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Reunion with Moose

Jan 24, 2011
Kimmy Sophia Brown

“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth -- and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, that we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
(Swiss-American psychiatrist and author)

I just had the cosmic fortune of being reunited with an old friend, right in the nick of time. In high school I was close to a girl named Debbie. Not only was Debbie a smart and talented person, she came from a fascinating family. Going to her house was an adventure. Her parents loved each other, she and her brothers were artistic and the atmosphere of their home was rich and interesting.

Moose wine, flowersMost fascinating of all was Debbie’s mom, Betty, who was also known as Moose. Now why, you might wonder, would a woman be called Moose? The name “Moose” seems like a nickname for a big strong man -- but Moose was an elegant woman of Greek heritage, with dark eyes and hair, a nice figure and a fabulous sense of humor. She was classy and cultured. When her son, John, was in high school, he and his friends called things that they liked; “moose fab” or “cool as a moose”. They thought Betty was rather “moosefab” too, so John began to call her, “Mrs. Moose”, and over time that was shortened to Moose. Her children called her Moose and her children’s friends called her Moose, so I called her Moose, too. And not only was she my friend’s mother, she was my friend too.

Moose brought her family and friends on excursions to places like the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Once we stood and gazed at “Le Bal A Bougival” by Renoir, which was hung at the end of a long hall. Walking toward it was like approaching a window looking out on a lovely dance. We saw a girl in a pink gown, caught in the arms of a sturdy man in a blue suit and straw hat. “You can see him looking at her, even though you can’t see his eyes,” Moose said to me, observing the romantic power caught by Renoir. I thought about how true that was and later bought a copy of the print for my bedroom wall.

We attended stage plays. Once we saw, “The Canterbury Tales” and enjoyed its bawdy humor. Another time we saw “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris”, a musical that featured four passionate singers, who interpreted the powerful songs of the Belgian songwriter, Jacques Brel. There were lively discussions following these events, about love, war and other topics. I first heard the twenties blues singer, Bessie Smith, when Moose was listening to a record album of her work. Something interesting was usually happening at their house, having to do with a book, a work of art or a song.

Moose loved poetry and frequently recommended various authors. She read my poetry and encouraged my writing. Once, she copied many of her favorite poems into a blank book and gave it to me as a Christmas gift. One of them was the poem, “Barter”, by Sara Teasdale, (1884-1933):

Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things;
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up,
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell;
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And, for the Spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Give all you have for loveliness;
Buy it, and never count the cost!
For one white, singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost;
And for a breath of ecstasy,
Give all you have been, or could be.

Life does what it does though, and Debbie graduated the year before me, and went to college. My family and I moved to another state. Although we sometimes exchanged cards, eventually, that stopped too and we lost touch.

Moose salutingThen one day in October of 2010, I felt pushed to renew my lapsed membership on the website, Classmates.com. Later the same day I got an urgent email from Debbie that Moose’s health was beginning to fail and that I should get in touch with them. A flurry of emails ensued. I sent Moose a card and a few days later, I got a card back. When I saw it, my heart leapt. It was a card with a Renoir painting, and although the message was brief, it was in her strong, distinctive handwriting. Moose was ninety but full of vigor.

Debbie sent me some family photographs, and I was struck by how noble and regal Moose looked, like a medicine woman or a priestess, with her long white hair and beautiful face, full of dignity and power.

On December 7, 2010, Peter and I were going on a business trip to New York, so it worked out perfectly to stop for a visit on the way. We made arrangements to meet Debbie and her husband, Marty, for lunch, and then have a brief visit with Moose. We hadn’t seen each other for about forty years. After catching up a bit with Deb we all went to see Moose who lived nearby. We entered her house and there she was, standing with her walker, beaming, wearing a sleeveless dress. We grinned and kissed each other and for an hour she related dozens of stories to Peter and me about her childhood in New York. She told us anecdotes about her father who owned a dancehall, and stories about being a little girl living in apartment buildings with people of all different races and ethnic backgrounds. She said that in those days they called the Irish, “paddy” and talked about them being picked up by the “paddy wagon”. Sometimes an image of a black hand would appear on a building wall and everyone would be afraid because it meant the Mafia was threatening someone.

Moose prayingAnother time she saw a man take a woman somewhere against her will. The woman saw Moose watching and asked her to get the police. Even though she was supposed to be home by then, Moose found a policeman and they went to the house where the woman was taken. When she and the policeman went inside, the people in the house denied any knowledge of the woman and laughed at her. Moose was punished when she got home because she was late (even though she was doing a good deed)! She laughed telling us about that. She related that sometimes when she and her father were just walking down the street he would suddenly turn to her and say, “Don’t you just love life?” and he would burst into song.

After relating dozens of other quips, she confided that village life in their lovely little New England town felt rather dull and isolated in contrast to New York, with its crowds and life force that she loved so much.

Moose told us that when she was a child, her father brought her to work with him and on visits to his friends. It was then that she learned compassion for men, who struggled to be breadwinners during the Depression and Prohibition. She listened to stories of their disappointments and hardships. She explained that when she was growing up, if a little girl got hurt, the parents would say with sympathy, “Oh did you hurt yourself?” whereas if a little boy got hurt they would say, “Don’t cry. Be a man!” So Moose developed a soft spot in her heart for men.

Moose and El CidLater when she met her beloved husband, Sidney, nicknamed, “El Cid”, they discussed the matter of religion. It was easier in those days for a couple to marry when they were of the same faith. Sidney was Jewish. Moose’s parents were officially of the Greek Orthodox faith, although her father had been an atheist. Moose had experienced a spiritual conversion while attending a Catholic convent high school. After marrying Sidney however, she decided to convert to Judaism. Living in Dorchester, Massachusetts, she experienced being persecuted by those who called her a shikse (non-Jewish girl) and expressed intolerance toward her. This was ironic, because she had not converted due to societal pressures but rather because of her love of Judaism. Regardless of those challenges, Sidney was the love of her life. I remember him as a quiet, gentle man.

Another memorable thing she said was that she wanted to die outside, sitting in a chair reading a book, the same way that her father had died. Peter and I thought that that was an absolutely beautiful image! When it was time to go, we hugged Debbie and Marty, her brother Steven and Moose, and we left, ruminating about how incredible life is. It was astounding to me that so many years had passed and yet there we were, old friends reunited. I was thrilled and humbled by the nudge of Spirit, for I believe that’s what it was, to sign back up for Classmates.com. It was divine timing.

I continued to receive communiqués from Deb over the next couple of weeks. On Christmas Day, Moose was admitted to the hospital because the lymphoma in her leg had spread through her body. A few days later, Deb said I should call Moose. So, I phoned her on January 5, 2011, which was about four weeks after our visit. Her voice was robust and full of vitality. I said, “How are you feeling, Moose?” She said, “I’m dying! Let me give you my blessing!” Then she proceeded to bless Peter and me and our children and our lives. I thanked her and said, “Well then, let me give you my blessing too! You were my friend, a wise woman, you gave me wisdom, you gave me poetry, thank you so much and bless you too!”

Moose and BroodShe said she was going to give St. Peter a hard time at the gate and then we said goodbye. I was quite overcome with tears. Not really because of sadness. They were tears of gratitude. I felt that God was leading me back to important connections in my life. Debbie and I were back in touch after many years of separation -- and Moose! -- who was such an ebullient personality, was shining like a beacon. She had shown an unforgettable example of how to live and now she was showing how to die well, too.

A couple of days ago, Debbie wrote again to say that Moose passed on January 10th and was buried on January 13th. She continued to joke with her family right until three days before her ascension, singing song fragments like, “the party’s over, it’s time to call it a day”, and wearing a red baseball cap given to her by the hospital staff. Who wouldn’t be happy with a transition like that, surrounded by loved ones, looking back on a life of love with a clear conscience? Wow, I’ll have what she’s having!

Moose, I’m so glad I knew you. Thank you for giving me the gift of your friendship. You didn’t die under a tree reading a book, but you died with grace, humor and beauty. Bless you a million times. I’m so grateful to God for weaving the threads of our lives back together. I see you now, young and beautiful, ready for what the next life has to offer.

*   *   *

I got permission from Debbie to include the beautiful commemoration
she wrote for Moose's funeral:

Deb giving Moose reikiIn commemoration of Moose…

(from Debbie)

What can one say about a woman who was so beyond unique and so complex that only God can possibly perceive and appreciate the whole pattern of her being and doing?

In her last two and a half weeks, she often said, “I am ready for God, but is He ready for me?” and she would anticipate Him saying, “Here comes that troublemaker”.  I loved the troublemaker in her. She taught me that it was okay to question tradition and to rail against God...and that one could follow the rules but one didn’t have to like them....and that one could even risk bending them a little, like a naughty child, without the risk of losing God’s love.  She especially loved the stories of the patriarchs who raised their fists at God and argued with Him.  

She adored her father and to the very end she passionately expressed her gratitude to him for teaching her to read and to love music, to be open to people of different colors and faiths and life preferences and to be loyal....and for making her the totally political animal that she was. She liked to say that when other mothers boasted of their children’s first words or first steps, her proudest moment was when Steven came home from school and could read the newspaper headlines.  

From the time I was a small child, she taught me to have what she called “Greek eyes”... that is, to rapidly assess a situation or a person and tune in quickly to what is needed in that moment and beyond...and how to persevere in figuring out how to provide what was needed and as fast as possible so the person wouldn’t be anxious. It didn’t matter if it was just a cup of coffee or a handwritten letter or a phone call to support someone going through a hard time. Often this involved doing things behind the scenes , where the recipient of sometimes life saving gifts would not see her pulling her magic strings....but I could tell her handiwork anywhere. She was a master at this art of the small things and I like to think that  she can see that she taught me well. 

Our childhoods were filled with books and trips to museums and libraries, Greek myths and stories of larger than life family members.....the blessings of Shabbat in our home on Friday nights and going to the synagogue regularly.....exotic aromas of both Jewish and Greek cooking....joyful marathons of baking ... holiday cookies, Greek coulourakia, her apple pie loaded with cinnamon and other spices...  

She created a whole new genre of family camping....I was in my 30’s before I learned that spending all day exploring the cultural offerings of the nearest city and coming back to the campsite at night for hotdogs and beans and marshmallows roasting over a campfire was NOT what most people called camping.  

She was home and safety to many of our friends....and she wove her magic with them, teaching them to appreciate their own families. She was “cool as a moose”... “moose fab”... it was not very long before she preferred to be known as Moose. The Native American symbolism of the moose was not lost on her either....the moose is a symbol of integrity, value, fierce loyalty, being unstoppable and headstrong, steadfastness, courage, wisdom and longevity and she certainly manifested all the power of her totem! 

Her life was not an easy one and yet, out of all the pain and strife and chaos, she powerfully  demonstrated how to turn all her wounds into an amulet for a courageous and peaceful death that turned out to be her greatest teaching of all. During her final journey, she was in good spirits...she sang and entertained all of us, she said good bye to all the people she wanted to say good bye to, she was at peace with herself and with God....and even with me.  

She loved her children with all the fierceness of a lioness for her cubs. But as much as she loved us, it was my father who was the love of her life.  Mizpah is the word she chose to commemorate their bond. From the time of his departure from this life, her single desire was to be with him....together on the Boston esplanade, where they would go every day when they were dating , where her most joyful time was. Not long before she became unable to communicate, she said, “I saw God....He was walking on the esplanade, looking for us.”  Oh, Mom, I’m sure He found you and Daddy there.....

 

Photo Credits:
 
 
Moose on her 50th birthday
taken by her son, Steven Pell
 
Moose, 4th of July, 2010
saluting the flag during a hometown Independence Day Parade
taken by her daughter, Debbie Yaffee
 
Moose praying for Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath
copyright September 11, 2009
taken by son-in-law, Martin Yaffee
 
Moose and El Cid, (Betty and Sidney Pell)
taken on the Boston Esplanade during their courtship
Used with permission of Debbie Yaffee
 
John, Steven, Moose, Debbie and Eric
Used with permission of Debbie Yaffee
 
Debbie giving Moose Reiki energy
used with permission of Debbie Yaffee

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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