Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Death of a Friend-Rosella Clemmons Washington

I lost a friend on Monday.

Her name is Rosella Clemmons Washington.  A jazz singer, mother, wife, sister and friend and one of the most joyful people I have ever known.

The truth is, though, that I let her go 18 months ago.  I let my new job, my life, her life, our schedules, get in the way of seeing each other.  And now, I will not see her again until I die.  And I am so very sad that I was not a good friend.  I was a lapsed friend.

Sure, I called.  I left voice-mails.  I sent email and posted on her Facebook page. So, I can try to convince myself that I reached out, I tried.  But I didn’t persist.  I didn’t insist.  I did the polite thing — I didn’t want to intrude.  But somewhere, deep in my bones, I knew Rosella was dying.  And I should have just driven to her house, knocked on the door and fallen together with her into each others’ arms.

If I had, it wouldn’t have changed her outcome.  Rosella had breast cancer.  She beat it once but lost to it in the second round.  She fought.  Chemo and radiation every week.  Every day was long and longer.  She stopped singing, silencing a voice that was so rich, so full, so beautiful that I really believe she is in the heavenly choir, tuning up for her first performance right now.

We met at work 30 years ago.  For 15 of those years, we talked, laughed, celebrated our birthdays, cried, ate out, dined in at each other’s houses.  She was at my daughter’s wedding;  she sang Ave Maria from the balcony with no mike.  There wasn’t a dry  eye in the house.  I was at her wedding and the birth and death of her first child, her daughter, Debra Rose.  She was pregnant with her son the same year my daughter was pregnant with hers.

Cyndy and I were there when Mark Isaiah was born 2 months early  – touched his long, long fingers, nicknamed him ET and hugged the wonderful woman who was his Mom.  Rosella used to hand me Mark Isaiah as soon as I came into the house saying, “he will only stay still for you.”  When he was old enough to walk, little Mark would fling himself into my arms, running his still long, thin fingers through my hair, leaning in for hugs and laughing.

But once we moved to another county and Mark Isaiah started playing sports, Rosella and I had to work hard to find days that worked for both of us.  My schedule was more flexible so I wrapped around hers, going to her house, having lunch with Mama Rose, listening to Rosella brag about her now rapidly growing son, and watching her eyes glow when she looked at him.

But time and tide continued to pull us further apart.  I would go to a concert of hers and drop by to see her at her new home.  Sometimes she would drive out to our house and sit on the deck and give me her wisdom and counsel.  I was struggling at work, doing too much, being trivialized, feeling sorry for myself and not doing much more than complaining.

Rosella frequently opened these counseling sessions with her favorite line for her  stubborn Irish friend, “Does God have to hit you with a 2 x 4 to get you to see what’s right?”  Apparently, the answer was yes.  My sister, and we knew somewhere back in time we had been sisters, was always right, always there to offer advice or consolation and always, always laughing.

So, when I called to sing her Happy Birthday in October of 2012, I got voice mail.  I thought, okay, she’s busy.   But she didn’t call back.  When I called around the holidays to see if we could get together, I got voice mail again but I said I understood.  Holidays, family…but somewhere in the back of my head, a mall voice whispered, “What if…?”  I didn’t answer.  I emailed her instead.

When I called in February and said I wanted to come and see her, there was no reply.  When she finally did call back, she sounded so tired.  She told me she was battling cancer again.  I offered to take her to Philly for treatment but she had to go on weekdays and I was working.  I offered to come up on a Saturday, sit with her, hold her…but she said she was not fit for any company after chemo and radiation.  I told her I understood.  I told her I would do what she wanted me to do but wanted to help.

But she said her friends were helping with the transportation and her church was helping her at home.

I told her I loved her.  She said she loved me too.  And I never heard her voice again.

This morning, I sit here knowing that I should have shoved aside all my reservations, been impolite, driven up to her house and intruded.  Because I might, just once more, have seen, held and hugged this woman who I loved and still love with all my heart.

Rosella’s death has taught me not to wait, not to be concerned about societal restrictions, not to lose another friend without having the chance to say, just one more time, how precious they are to me and how very much I love having them in my life.

Good by Rosella.  I know God was glad to get you back home but I miss you, my sister.

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Filed under Death & Dying, Life & Death, Religion

Oprah’s Maui Farm – One Organic Gardener’s Take

As a gardener, an organic gardener at that, I was interested in the news that Oprah was, “…growing her own food.”

It’s the feature article in the latest issue of her magazine.  And it is a true disappointment.

If she’s gardening, I’d like to know how she keeps her manicure perfect, her make up from streaming down her face and her bright yellow (and very expensive) togs clean.

I garden.  When I garden, I get dirty.  My face ends up streaked with dirt.  My fingernails look like I’ve spent the morning digging for coal instead of digging dirt.  And my clothes have to come off before I come into the house.

And unless one has an absolute army of people to help keep the rows and plants weed free, the organic gardeners I know, including me, use lots of organic mulch — grass clippings, straw, chopped leaves — to keep the veggies happy and health.

Is her concept laudable?  Yes.  Hawaiians import far too much food and eat far too many foods that are not good for them.

Could Oprah be an organic gardener and grow her own food?  Sure, but should she  advertise that she is when about all she does is show up and hold a big butt radish now and again?

I love it when celebrities finally jump into a cause — healthy eating, green living, eco-whatever.  But I really wish celebrities would realize that the rest of us — people around the world who are and have been, “…growing their own food” are not going to be fooled by pictures of them mincing along a row with a wheelbarrow of food that someone else planted, tended and quite probably, harvested.

My organic gardening book is about to be released.  My organic gardening blog of the same name – Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us – is, literally, all about down and dirty gardening.

The blog and book are funny.  They’re a” how to” with a whole lot of stories tossed in about how I learned about organic gardening — mostly the hard way.  And I go out of my way to demystify organic gardening, making it easy, making it enjoyable and making it something that anyone can do without a lot of money, without a lot of hands on deck.

Grow So Easy author's back yard.

Anyone can grow their own food and have fun doing it.

In other words, you don’t have to be Oprah to grow your own food.  In fact, you’ll probably enjoy organic gardening more if you’re not!  Maybe Oprah should visit my back yard and see what a real organic gardener can do with two hands, seeds and dirt.

Oprah’s Maui Farm – Oprah on Growing Her Own Food – Oprah.com.

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Filed under Gardening, Home Ec on Acid, Saving Money, World Changing Ideas

Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion!

I am convinced that my current job at The New Moyer Academy in Wilmington, Delaware is a gift from the Universe.

You see,  in all my other executive positions, Director of Public Relations, Corporate Officer,  Director of Training, not one of these jobs or titles comes close to what I do now.  Sure, I used to be the boss.  I had a job to get done and I learned how to manage teams of Information Technology experts spread across the country, flying from city to city, not seeing my family for months at a time.

I drive to this job every weekday morning.  I sit at one small desk in one small school.   I am the school secretary.

And in my job, at my small desk, I have a chance to make a difference in the lives of children in my school — a school that works with an under served population of children.  A school that has brought me into the lives of these most wonderful, most challenged and most beautiful spirits I have ever spent time with.

Are some of them hard to handle?  Yes.  Are some of them angry? Yes. Are some of them sad, afraid, lonely?  Yes, yes, yes.

But each and everyone of them is special; each is a child with hopes, dreams and desires.  Each of them deserves my respect, my trust and, frankly, my love.

These small ambassadors of life have seen hardships and sorrows most of us will never know.  And they have come through.  They have found a way to patch themselves together, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to come to school against all odds, to come to learn. And I get the chance to reach out and tell them, every day, how special they are, how glad I am to see them, how very much they can do and be.

I have never been a teacher.  I have been taught.  Grade school, middle school, high school, college, and graduate school have exposed me to some wonderful teachers and some lousy teachers.  I wish Rita Pierson had been one of my teachers not because of her subject matter expertise or her curriculum.

Rita Pierson teaches so much more than lessons, words and numbers.  She teaches about the heart, the spirit and the opportunity that every adult in every school, from janitor and secretary to teacher and Principal, has every day to reach out and touch one child’s life.

Listen and learn and maybe take a chance and build some relationships, too.

Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion | Video on TED.com.

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Filed under Inspiring People, Life & Death, Mysteries, Uncategorized, Work, World Changing Ideas