It was a cute little place. I wasn’t crazy about the small porch, but a walk around to the back proved it to be a friendly little neighborhood, and I loved the deck. A short-haired woman opened her sliding glass door, peeked her head out and said, “Buy it!!! I make great java!! Do you have any kids?” I came around front and we talked for a few minutes. Her porch was bigger than mine. She makes good java. Hmmm………
About a month later, my kids & I moved in. That’s when Michele would ask the question – the one that would forever define who she was to me and to so many others. During one of our trips carrying boxes in, she came out with a cup of coffee and asked, “What can I do?” And she meant it. Soon another neighbor was at the door. That was Billy. He was my oldest son’s age. And that’s when I met Katie, Billy’s mom.
It was at the end of the school year. I was busy running Rory & Ian back to school so they could finish out the school year where they’d begun. I’d get home from the 20 minute trip, and there would be Michele, coffee ready. “Neighbor! – I got the java!” she’d holler. And we’d sit at her kitchen table for a visit. Little did I know I would have hundreds of conversations at that table for many years to come. I worked at home, and so did Michele. She taught medical terminology. I taught medical transcription. Our kids would wind up in the same classes for the next 12 years. Quickly, over coffee, we discovered we shared a lot in common. Soon, from somewhere, I’m not sure where, we began calling each other “seester”………..and up until last week, we still laughed at how we had absolutely no clue why we would often break out into a middle eastern accent when talking to each other. Years later we would be at Friar Tucks for breakfast, and say “Goodbye seester!” to each other at the register on the way out, and a little old man would come up and say, “Good morning sisters” thinking we were nuns.
Morning became very routine. 5:30 Michele would knock on the wall. I would knock back. That was our code. The java is brewing. I’d throw my shoes on and run over in my flannel nightgown and we’d sit at the kitchen table before all the kids got up and have our morning coffee together. It was often Rory or Ian would wake up and call and say, “Is my mom over there?” and I’d go back home, get the kids ready for school, and off to the bus stop we would all go, then back home to work. And throughout the day there would be more knocks on the wall when it was time for us to take a coffee break. I had a friend visit from Ireland once, and when I woke up and couldn’t find him, I went to Michele’s, and there they were having breakfast and coffee at her table. She just had a way of making everyone feel welcome and loved. And it was at that table I would cry over the death of my father, and where everyone in the court would gather when one of our young 17-year-old lifeguards was killed in a car accident. And it was where we would sit together watching the events of 9/11 take place, and cry.
During summers, Michele, Katie, & I would take all the kids to the pool. We would bring their PJ’s, and at closing time, they’d go down and shower, put their jammies on and then when we got home, they could go right to bed, and Michele, Katie, & I would stay up and drink coffee and talk, and we did a lot of giggling. Sometimes, Sam would come over and having her dad there with us was an extra special treat. Sam was just as sweet and loveable as his daughter….
On the 4th of July our entire court would be outside in front of Michele’s house lighting fireworks. Everyone, and I mean everyone, would bring a chair over and we’d sit there till real late watching the kids with their sparklers and firecrackers. Michele’s place was the place to be. She was the coffee maker, the peacemaker, the world’s best negotiator, the neighborhood nurse, the ear piercer, care giver, chocolate lover, a friend to everyone, always asking “What can I do?” and meaning it. When all of our lifeguards returned to college late summer one year and we had no one to lifeguard, they threatened to close the pool. Quickly Michele found someone to get her certified as a lifeguard so that our entire community’s kids could continue using the pool. You see, she was always thinking, “What can I do?”
Several years later, when Michele & Katie moved, it was not unusual for us to get in our cars in our flannel pajamas, drive around and pick each other up until we arrived at whosever house was hosting coffee. Soon, we began to call ourselves “Seesterhood of the traveling flannel.” Our families thought we were nuts. But over flannel and coffee we had gotten each other through the middle school years, the high school years, break-ups, divorces, deaths, and I had even learned how to read EKG’s.
A few weeks ago during one of her stays in the hospital, we were sitting in her room and she had the call light on, but for a full hour, no one answered it. So she laughed and said, “Let’s make animal noises; that oughta get someone in here!” So I began meowing, and she started barking. Less than 5 minutes later, there was a tech and an RN in the room. Yesterday morning I was out with a friend and out of the blue, I could have sworn I heard a cat meow. I asked if anyone else had heard it, but no one did. And I thought, “Oh, leave it to Michele. She’s probably laughing right now after just thinking to herself, “HA! I’m going to make farm animal noises so Rita stops crying!” Because if I know Michele, and I do know Michele, she is worried about every single one of us being sad right now. And she is still asking the question, “What can I do?”
I will miss our ongoing arguments about whether the garbage under the sink belongs on the right or the left. I will miss our updates on the kids’ goings on. I will miss getting into her car in the middle of July and hearing “Jingle Bells!” I will miss her hospitality. I will miss her random ideas for support groups, “Hello, my name is Michele and I can’t stop buying Christmas CD’s and Coach purses!” I will miss her imitation of Ruby, of whom Michele did thee best imitation, “Meeeeechele, YOU my FAAAAVORITE neighbor (puffing repeatedly on cigarette). I have BAD, BAD heart condition (puffs on cigarette). If you not see me for couple days (puff), you call my son and he come! (puff)” I will always laugh about the time when in the parking lot at Amores after just having gone out to breakfast, there was an INCREDIBLE wind storm going on. We were saying goodbye and were about to get in our vehicles when suddenly, as if it was in slow motion, we saw a shopping basket CHARGING at us going about 80 miles an hour. We grabbed each other not knowing what to do, then split and ran and watched it go speeding past us. Then, we stood there and couldn’t stop laughing.
Oh, God is so strategic when He places people in our lives. I feel paralyzed, as I’m sure everyone who is blessed enough to have called Michele a friend feels. But I feel so incredibly blessed to have been hand-picked to have had her for a friend, someone who when having left this world, leaves me feeling like I’ve lost a limb. Life will NOT ever, ever be the same without her in it, & neither will I. But I am comforted in knowing she is now truly “living the dream.” She taught me how to be a true friend. And I cannot wait to get to heaven and see that she is undoubtedly head of the hospitality team, and I’m sure she will be at the pearly gates yelling, “Seeester!!! The java is ready!”