The day after I spoke with Rosemary, I got caught up in new student orientation–500 incoming freshmen and their families (all filled with questions and excitement) streaming onto campus.
I was finally able to look Jean up on Monday. As Rosemary suspected, she was deceased. But her passing was not recent. We had the date of her death listed in 1965—exaclty 15 years after their graduation. And I could see that Jean was 36 when she died, only two months younger than I am now. There was no other information available in our system.
My heart was heavy at the thought of having to deliver this news, when the phone rang. It was Rosemary.
Without thinking how it might sound to an 88-year-old stranger, I blurted out No way! You’re psychic.
She’d heard that before.
My sadness was gone, replaced by the mutual curiosity that sprang up. We talked about Jean, trying to suss out more clues. They also went to high school together, in South Pasadena. And she remembered the name of a husband.
Then she told me about her own marriage right out of college. She and Fred were wed on a Friday, had their honeymoon over the weekend, and went back to work on Monday.
I said, That’s not much of a honeymoon!
Well, she replied, The next 40 years were a honeymoon, so that’s alright.
That’s when I started crying (for the second time that day), while my cubicle neighbor politely pretended not to notice.
Rosemary was pregnant with their first child when she and Fred had to move into the still-desolate 1950’s San Fernando Valley so he could take a branch manager position at a new Bank of America location.
He felt terrible, she said. He kept apologizing. There wasn’t anything there! It was all orange groves and black widow spiders.
And they didn’t have a penny. But like many others who were a product of the Depression, she knew how to be resourceful. She said, Oh, the women in the family had taught us lots of things to help. Like what? Well, when the sheets got worn in the middle, we’d cut ’em in half and sew the edges back together, and we’d have a new sheet!
Brilliant, I told her.
She said, I don’t know about that. But it wasn’t too bad, once you got used to sleeping with the seam down the middle.
I love ideas like this. And she’s got plenty more, she tells me. Ideas for what to do with bone marrow. I cut in, eager to show my appreciation—And then you use the rest for stock!
Rosemary laughs, That’s right! Maybe we should write a book.
This was all surprising to hear from an older alum—typically a population that I think of as well-heeled. But she had been through her share of adversity. Three children living, one lost. Widowed. Then the stroke. And then a fall that shattered half her body and took nearly a year to recover from. But she’s no delicate flower; never was. Started the first ladies football team at the college in 1949; they trained with the male players for weeks. But the night of the big game, they found that the men’s helmets were too large, kept falling over their eyes, and then it started pouring rain, and someone ran out with wool blankets to cover the girls, and they piled into a couple of jeeps and got a ride back to the Gamma house.
Gamma house. That’s where she remembered Jean best. About 5’7″, slim and athletic. A bit mysterious.
She just wants to know what happened. It eats at her not knowing. She wants to update the High School alumni page with an obituary (most of them just have obituaries now), because without one it’s like you’ve simply been forgotten—and Jean shouldn’t be forgotten.
She said, I don’t know why this is such a fixation. It’s one of those questionless answers, I guess, and explained:
It’s funny, when you live as long as I have, you find that the answers sometimes come first—all these answers to questions you never knew you had. Or really, you haven’t had yet. You just have to go on long enough for the questions to become clear.
I told her that I’d be happy to help her solve the mystery, if she could bear with me a little longer while I researched in my free time.
And she said that’d be fine. I’m not sure what he has planned for me, but I know he isn’t finished with me yet. She promised to stick around long enough for me to find the answers (or the questions, whichever came first).