It’s December 31, the last day of 2013. This also happens to be the day my mother was born in 1919.
Yet I’m not thinking about birthdays today. Just the opposite: death, specifically the passing of my mother’s generation. Tom Brokaw called this group the greatest generation and profiled their sacrifices and contributions to American society in his book titled the same.
After leaving home for college and to forge my career, I kept in touch with three of my mother’s friends, maintaining those links for decades. Mary Ann lived in Dublin (CA), Blanche in San Francisco, and Audrey lived in Colorado Springs until her husband died and her son transplanted her to Bend.
My efforts to stay connected weren’t much, usually a letter during the holidays that recapped news of the year, occasionally a call if I were in the area and had time before a flight. A few times, when my travel schedule permitted, we were able to have lunch or dinner.
My mother appreciated my effort, though I didn’t really do it for her. Although infrequent, my contacts rekindled fond memories from childhood.
Earlier this year I received a call with the news that Mary Ann had died. The last time I saw her was when she visited my mom, shortly before my mom’s death in 2006. They had gone to high school together, where they formed a life-long friendship. I don’t remember the last time I spoke with Mary Ann, probably sometime during 2012. I do recall the sound of her voice and how interested and supportive she always was.
Preparing to mail out this year’s holiday letters, I deleted Mary Ann from the mailing list. And I wondered about the others.
Googling San Francisco obituaries, I found the notice of Blanche’s death, last March. She was 95. The short obit described her as “an independent woman of indefatigable energy, always ready to do business.”
Indeed she was. I recall her infectious laugh and the energy that seemed to lift everyone in the room. I loved visiting her office on Geary Street, where I could look down from the windows to see the sights in Union Square, in the heart of San Francisco. My first memory of Blanche was her trying to teach me how to play craps, rolling the dice on my kitchen floor. I was just 6 or 7.
Another entry deleted from the list, one less letter to mail.
Googling for obituaries in Bend revealed nothing. Relieved, I remembered that I had Audrey’s phone number and decided to call, realizing that I hadn’t spoken with her in over a year. A man answered the phone, which I thought might be her son Quentin.
“Is Audrey there?”
“I’m sorry. There’s no one by that name here.”
I verified that I had correctly dialed the number. Yes, he confirmed, but reiterated that no one named Audrey was associated with the number.
I’ll mail the letter and hope that it doesn’t come back “return to sender.”
Sadly, it seems that my living connections to this generation have nearly passed. Yet I do have the memories of the times we spent together and their influence upon my life. I can still vividly hear their voices. For that, I’m grateful.