence of my entire thirty year career. Neatly arranged inside the pockets were newspaper clippings by me or about me, articles I’d written, and newsletters I’d sent dating back to 1992 when my newsletters had postage stamps on them. She even had a copy–the only copy–of the speech I gave at my high school reunion.
One of the pieces of paper was an article I’d written about Patti, my best friend from high school, written back around 1994. I had lost track of it and she had too. The original file in my computer refused to open the file long ago so I thought it was gone forever. “Patti” was there at the lake for a few days with me so it was fun to read it aloud to her and Dad one night while sitting in the front porch. It’s one of those “Real Life” stories with a style lesson woven in.
It still holds true today even though some of the references will sound very dated. Like long ago, women wore suits, stockings and pumps. Imagine! Here it is.
I was the out-of-state expert about to look like a fool. I was in Duluth, Minnesota lecturing on “Smart Women, Smart Accessories.” I was on Tip #18 in the handout, Buy Accessories That Look Like You. I said, “If you have big, bold features like jewelry designer, Paloma Picasso…” (and I held up a laminated color photo of her), “…wear big, bold earrings.” Easy.
While the women looked at each other and nodded their heads in unison, I looked over at Patti, my best friend since high school, beaming at me from the back row. She thinks I’m so smart. She’s Miss Pixie herself–small pert lips, cute little nose, puppy dog eyes. She looks great in her big, shiny, silver earrings.
BIG EARRINGS. She’s not supposed to look good in big earrings. I lost my smile and stumbled ahead to Tip #19 hoping to dodge the obvious objection: “If Patti can wear big earrings and have little features, why can’t I?”
How can she break the rules like this and make it work?
Patti and I drove to Minneapolis on Sunday and I got the answer. Our first stop was her favorite coffee shop, Sebastian Joe’s. It was impossible to miss three, well-dressed, VERY IMPORTANT LOOKING people sitting at a corner table in the casual college dive. The women were in black suits, stockings and pumps. Their blond hair, French-manicured fingernails, and makeup were flawless. The middle-aged man had thinning gray hair and the stiffest white shirt with thin blue stripes. Their heads and arms were frozen like mannequins while they talked.
We sat down next to them. I skimmed through a copy of Spy magazine left at our table while Patti wolfed down her non-fat mocha.
I was dying to hear what these people were talking about: corporate takeovers, counter-intelligence, computer virus attacks.
The man said in a low voice, “One thing I’ve noticed about women from North Dakota …” and I held my breath, straining, straining to catch the next part, when Patti lurched way over into his air space, threw her arm out over their table, shook her finger and said with a teasing leer, “Hey, better be careful what you say. We’re from North Dakota!”
The women tilted their heads forward. “Really? We are too. Where are you from?” Then they all talked at once about famous people from North Dakota — Lawrence Welk, Mickey Mantle (or was it Roger Marris?), Peggy Lee and that blond actress, what’s-her-name? I blurted, “Angie Dickenson,” breaking my silence.
When the ladies left, “Bob” joined our table.
“So, what about women from North Dakota?” I wanted to know.
“They’re smart,” he said. Patti made him right while they carried on about food, architecture, gambling on the Indian reservations and Minnesota politics. I kept quiet and looked hard at this woman sitting across from me, my best friend for twenty-five years. She’s fearless.
“Move to California with me,” she insisted when I graduated from high school, which to a farm girl was like going to the moon. It was her idea to knock on doors in La Jolla asking for phony directions so we could see the inside of fancy houses. She dated Steve McQueen and had the nerve to stand him up.
Now she’s settled in Minnesota where she raises a stink in city politics. She’s building a spectacular steel and glass house with her dad. It’s winning state architectural awards, but people in town think she’s nuts for building a home two blocks from the county jail.
She may be tiny, but she lives big. I’m amending Tip #18. Now I’ll say, “If you have small scale features and you’re fearless, go ahead, break the rules.”
Patti does. It’s her style.
From Patti to Pattiricia
When Patti turned 40, she decided to go by her full name–Patricia. Try as I might, I just couldn’t accommodate. When I tried to say Pattricia, my tongue would get tangled up.
I found a workaround: Pattiricia. For over twenty years, I’ve called her Pattiricia and maybe ten years or so ago, she came up with a new name for me. To Pattiricia, I’m Brendaricia. I accept, happily.
She knows a thing or two about loss. Her father died, then her mother, and she was there at their sides for their last breaths. It was the same scenario, in the same house, when five years ago, her husband died.
I’ve turned to her for lots of things throughout the years. Now I turn to her when I ache with grief. I can crumple with her and she stays strong and compassionate. I don’t even have to use words. She just gets it.
She’s the sister I never had. In fact, all our lives, people have mistaken us for sisters–even as recently as January when she came to be with me in Fargo in the hospital after Mother had her fall and her brain injury. She’s not afraid to be around tough situations.
Pattiricia still surprises me. Her grief, after her husband died, led her to volunteering at the Food Farm, an organic farm and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in Wrenshall, Minnesota, south of Duluth where she lives. It supplies produce to its members both summer and winter. She needed a distraction but it’s grown into much more than that. She’s a farmer and has even purchased neighboring land to be used for future crops.
She and Dad can talk farming for hours…and do. I didn’t always get it but last summer I visited her and saw what has got her committed and passionate. We walked the farm, toured the green houses, fed the chickens, and checked out all the tractors. It suddenly all made sense.
She was telling me this month about farm life. They’re working long hours getting the planting done. They have some new interns working on the farm and one of the veterans was telling a now legendary story to a newbie.
Pattiricia wears red lipstick to work on the farm everyday. She’s famous for it. One day, when a job required extra effort and tenacity, the whole female crew was instructed to wear red lipstick.
It was last October, late in the season, and the carrots needed harvesting. It was going to be a long day in the fields and Pattiricia took charge. She said, “Come on, we all have to put on our red lipstick and get this done. It’s a red lipstick push!” They rolled up their sleeves, shared her tube of red lipstick, and went out and pulled carrots. They got it done with the help of red lipstick. Of course.
Pattiricia…still leaving her mark wherever she goes.