The sky has opened up to commemorate her goodbye.
When we moved to the Land of the Tropics from the Midwest, we settled into a neighborhood that held a house with four kids. Those four kids instantly became our fast companions. There was someone for just about every age and since there were more of us than them, we shared obligingly.
The Libster, (not her real name, thankfully) was split between my sister Jean and me. And Boy, did we have ourselves some silly, delicious times. Every single day of our childhood summers was spent together, most days turning into 24/7 sleepovers. Amazingly, we never tired of each other. From the Barbie marathons where we kept the soap opera story lines going for weeks at a time, leaving the mostly naked Barbies sprawled across our back porch to our daylong swimfests at the Country Club pool just around the block from our house.
The Libster would show up in the mornings, towel around her neck, ring the doorbell and say, "You ready?" And the three of us were off, to spend the day in the glorious Florida sunshine, swimming, playing rousing rounds of Marco Polo, and our favorite-a sordid, nameless game we'd made up.
We would swim up to total strangers, pretending to know them, saying things like, "Hi Sally! How've you been, Sally?" And of course, "Sally" would insist she didn't know us and she wasn't Sally and we'd be all, "Yes, Sally. I know it's you! Stop fooling around, Sally." We'd keep insisting, in a creepy, sort of serial-killerish way until Sally would realize it was in her best interest to just stop protesting and paddle away as fast as her swimming abilities allowed her to.
He just informed me this weekend that his latest accomplishment in college was to eat a 16 inch-3 pound sub. It took him a couple of hours and he was awarded a t-shirt for his strenuous, digestive work.
He told me he wanted to give us his cell number. He's got our back in case the Odawg needs any help or gets in trouble or whatnot.
I'll have to keep him in mind in case my 100 pound daughter (dripping wet) wants to enter any sub-eating contests.
We two families, somewhere along the way, morphed into one blended neighborhood family, someone always at the others' house. Someone constantly watching over someone else. Someone always setting an extra plate or two at the dinner table. Someone always greeting the others at the door gnawing on a chicken leg.
Until our lives were interchangeable. Until one home was just the same as the other.
And through the bustle of four busy children stood a mother, a hard-working, good and kind mother, guiding those little beings through the world. An imposing job in itself, but for a part of life, Janie did it as a single mother. She worked full time as a nurse and the funny thing is, even though she must have been absent at times, I always remember her being there. I spent as much time in their household as I did my own and my memories are filled with her presence, talking to us, laughing with us, cooking for us.
There, always there.
It speaks volumes of the kind of mother she was, that Janie.
The story could have ended when we all grew up and away, occasionally bumping into one another, wondering, "Whatever happened to our friends, our neighbors of long ago? Whatever happened to Chicken Leg Boy?"
But, then there was this happenstance, this twist of fate.
My dad was one of nine. He was one of the oldest. His brother, my uncle, was born twenty odd years after my dad. That uncle grew up along side of me, more like another annoying brother than an uncle. I have never referred to him as my uncle. That would just be...weird.
So, we neighborhood families, once again, were joined, but this time legally, this time for life.
Here is an example of our mingled crowd: My sister Jean, my mom and dad, Joy, Janie's daughter-in-law, and my "uncle" Neil with his mother-in-law, Janie, showing exactly what she thought of the neighborhood boy who married her daughter.
At all the usual celebrations, birthday, holidays, weddings, parties, we now gathered together with Janie and her crew. Janie, sparkling and full of fun. Janie who loved a good story and big laughter, who loved my parents, her life-long friends, who kept up on all our lives and now, our children's lives.
Janie with Bill constantly at her side. She'd met and married Bill, the love of her life, years ago. A kind and loving man, he replenished all her dark times with good. She loved to tell the story of the look on Bill's face when she told him she had four children. He stuck around and showed her that dreams oftentimes come true to the those who truly deserve it.
It was a rockin', boisterous party with all of Mary's friends and of course, family- both of ours, there.
I was mingling with all the party guests when I was told my presence was requested in the wine cellar.
Curious, because my presence has never been requested in the wine cellar, I peeked into our small redwood room tentatively.
Janie looked a little thin to me at the party and her voice was a bit raspy and I asked her if she was feeling well. She was bright and cheery and said she'd had a little cold, but nothing she couldn't conquer and then she went on to happier things, shifting the focus away from her and onto the delightful memories of our shared past.
A good time was had by all in that wine cellar on that very special evening and Janie was there in the midst of the wine and the moments and the memories.
The next week she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer.