There are at least four 31 gallon Rubbermaid storage boxes full of pictures in my house. A collection of photos from my life tucked away and mostly forgotten. Every few years, typically after some life-changing event, these bins are dragged out. We pull out stacks at a time, remembering each for the memory it evokes (that’s for you Joan). A yellowed black and white print of me and my siblings, a Polaroid snapshot from my teens, First Communion pictures, Confirmation pictures, graduation pictures, wedding pictures, party pictures. Memories of good times and sad times, waiting to be organized for posterity.
I wish I had the time to go through those storage boxes today. There are no pictures included with my story tonight. Yet, the expression, “a picture paints a thousand words” most definitely is true for this post. And since, I don’t have the pictures at hand, this post is a bit longer than most.
Today I attended the memorial mass and reception of my old friend, Tom Coffey, the husband of my lifelong friend, Joan. It was a reserved, dignified service, fitting the quiet man affectionately known to many of us as “T.C.” His three sons were on the altar during his eulogy, given by his oldest son, Jeffrey. Jeffrey and my son, Bryan, played together as toddlers. This year they will turn 35. Where have the years gone?
Two pews of us connected to Tom and Joan sat together. Among the group, I was happy my husband, Frank sat next to me. Joan, Frank and I attended St. Andrew’s together. My son, Bryan, sat to my other side. Behind us sat Patti and Ginny, also from our childhood at St. Andrew’s.
Here we were, back in the beautiful church of our childhood. The church where Joan and I received the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation. The church where our eighth grade graduation was celebrated. The church where we spent hours and hours as children. The church where Tom and Joan were married. She was Tom’s wife for almost forty-one years. I was Joan‘s maid of honor when they married all those years ago.
There was another time in this church we remembered today. Back in eighth grade, a bunch of us planned a trip downtown to tour WBBF-AM radio. We were beyond excited. It was 1964 and The Beatles rocked our world. There we were on a Friday afternoon during Lent, six or seven of us lined up in our pew at Church, as we waited for the Stations of the Cross to begin. Every Friday in Lent ended with Stations and Benediction. Our small, red “Stations of the Cross” prayerbook in hand, we waited impatiently for things to get rolling. Sadly, the suffering of Jesus Christ was not top of mind for this gaggle of silly girls. Our friend, Roz, a Ringo fan, decided to trace his name on her book, with her finger mind you, not a pen! Suddenly our teacher, St. Edwardine, was at the end of our pew! Oh no! Roz had to stay after stations as punishment. We felt bad. Yet today, we laughed that we didn’t feel bad enough to stick around and wait for her. We bolted out of church to get to the bus stop. I can’t swear to it, but part of me suspects that Joan may have started our sacrilegious behavior that afternoon. She was often the instigator of our unacceptable antics.
After mass at the reception, we watched Joan as she visited one table and then another. Whenever she could, Joan came over to our table. She joined our reminiscing with her own special brand of storytelling. Patti remembered us cleaning the church during school lunch hour. We felt so holy and special. Joan, always the spitfire, reminded us that we dawdled in church instead of getting back to class. Joan was always mischievous. That’s one of the things I love about her.
I spent many days after school at Joan’s house. We did our homework sometimes, but more often we spent time in her bedroom thinking about ways to get glamorous and find boys to like us. One time we decided that we were too flat-chested and we needed to remedy the situation. The Mark Eden bust developer was a device marketed on TV and sold by mail order. It promised to enlarge a woman’s breasts. Joan and I had to have the device. We concocted a plan to have it shipped to her house so that no one would ever find us out. When it finally arrived, we furtively snuck up to her room. One of us took a turn, trying to push the ridiculously difficult pink contraption together in our hands, while the other watched to be sure we didn’t get caught. This regimen didn’t last long — it was way too much work. I wonder whatever happened to the bust developer. Knowing Joan, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in a box somewhere in her house.
I have so many more stories to tell about my antics with Joan. We were inseparable all through high school. We did such silly and innocent things. We were beyond naïve. We dressed up as nuns one day (Halloween costumes made by my mother for my sister and me). We drove around in Joan’s ’58 Chevy and waved to people. People actually thought we were nuns (or so we thought).
Ginny, Joan and I worked at Rochester Bakery when we were in high school. Sunday mornings were always the busiest and we were all scheduled to work. Inevitably, one of us got stuck in the back filling jelly donuts, putting donuts on trays, glazing kuchens or stacking the freshly baked Italian bread. The three of us had a secret code word to let whoever was stuck in back know that a cute guy was in the store. One of us would go to the door to the back, swing it open and shout, “LIST!” We had to shout because of the oven noise. On cue, the girl in the back dashed to the front of the store in less than 10 seconds. Sunday mornings were the best time to work because the guys from the National Guard armory always came in. I wonder if any of them were on to us. They were always older than us, and I’m guessing by their flirtatious responses to our, “May I help you?” they knew exactly what we were up to.
A lifetime of memories to share. But, what struck me most today was watching my friend, Joan. Her poise and grace moved me. It was bittersweet to watch Joan in church and at the reception today. Her sister and some of her other friends said she lives in la-la land. That’s because she treasures every moment of her life. She is the best to reminisce with because she remembers every detail. She is a throwback to our mothers’ generation. She is so much the same girl I knew when we were kids. She looks the same as always and yet, I saw a beauty in her I’ve never noticed before. I saw the visage of a woman whose wisdom is gained from living through life’s happiest and most sorrowful times. She was a good wife. She believed in the vows of marriage and stood by her husband long after most of us were on to new lives and new husbands. Her love for her three handsome sons and their families is clearly evident. She gushed over her granddaughter, Lucy Rose, who is under two. She hugged and kissed everyone with sincere emotion.
How lucky am I to know her. What a blessing that she has been part of my life since we were five years old. As she and I used to say in our school notes to each other, “Cheers for Friends!”