From the time I was three years old, she was there... in the background of my world. Her presence was constant, familiar, comforting - and it had a large part in defining the narrative of my life.
Dee's youngest daughter Samantha and I were instant best friends in preschool, and my older sister Rebecca and Samantha's older sister Kyle became best friends too. The four of us together made a formidable team of girl power... one that our older brothers Anthony and Ryan, also best friends, were no match for - neither in number, nor in drama or attitude. Our parents also became the best of friends, and to say that they had a lot of fun together over the years would be a gross understatement. Their solid friendships informed our friendships, and the loyalty between our two families became unshakable.
It's now been forty years. 40. Forty years since that first Egremont school picnic where we all met and became friends, and eventually next door neighbors. From that memory in my photo album of me eating watermelon, to the countless others (birthdays, Fourth of July parties, vacations, school plays, Halloweens, Disneyland visits, and elementary & high school graduations), so many memories of my life include Dee - and some of them were even made possible because of her...
Like when Samantha, Kyle, Becky and I created entire Barbie dream villages, complete with mansions, pools and salons, overflowing out of the girls' room into the hallway to take over the walk-in linen closet... When we visited our first clothing outlet while vacationing in San Francisco and bought bags and bags of new Esprit clothes, excitedly returning to our hotel to put on an entire fashion show for our moms... When I arrived at the Winnetka house one morning, thinking I was picking Samantha up for the beach, and found a huge surprise party awaiting me for my 14th birthday, and all the kids from my 8th grade class there... When we four girls would go to the Northridge mall, eat gooey cookies at Mrs. Field's, and then walk around to check out the latest fashions at Contempo Casuals and Express, feeling so grown up and independent because we were granted a couple hours to explore the mall alone... When we created a teen modeling shoot, dressing up in swimsuits, Flashdance sweatshirts, makeup, jewelry, hair accessories, and very elaborate Madonna look-a-like get ups and used rolls of film to take pictures of each other in and around the Winnetka house for hours... And even years later, when Kyle and I spent day in and day out for months at the Winnetka house, planning, filming, editing, and submitting to film festivals the 16mm film that Kyle wrote and directed and I produced.
These fun adventures and wonderful experiences that we had were all made possible by Dee. By her facilitating them with her support, her care, her kindness, her permission, and her approval (at least, we had her approval most of the time). It is true, she did sometimes balk at us, pointing out the ridiculousness of our notions and mildly protesting to some of them; yet rarely did she refuse us the freedom to try them out or take a shot at what we wanted to do.
She was easy going... though she may not have seemed to be as such while often aghast by something she had read in the paper, saw on the news, or observed while out and about. She was kind and generous... she enjoyed buying special gifts for others, and would always try to make everyone that visited feel welcome in her home, like they were a member of the family. She was humble... content to observe all the goings on of her children (and her children's partners in crime) that were constantly swirling in her midst.
And she, so it seemed to me, found immense joy in this world of children and chaos that she and Val had created around them... ultimately consisting of six kids and sixteen grandchildren. While her husband Valentine was the fun loving "Buddy" and boisterous life of the party, Dee was the matriarch and steadfast partner proficiently riding the wave of their full and active lives.
She loved and was loved dearly. She allowed us fun and laughter, while still providing us with comfort and security. She personally gave me so much... the lifelong friendships I enjoy with her two younger daughters and son, a second home to feel so at home at, and a place to always go when I needed a friend, a family, or a place to belong.
For Dee - and for her presence in my life - I am so very grateful.
Rest in Peace
August 6, 1932 - March 1, 2016
Postscript: I read the above eulogy at Dee's funeral on March 8, 2016. Dee had six kids total, but her three youngest children were the exact ages of my older brother, my older sister and I. The six of us were the best of friends all through our school years, as were our parents.
As my dear friends mourn the loss of their mother only one week ago, I identify all too well with what they are feeling right now. I also know the feeling of loss they must have felt when my mom died almost ten years ago, also losing a woman that was like a second mother to them. Our two mothers played such an important role in each other's kids' lives, much more than I think any of us realized when we were young.
It's strange, when you lose people that have always been there, it indelibly changes the landscape of your life. Although the death of my mom was sudden and tragic and she was taken much too soon, the years since her death have ushered in a time where my other elders have begun to naturally fall away... dropping out of my life one by one and leaving me to go it alone and forge out my place as an elder myself, to my children and nieces and nephews. Although all this is expected and a part of life, it is never easy; yet, it teaches us acceptance, and it hopefully reminds us to be grateful for those key people in our lives that are still here with us.