My blog is pretty much defunct – keeping it activated more as an archive of my past thoughts rather than use for current blogging, but I wanted to revive it for at least one additional entry.
Today I attended the funeral of my best friend, Anne Reed. She has been my dearest friend, closest confidant and “adopted Grandmother” for the past 15 years. I am honored that she considered me part of her amazing family.
We met when we were both Religious Education teachers at the now closed parish of St. Joseph's in North Tonawanda. She taught the 8am classes and I taught the 10am classes, so we only saw each other in passing.
It wasn't until the Religious Ed. Christmas party that I met her formally and got to know her. We sat next to each other at the dinner and clicked instantly – though over the years as we'd reminisce, neither of us could recall many details about the actual event.... we'd joke that we'd both blocked out the details... but it just seemed to take off from there!
Anne passed away at the age of 84 – when I met her I was 15 and she was 69. What on Earth made two people from across the age spectrum become such good friends?? She was perpetually young at heart while I was born with the soul of a 90 year old... so we basically balanced each other out and met in the middle.
Over the years I got to know Anne's husband Vince and her immediate family including her sisters, children and grandchildren very well. Anne always had an open door policy so you never knew who was going to stop by when you went over for a visit. Her home was some times as busy as Grand Central Station with folks going in and out.. stopping by to say hello and to share a laugh. It was one of the things I loved about going there – the door was always open and all were welcomed.
Anne taught me many things over the years and was the only soul brave enough to be able to teach me how to drive. I had a few brief experiences behind the wheel of a car that never lasted more than a few blocks – and a deep fear of driving – hearing all the stories about teenagers getting into accidents and the high cost of insurance – all the things our parents tell us when they don't want their own insurance costs going through the roof. So, unlike most teenagers.. I dragged my feet getting a license until the summer after I graduated High School.
I'll never forget the day Anne picked me up for a driving lesson. She and Vince had just gotten a brand new Buick Century (part of why I love Buick so much).. came to my house.. tossed me the keys and then got into the passenger seat. I sat behind the wheel of the car when she informed me my first task was to take her up to the Riviera theater here on Webster Street in North Tonawanda.. one of those old town streets that have parking where you have to back in and out of your space into on-coming traffic rather than just pulling up alongside the curb. Anything out of my neighborhood could have been the equivalent of the Lincoln Tunnel to my nerves. I looked over at her asking, “Are you serious?”. She laughed and told me, “You can't drive around the block all your life. A car is just a piece of metal.. if something happens, it happens.” My Grandpa later asked her if she had a death wish.
A few years later I couldn't wait to call her and tell her of my experience driving the actual Lincoln Tunnel and the streets of Manhattan – something I never want to do again mind you – but something I did because I could! Each summer since I have thanked her for giving me the courage to have faith in my own abilities and giving me that one vital key to independence and adulthood... and I'm very glad I never killed her while obtaining that key (there were close calls).
As I grew older she moved away from being just the Grandmotherly figure and we became closer and closer – staying up into the wee hours of the night sharing our deepest concerns, what weighed on our hearts, and of course laughing – all the while consuming numerous pots of tea while her husband Vince passed out in the chair, comatosed from our endless chatter.
Anne lived for her family and got her wish of having a large one. She raised 6 wonderful children, a whole slew of grandchildren and even great-grandchildren whom she adored. She lived for kids!
Knowing she had the life she always wanted.. filled with family and friends, I had asked her once before what she would have done differently with her life should she do it over again. She told me she had always wanted to be some sort of counselor or social worker – helping people with their problems. When she was growing up, women were regulated to “pink collar jobs” like nurse, teacher or secretary... so the option for something outside the home didn't seem very real in those days - not that the opportunity for such work would have made her pass up the chance for the big family of which she always dreamed of having (It's not a coincidence Donna Reed and Anne shared the same last name).
I always reminded Anne that she really was a counselor to every person who came through her door who needed someone to listen to them or just be there. No, she didn't have a fancy degree or letters after her name – her kitchen was her office and a cup of tea/coffee along with a damn good laugh were her treatments of choice. I am one of the many many people who benefited from this therapy – and now, as I lament her passing – think of how it was she who'd I'd call just in times like these because I knew she'd be there for me.
Anne was quite the avid collector – not of commemorative spoons of shot glasses, but of people. She collected them everywhere she went and always took them into her heart. She had a way of making everyone feel so welcomed and at home in her house – in fact, she is the reason I am such a stickler for the little formalities when I have company come to call – always do it up nice... the little things mean a lot – always a cup and saucer (“my mother would be so ashamed if she could see me not serving tea using a cup and saucer!” she'd always remind me – it became a running gag if occasionally we'd use the pedestal mug instead of the china). People were worth the extras – they deserved to be treated special in her book.
Her faith in God proved to be a constant inspiration to me – especially as I struggled with my own faith so much over the years. She would often comment that she wished she was more “scholarly” in her faith (though she certainly knew more than the average Catholic) – but she had what really mattered... a genuine and sincere love of Christ and His Church within her heart... and SHARED that love with others. Though I could give you an in-depth history of the different Liturgical acts and share some insights about various Church counsels... I always seemed to be asking more questions when she simply lived by the motto: “Thy will be done”.
I have been to enough funerals in my life to know when someone dies.. they are automatically proclaimed a saint by those who knew them... even those who weren't well liked. In Anne's case, I think the personal canonization is fitting – for she is one of the rare and genuine examples of Christian “caritas” or love/charity that I have ever encountered. Not just going to Church on Sundays but living the message of the Gospels every day of her life. I know with all of my heart, when she approached the gates of paradise, she was greeted with open arms: “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
People of Anne's generation – and young fogeys like myself - are always lamenting that “they don't make things like they used to”. The quality is gone, the craftsmanship is gone, the pride is gone. The same can be said of people: “they don't make em like they used to”. Anne was a classic for certain and a reminder of the best humanity has to offer – kindness, compassion, empathy, true class and grace.
I will miss her infectious laughter and sense of humor – those long talks and that opened door of hers. I carry her in my heart and have become a better person for having known her these 15 years. I hope that in my own way I can take the lessons I have learned from Anne to be a better person and share the love she so generously shared with me.