Monday, May 24, 2010

Life Lesson


“Tsk”. It’s a simple sound that rolled off the tip of her tongue and spoke volumes to my teenage brain. That one syllable, a universal language spoken by so many, was Mrs. Smith's proclamation that something was not quite right or below her very reasonable standards. It was followed with an arched eyebrow and an ever so slight shake of her head that meant "straighten up".


As a teenager and young adult, her "Tsk" was usually directed towards my using the wrong fork, inappropriate slang or having a self-serving pity party. I’d immediately correct my wrong not wanting to disappoint or make the same mistake again.


It's not that Mrs. Smith was a tough old bird, as she liked to call herself. Rather it was my wanting to live up to her expectations. She was an important role model and a cherished friend who, well into her 70s, first took my 13 year old self under her wing and taught me so much about life and the world beyond our back yards.


When I was 21 years old, the toughest part about moving away from our small town in Ohio, where we lived just a few blocks away, to "the big city" (which was really a small suburb but a train ride away from Manhattan), was telling Mrs. Smith.


We sat at her kitchen table for 30 minutes while I sobbed uncontrollably and unable to speak because I would miss her so much. I must have been a sight because, when I finally spit the words out, a major look of relief crossed her face followed by a big smile and an encouraging hug.


I found out much later that she had confided to my mother that she thought all those tears were an indication that I was about to be an unwed mother. Hardly! No wonder moving 800 miles away was a relief to her and no "Tsk" was heard.


After I moved away, many, many times I called Mrs. Smith under the pretext of checking up on her but often it was about just needing to hear her voice-- Her "been-there-done-that-you-can-do-it-too" voice that always encouraged and cheered me on.


We spent hours on the phone catching up with each other, sometimes several times a week. During this time, our conversations shifted to more adult, age appropriate topics-- and so did her "Tsking".


She tried to teach me "streets smarts" as an independent woman working in a big city and in a man's world. And she wanted to make sure I experienced everything that was available to me in Manhattan-- Theater, arts, culture...


Our phone conversations always started the same way.


Hi Mrs. Smith!


Oh there you are! How's my girl?


Only once in our friendship do I remember our conversation starting differently and that was when her beloved Mr. Smith passed away. I was about 32 at the time. She was so sad and so confused in the immediate hours after that it took three tries for her to realize it was me on the phone.


This time her weepy "How's my girl?" was followed by a defeated "Tsk" as if to scold herself for the confusion. My heart broke for her because I knew her sorrow was deep as she struggled through this difficult time.


She hated the idea of having attended the funerals of so many people she cared about. But she tried to be stoic and said to remember the good times-- remember the positive-- remember to keep your chin up-- Then she'd roll her eyes, shake her head and say.... "Tsk". It was her reminder not to collapse into a puddle of tears and grief.


Mrs. Smith was 96 years old when she passed away nearly 18 years ago. All of her friends and most of her family predeceased her. She had no children and she lived a few thousand miles away from a distant, never in touch, 70-something nephew. We were her family, my mom and me, everyone else was gone.


This year, I've come to understand her "Tsking" in the face of grief a little too well. With so many loved ones passing away, my heart is sad and I spend way too much time overwhelmed with loss and loneliness.... And I can hear Mrs. Smith "Tsking" in my ear.


There is a profound loneliness that comes with losing so many people you love and adore. The times you want a girlfriend to chat with, a mentor to turn to, a party pal to cheer up with, a wise relative to guide you, a loved one.... and... and... and... so many are gone.


Tsk.


Welcome to www.TheFiftyFactor.com - Joanna Jenkins

Photo Credit: © jacinda richman - Fotolia.com

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66 comments:

Jayne Martin said...

Joanne, what a wonderful tribute to your friend. I envy you having someone like that in your life. Thank you for sharing her with us.

Kelly H-Y said...

What a lovely post and tribute to her. My heart ached for her ... that feeling of loneliness you described.

Alison said...

Yes, tsk. What a wonderful friendship you had. And I understand your sorrow, having recently had two family funerals in the same week. One was a young person - always so hard to deal with. Lots of love to you Joanna.

Kitten With a Whiplash said...

Mrs. Smith is obviously very much still with you. That is a wonderful gift.

Frau said...

What a wonderful women to have molded you into the women you are today. Beautiful post and tribute to Mrs. Smith I'm sure she is smiling down on you and proud of who you are today.

Marla said...

This post really touched me. Thank you for sharing it.

Ronda Laveen said...

What a wonderful relationship you had with Mrs. Smith. Truly a soul mate. Yes, so many are gone now and recently. I hope they're having one helluva party in Heaven. I'm sure Mrs. Smith will make sure they're using the right fork.

MsBabyPlan said...

Good Tuesday, I hope this day is fab for you. Thanks for stopping by my blog on Sunday!

ladyfi said...

Oh, such a profoundly beautiful and moving post.

Cinner said...

Joanna, what a wonderful post, I so totally agree how sad it can be. She sounds like such a lovely lady. that bond was special. I have always considered myself lucky to learn so much from the elderly. My great Aunt kinda reminded me of her, wise beyond years. May you have many more years of health and happiness my friend. take care. Hugs

anne h said...

Awesome - the little insights about the people and events that shape us.
JJ, you are soooo nice, and positive, and probably always were. But a good influence like your Mrs. Smith can't hurt, either! "Tough old bird" that she was!

My name is PJ. said...

I enjoy it when you blog about Mrs. Smith so much. I would like to be a Mrs. Smith to someone.

We, particularly those of us of a certain age, know exactly what you mean about losing so many loved ones. It's like losing pieces of yourself along the way.

When I get down about it, I try to think about how lucky I am to have loved so deeply.

Mari said...

What a wonderful example of a friendship between different ages. She would be happy to know how much she still means to you!

Rootietoot said...

what a cherished memory, thanks for sharing it.

savannah said...

thank you for sharing such a lovely story of friendship and love. xoxox

slommler said...

What a huge blessing to have had Mrs. Smith in your life. And that her "Tsk" is still in your head, time and time again. Wonderful! I love your Mrs. Smith...she sounded so awesome.
Hugs
SueAnn

Brian Miller said...

so cool. she sounds like a wonderful lady, sorry too for so much tsk-ing...i guess one day i will see even more of that...

Kathy said...

She sounds like such a wonderful and wise woman. It's always nice to have someone special that we can turn to.

Listen to her words and do your best to remember the good times, stay positive and keep your chin up.

Find the good in each and every day no matter how sad life sometimes feels.

Thinking about you

Jeff D'Antonio said...

That was a beautiful story of friendship. Thanks for sharing it.

Cindy La Ferle said...

I agree with all the comments here ... a wonderful tribute to an elder friend and mentor. We all need these people in our lives. Thinking about you too.

Betty said...

What a special friend. You have been blessed to have known her and I´m sure she´s made you a better person, with all her advice.
Thanks for sharing these wonderful memory´s of her.

Jeanie said...

Someone who took you from which fork to hold, through street smarts and how to deal with grief was for sure a treasured friend and a blessing in your life.

Emom said...

Oh my....so very true....that seems to be what this 2nd half is all about....smiles.

Life with Kaishon said...

I am so very glad you had such a treasure as her. She sounds wonderful. What a blessing to have had each other thru lifes up and downs. This made me rejoice this morning. Love wins.

Louisiana Belle said...

Beautifully written. Mrs. Smith was truly a treasure and a blessing. When you wrote about her tsk-ing I immediately thought of my grandmother who used to do the exact same thing. Sometimes there just wasn't a word for what she wanted to express and she would "tsk" instead. I'm sorry for your losses.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

She sounds like a real gift--what a great post about what she meant to you. "Tsk" will never sound the same now.

Sassy Pants Freckle Face said...

AWESOMness

TechnoBabe said...

Unlike Mrs Smith, you have all of us!

Sarah said...

Ok...so I am a sobby wreck right now...I had a Mrs. Smith too...Pheobe...my mentor my other Mom. I to sobbed when I had to move away at 16. We wrote and talked on the phone for many years..she loved me for me..no matter what.
When I was 32 we moved back across the country and I was blessed to visit with her on the way..she was dying of cancer..but she still loved me and I was welcomed into the fold like a prodical daughter.
I miss her still..love her still.
Wonderful post hon...hugs to you hon for the loss of all of those you mourn. Love, Sarah

jill said...

unfortunately, the older we get the more "tsks" we'll be experiencing.

Big Pissy said...

You were so fortunate to have Mrs. Smith. :)

Ann Imig said...

My Grandma lived to be 94. By the time she died she simply had enough of her loved ones dying. She had a best friend--a gay man in her building that I think she was in love with a little--and after he died she was never the same.

The price of a long and healthy life is surviving all those losses. I fear that so.

Lovely lovely post.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

What a lovely and thoughtful post. Thank you for inspiring me. And I am so sorry for your loses. Take care{{{HUGS}}}

lisleman said...

It's a great thing to have a mentor.
Your post was a good reflection on a meaningful relationship. thanks

Tracie said...

You were so lucky to have someone like Mrs. Smith in your life. I remember when my grandmother got to the stage of life where friends and loved ones were passing away. I think she was sad but never admitted it.

Christine said...

such a lovely touching post. I have an aunt that I miss a lot for similar reasons.

Hilary said...

Such a beautiful and touching tribute to your friend. How lovely for you to have had her in your life. No doubt she is still sharing her strength with you in difficult times.

Christina said...

what a beautiful tribute. i know she must be, so very proud of you.
: )

Joy said...

Thank you for sharing Mrs. Smith with us.
What a great mentor and friend.
♥ Joy

Ann said...

loved your post, I hung on every word. What a sweet story. Thanks for sharing.

Zuzana said...

Beautifully narrated recollection, I truly enjoyed reading this story told so poignantly.
Hilary always knows how to pick a winner; congratulations on POTW.;)
xoxo

Moannie said...

Beautifully written story honouring your friend and mentor.

Congratulations on winning Hilary's Post Of the Week.

Jayne said...

Beautifully written Joanna. One of the things I dread about getting older is having to say goodbye to friends and loved ones.

Hilary said...

That was beautiful, and beautifully written as well.
Yes, getting older has its challenges doesn't it......kids are on their own, now your parents need you.....all part of the cycle.

Land of shimp said...

That was a lovely tribute to your friend, and sometimes-mentor. I greatly enjoyed reading it, and felt as if I could see the lady in question in my mind.

It is hard to lose people, is it not? Admittedly, it is a great gift within a life to have people who are so very easy to miss when gone, so there is that too.

Still, there are so many moments in life; a great laugh, a purely contented afternoon, a moment wherein you knew for certain that you could never be alone as long as that person was still there. You wish you could take those moments, make them solid, something you could hold. When we missed that person, we could just sit and hold the memory, have the tangible proof that we are not alone.

The world is altered for us, our personal universe changes, when those we love leave us. It's okay to note that, to feel it, to know it. Truly it is another way of honoring that person.

Congrats on the post of the week mention over at Hilary's :-)

imbeingheldhostage said...

Such a gorgeous post and well-deserving of POTW! You have paid such a lovely tribute to a wonderful lady. To be remembered so fondly by someone, that would be the greatest treasure.

slommler said...

Congrats on your POTW!!! Well deserved
Hugs
SueAnn

Deb said...

Congrats on your POTW. This is my first visit here and I so enjoyed my stay. What a beautiful piece of writing about such a beautiful friend. You were so lucky to have each other as friends. Glad you appreciated each other and knew how fortunate you were ~ some people don't understand or value each other as they should. Enjoy your day !

Daryl said...

I am over from Hilary's to say Congrats on the POTW and after reading that wonderful tribute to both Mrs Smith and YOU ..I leave you with some gentle cyber hugs, losing people is so very hard and never gets any easier....

Ms Sparrow said...

I love stories of inter-generational friendships. In some ways, they are the most rewarding.
Thanks for sharing.

Lille Diane said...

This is such a moving story, and one that brought to mind all the Mrs. Smith's I've been blessed to have in my life. I can think of one I haven't called in some time, and your post reminded me time is ticking by. One day I will wish I could call her and she won't be there to pick up the phone on the other side.

I'd like to encourage you to publish this story, Joanna. It is that good. Plus people need to read this whether they are a Mrs. Smith or a young person sitting at the wise feet of a mentor. Thank you so much for a heartfelt post.

sensibilia said...

A mentor is so important. The memories never fade.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Joanna: So nice to pay homage to a friend. They all contribute in different ways. Thanks for the visit, I live in a small time Ohio town.

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

This post was simply lovely, Joanne and a fabulous tribute to your dear friend. You are so very fortunate to have had someone like that in your life, even if it means having to lose them at some point.

Eva Gallant said...

How lucky you were to have Mrs. Smith in your life!

Matty said...

What a special woman to have in your life during your formative years. You certainly have learned so much from her, and the wisdom she imparted to you shines through in your posts. You were blessed to have her influence, just as your nephew is blessed to have yours.

Domestic Diva said...

Beautiful! What a heart-warming story.

WhisperingWriter said...

This is a beautiful tribute. I teared up while reading it.

otin said...

That was a very sad post, and at the same time it was very meaningful and was really eye opening. We should never take it for granted that people will be with us forever!

RNSANE said...

I have been pretty fortunate so far...though I am 65, there are only a handful of treasured people that I have lost - either through death or the difficulties the world creates in our staying in touch ( frequent moves, loss of addresses, etc ).

What is saddest for me, though, is that my mother, housed still in her body, is dead in most senses of the word. Since mid-Feb, when I went home to GA and found her in atrial fibrillation and babbling incoherently, she has not known my brother or me or anything about her life. She is in the best of extended care facilities near Atlanta where her physical needs are met but this once brilliant, loving woman goes through the motions of life without really living. It breaks my heart.

Cricket said...

(Belated) congratulations on a moving and deserving potw.

I have posted my thoughts on loss on many blogs, perhaps even already on this one. I'll do it again, though, because I think it is true.

The people we have loved do not pass away, they pass within. This, I think, has something to do with eternal life. Our loved ones live in our hearts in a way that is more than mere memory, but rather how knowing them has changed our lives; that we are someone different for having known them. Even in death, they are there for us if we know where to look.

Love never fails. Never.

Amariah said...

Thanks for sharing this story Joanna. You were both very fortunate to have each other!!

Cicero Sings said...

My own mother is coming 96 July 3rd ... it is scary to think that if I live as long as her I need to live 40 more years! Yikes! I don't know if I can handle 40 more years. Fortunately, I don't think about it much ... one day at a time is sufficient. But it is true, she has out-lived were friends and relatives and all she has for visitors is my husband and I. She always says, "this getting old is for the birds".

I'm from Canada so you don't need to enter me in the give-away.

I came to you via Joy in the Burbs from her Car post. Mine was a 73 Toyota Corolla ... bought new and paid off in 3 years. My Dad co-signed for me but I had a good job. That car lasted me 13 years.

deb said...

Joanna,
your stories just do me in sometimes.
this was so poignant , really.
You are such a caring and considerate soul.
I am lucky to call you a blog acquaintance.

My heart feels for you, you have been through so much lately. I am glad that Mrs. Smith is woven in the depth of your soul. I will take this life lesson to heart .

Unknown Mami said...

Joanna, I am in tears over this post. Life can be so bittersweet. You wrote a beautiful post.

tsue said...

Written from the heart and much appreciated. (sniff)