Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Tablespoon of Cream

When we moved to Small Town one of the first women I met was L. She was the school librarian, a tiny little lady who barely came to my shoulder, wearing a neat pastel pantsuit, and the expression on her face can only be described as a twinkle. I don't remember what she said to me at that first meeting, but I'm sure it made me laugh; I loved her dry wit from the first moment.

Although her hair was white, she seemed ageless--she could have been one of the wise and wonderful women who came to life in her books: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Mary Poppins. Miss Marple. She didn't have children of her own so all of the children who passed through the high school on their way to adulthood became her children, and she treated them with the respect and occasional tartness each deserved.

I knew her for a quarter of a century and she was changeless--her neat style, her height, her grin and sense of humor did not age.  Even after she retired she kept track of the the students who had passed through her library doors,and they stopped at her table at Wendy's to show off their new babies. Deep in my heart I believed she was immortal.

She was not immortal, though. Astonishingly healthy until just a few weeks ago, she developed a stubborn infection in her pacemaker wires, and yesterday she was gone. It was a shockingly swift transition.

I love coffee, especially coffee with cream. Over the years I have experimented with healthy alternatives to this high-fat additive, but I finally realized that I would rather have my coffee with one tablespoon of cream than with a quarter-cup of fat-free half-and-half.

Sudden death is shocking, especially in those who, like L. or my mother, have lived with warmth and wit and have touched so many others. Each could have had many more years of life, but quite certainly these years would have been of diminishing quality. Even as I mourn L. and continue to miss Mom, I realize the richness of their lives was pure nearly to the end.

God gave each of them a tablespoon of cream.

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