I was all set to finish off a whimsical column about how much I enjoy children's birthday parties, when I received some very sad news. Barbara Joseph, my mother's best friend, and a woman who in many ways helped raise me, passed away last night.
Barbara and my Mom had been best friends since high school; they were like characters in "American Graffiti," who would go out on double-dates, smoke cigarettes, listen to Chubby Checker and dance the "mashed potato" or whatever was popular in the late 1950's. At least that's how I imagined it to be when Barbara would tell me stories of their teen years.
After high school, my Mom and Barbara took separate paths; my mother got married (twice) and had four children; Barbara tried a few marriages, they didn't work out for a variety of reasons, and she happily settled into a single, childless life, on her terms.
She lived down the street from us growing up, and was a constant presence in our home. Whenever my parents would go away on vacation, Barbara would move in and look after us. I always knew that I could fake being sick, because Barbara would always let us stay home.
She was a sassy woman who loved to laugh, loved a glass of wine and a cigarette, and loved my siblings and I without any conditions. She would always call me "child" and to her, that wasn't just a nickname to her. She truly loved us as if we were her own.
We were particularly close during my teenage years, and we often shared long, deep conversations about life and pop culture that were always full of laughter.
Inevitably, as I got older and moved away, we'd see each other less and less, and speak less frequently. Sure, I'd check in on visits back home, but as her health was deteriorating (the woman was practically bionic; she'd had so many back surgeries, knee surgeries etc.), she wanted to be seen less and less.
We actually hadn't spoken for quite some time when, a few months ago, I picked up the phone and called her because I wanted to share the news with her about the birth of my son. I knew she'd get a kick out of the thought of me being a father. We spoke for well over an hour and it was as if no time had passed. I could tell that our conversation had really pleased her, had really made her happy, as it had me. Before she hung up, she told me how proud she was of me, and said "child, please call me more often ... you have no idea how much this cheered me up." I had no idea that would be the last time I'd hear her voice. It's her birthday in two weeks, and I was planning on calling her then.
If there's a point to this, I guess it's that when you reach the age when life starts taking things away, it's never a bad idea to reach out to those who loved, shaped and affected you. When you think to yourself "I should really call my Aunt Janice or Uncle Jasper" -- do it. You won't be sorry.