How do we learn those things that mothers pass on to their daughters once our mothers are no longer alive to do their job? I was one of the lucky ones. How ironic a statement for someone who lost her mother just before her nineteenth birthday. But yes, I was fortunate to have my mother's closest friends there for me, assuming the role they imagined their beloved friend would want them to fill.
My mother gave me many wonderful gifts, but the gift of friendship was amongst her greatest. I grew up in a neighborhood where doors were open to all the children within blocks. It was a mentality of "our yard is your yard" and boy did we ever exploit that with sled riding, tether ball, football, and more. There was one house that became my second home; home away from home - where the refrigerator was mine to open and take what I wanted (and I assure you I did) and where there was always a bed for me if I wanted to sleep over. It was my best friend Suzi's house and Sibby, her mother, was like a second mother to me. She and my mom grew up together and in adulthood, lived around the corner and raised children side by side.
At first she was simply my friend's mom, but as I grew up, with no mother to teach me, Sibby stepped in. Having watched me through the years, she knew me well. But that didn't guarantee that she'd continue to know me long after I played at her house or had the connection of her friend, my mother. Some how we stayed connected...I'm not sure how it happened, but it did. It was a little bit of me and a little bit of her -- the chemistry was right between us and we both continued to make the effort.
Sibby was a role model. She was smart and sassy and a straight shooter, saying things directly just as she meant them. Way back when I didn't realize it, but she and I were much alike -- in fact I am more like Sibby than I am my own mother. Sibby talked openly about all sorts of things like politics, sex in marriage (back in the late 70's I assure you there were not too many Jewish mothers doing that), feminism, and way more. I devoured everything she said and then some. She treated me like someone worthy of an opinion and as I developed into my professional self, she'd seek out advice, and even assistance. She made me feel worthy as a woman and worthy as a person to continue the friendship she had forged so many years before with my mother.
Sibby, along with a few mighty special souls, helped me to know my mother from an adult perspective and helped my husband and children know the mother-in-law and grandmother they'd never have the chance to know. A few weeks ago, Sibby died. She could no longer fight the cancer that had invaded her body as it had my mother's thirty-six years ago. She lived a good life and will be remembered fondly by many. But above and beyond all, I will remember her for stepping up to the plate and being a "mother," a woman of years and wisdom who acted on her love of friendship, and embraced me with her spirit. In her image, we all have a lesson to learn -- to speak our minds and do it boldly, to love deeply, and to embrace another woman's child when she is no longer around to do her job. Sib, I will always love you and promise to carry forth your ideals.
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