Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Kool-Aid Mom

Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the passing of someone very special to me and many in my best friend Kristy and her sister Kara's mother Mary Alice. Mary Alice Deem was such an indelible presence that her absence is still sorely felt even now, several years later. Kristy had a tough day yesterday and was feeling her absence quite strongly. Unfortunately, I know this by voicemail and Facebook only as our work hours were, as they often are, conflicted and we haven't been able to talk. So, allow me to write a bit of a tribute to this one-of-a-kind lady.

Mary Alice. Sometimes, despite numerous photographs and memories, the image of someone can fade from memory. Not Mary Alice Deem. Her image is as vivid to me today as it ever was....that lithe form, dressed in stylish and colorful fashion, wide smile across her face, voice carrying down the street. You knew when Mary Alice was headed your way.....generally by her boisterous wave and her "yoo-hoo" call. Many days, seeing her strolling your way was like the sun rising above dark clouds.....she was a mood-lifter, to be sure.

You may have read my post The Kool-Aid House. It was dedicated to Kristy's home; my second childhood home across the alley from my parent's backyard. Thanks to Mary Alice, that home could not have been more welcoming......I barreled my way in by back door, front door and occasionally bedroom window. Mary Alice was the second Mom to the whole neighborhood. It wasn't unusual to find all of us neighborhood kids draped about the front porch or throughout the house; all welcomed by Mary Alice with open arms and sometimes to her husband's chagrin. She loved us all unequivocally and yes, the refrigerator door was always as open as her front door.....I cringe to think of the many times Marshall probably came home to an empty fridge. Mary Alice always had Kool-Aid ready for us.

Mary Alice taught ceramic painting classes in the park (I still have my Frankenstein somewhere) and she was always heavily involved in everything her girls did. It was always comforting to see her at band camp or wherever as she always lifted my spirits. Mary Alice was also an amazing seamstress: there's a long list of ladies who have benefited from her skilled sewing. There's also her chili; one of my all-time favorite bowls of chili. I can still taste her wonderful, warming chili before every Friday night football game.

I have seen Mary Alice in one brief vulnerable moment but for the most part, she seemed unbeatable. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she seemed to face it as she did everything...with indomitable wit and powerful grace. In what appeared to be some of her darkest hours, she still managed to make jokes. One day, when she was barely conscious, Kristy, Kara, Kara's best friend who was also named Mary Alice and myself were sitting near her bedside in the hospital. She appeared to be in great pain and it was a somber moment but damn if she didn't crack a smile. Her two daughters and their best friends were reunited in the room and as we were the most frequent mainstays in the Kool-Aid House; Mary Alice seemed to be enjoying having us there together. It wasn't long before we were all cracking up, probably over something inappropriate. Mary Alice Deem had done it again.... despite her pain, she had brought us all together and somehow managed to get us all to laugh. Hearing the four of us laughing was probably a welcome flashback for the Kool-Aid Mom.

When Dad died, I asked Kristy if she ever gets past the loss. She told me that indeed, we move on as we have to, but the pain never goes away; it just lessens a bit. Clearly, as evidenced by yesterday, the pain can return and leave you as raw as ever; even fourteen years later. Mary Alice's two beautiful daughters may doubt their abilities to live up to their Mom and now, I truly understand that self-doubt. At her core, Mary Alice was not only a great presence but was always there for all of us, no matter what. All these years later, I would spend some very bleak days caring for my parents across the alley at Kristy's house, where she allowed me to relax and regroup and the Kool-Aid house became a refuge once again. I know first-hand that Mary Alice's legacy lives on through her daughters and will continue to live on through Kara's two lovely daughters; Mary Alice's granddaughters.

As always and with every year, we miss you, Mary Alice. You are unforgettable.


Willie said...

Greg, as always, your writing takes me right back to everything that was good and wholesome in that not too distant past! I pent many a summer afternoon sitting on my porch wondering just how much fun can be had at Mary Alice's front porch by your kool-aid gang! Mary Alice was one of a kind and one that is sorely missed!!!

Confounded Cook said...

Thank you, Willie. Yes, she was and yes, she is.

Kristy said...

Typing through tears again dangit but smiling as well. Thank you Greg. I couldn't have said it better myself and I really mean that. I simply just couldn't. As much as I could talk for days or write volumes about my mother I don't think I could really truly express everything; all the emotion I feel for her. Sometimes it takes someone else's perspective to help us regain our own and you have done just that. As usual it is you, my greatest friend who have done that for me once again. To quote a phrase you used to describe Mom earlier, her "personal orbit" was certainly something to behold. Long live the Kool Aid House and the memory ONE of Cherry Street's many Kool Aid moms! Thank you again. Love you most!


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