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The Secret of Change...

Photo of three Duncan sisters: Susie (Don Sexton), Sarah (Charles McBride), Shirley (Guy Jagger)


 

"Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."  ~ Abraham Lincoln

 

 

THE SECRET OF CHANGE…

 

 

And so the story goes:  as a toddler, I left the party in the living room as I stumbled past all of the clinking cocktail glasses, above my determined gaze, and placed my tiny hands over my huge ears to drown out the raucous laughter and incessant chatter and followed my instincts.  I crawled up eight uncarpeted oak steps, turned right upon the landing and ascended four more to the hallway, monitoring the distressing sound of an infant engaged in sobbing and who was yearning to be acknowledged.  I stood on tiptoe and reached into the bassinet and extricated my nephew Jimmy…clutched him under his teensy armpits and lugged him back toward the steeply descending staircase.  There we stood at the "top of the world, Ma" -- him in swaddling clothes and me in my Mary Janes and with the sash of my hand-made party dress now untied and dragging behind us both.

 

 

Like that once-upon-a-time television commercial, "When E.F. Hutton talks…people listen"?  Why? A gasping hush fell over the crowded room downstairs, as my big sister Shirley, the new mom,  bounded up the staircase two steps at a time and cradled her baby in her arms while glaring at little ole me.  I felt heroic for bringing the baby back to the bathwater…I knew just how he felt.  I empathized.

 

 

Shirley Duncan Jagger died on April 7th, 2015 as did I -- quite a bit.  I am the only family member remaining of our original, adequate tribe of five…a mama and a papa and -- three daughters all seven years apart.  At my sister's visitation I sat on a long couch with other sisters…Shirley's very cordial sisters-in-law, that is: Ellen (Henney), Marge (Mowrey), Ruby(Sherman) and Ardith (Cormany).  Joanne Prater, the next to the youngest Jagger child, died several years back; her son brought a smile to my face -- at long last -- when he spoke of how much I resemble my father.  "Your dad's nose, eyes and cheekbones…," he exclaimed!

 

 

My final smile of that evening occurred when Jimmy's consistently sweet wife Jayne asked if I needed any assistance as I stood alone sort of right smack dab in the middle of the imposingly funereal  room, which was arrayed and bedecked inch by inch with old photographs, memorabilia and flower arrangements. I seldom dress up, and the couch-sitting had rearranged possibly my underwear in some bizarre way.  I behaved like a deer caught in the headlights -- hesitantto make the slightest move…"Deja vu all over again", exceptthat Jim (and Jayne) and Susie are now all in their sixties.  Shirley could not save the day this time, but Jayne did -- very satisfactorily.  I felt totally loved…and the room stopped swirling as Jayne and I chatted about the past and the present and the future and life and et cetera.


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I am impacted quite intensely by the fact that those who formerly played crucial roles, within my life story, seem to be vanishing every couple of months. My dad's baby brother, who might have been able to commiserate with me (re:  the oddity of becoming the "last gladiator standing" with no one left to share that emptying-arena-feeling of having weathered storms and "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune"), died in the autumn of 2014 -- my Uncle Mac.  Mac and I kept accidentally by-passing each other in the years since I last visited with him at my dad's funeral over 30 years ago, at which time my uncle noticed my little Roy (named after my dad who was my son's best friend) forlornly and lackadaisically pacing around the front yard fencepost.  Uncle Mac ambled over and gave him a ten dollar bill and a hug.

 

 

My simpatico cousin, precariously close to my own age, died in March; he and I shared such a genuine and all-encompassing passion/compassion for species other than ourselves. His grave illness had forced him to find a home for his cherished Boston Bull Terrier named Bonnie.  He sent photos of her to me via countless cellphone texting exchanges which we enjoyed engaging in until the very month he passed away in a nursing home. Linder Duncan and I were textbook kindred spirits gadding about (even after the summer sun set) similarly to Harper Lee's fictionally inventive playmates Jem and Scout -- whenever our family visited my dad's home state and returned to that red clay terrain of South Carolina as our family packed into our non-air-conditioned Ford when the world seemed so young.  The years passed too quickly with me visiting him only once again while in college.  We re-established our bond via two reunions only a half-dozen years ago…but had sadly remained 800 miles apart from each other for decades.

 

 

Very very recently, a lady named Edna Leedy (who excelled at portraying Mrs. Claus at Albion holiday festivities and all around Indiana) met us at the Northside Grille downtown to celebrate beautiful Tari Joyce's Valentine-time birthday.  Tari hails from Fargo, North Dakota, and we met on Facebook through a mutual New York hairdresser who bouffanted Jackie O.'s hair frequently and who hosted a radio show in which I participated a hilarious 23 times.  Colin and Tari and I are "family"…that can happen you know.  We added Edna who died of leukemia at the close of April.  I met Edna only once…and she became "family", too!

 

 

In June, a memorial service -- which is the latest trend in the funeral world -- will be held for one of the most shining lights of my existence thus far.  Reed Bertolette, a business associate of my father, also died this past fall.  A Yale graduate, though I never realized he was so blue-blooded due to his absolute humility and down-to-earthiness, this gentleman stole my heart when I was a mere eight years of age. I vowed to marry him. I shared that info with his namesake and son Reed, Jr. when talking with  him in … Hawaii--while asking for directions to the Connecticut Church in case we attend the service.  His dad used to laugh at my lame knock-knock jokes, square danced with me during Old Settler's Days, wrote silly verses in my autograph book, sent me commemorative replica buttons fashioned by his Scovill Company (which had converted to building airplanes during World War II as had Blue Bell changed from manufacturing denim jeans, overalls, and coveralls to military uniforms) which had once dotted the jackets of famous Revolutionary War heroes.  Reed, Sr., also sent us THE most fabulous book ever in our extensive collection -- the dimensions are so unbelievable.  We have never owned a bookshelf mammoth enough since that day when the mailman delivered the intriguing history of the Scovill Corporation -- in 1956!  (As well as a related, famous,popular novel entitled "The Mill on Mad River")  Whoever still may own Wrangler jeans from the late 40s and early 50s can rest assured that those rivets and snaps were manufactured  by…SCOVILL!  


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Just a few closing words about me and those doves of peace that often get released during interment. Our parents raised us well…we three sisters have been around the block socially.  We understood always (well, usually) how to comport ourselves with decorum and aplomb (which sounds like a comedy team?), but I confess that I lost it when a quaking, TREMBLING bird seemed about to be released to symbolically vacate this "jail cell called earth"?  Seated on the front row beside my nephew-in-law Tim Cook, I recall muttering, "Even the Pope Himself has given that practice up due to preying (not praying), errant, ravenous attack-hawks "making lazy circles in the sky…"  Then as the anxious white dove approached me, while the funeral director held the creature tightly for each of us to pet, I fled away to the back of the tent anticipating that otherwise I would spontaneously, unceremoniously intervene and halt the proceedings by kidnapping the poor feathered soul. Anita Fry scrambled after me and demanded that I account for my abrupt exit, and then with impressive finesse compared that glorious dove to a legendary homing pigeon and contended that he would soar right back to his headquarters at the house of Loren and Amy Fry just over the hill -- as quickly as I could shout "Jack Robinson"?

 

 

So, these inevitable life events, which I have catalogued here, simultaneously stunned, saddened and yet enlightened me. Shirley's unique personality seemed larger than life itself…as had my dad's.  Her peaceful countenance in death left an impression that I shall remember always…the quiet strength and the beauty evident in her tranquil face reminded me that I am proud to have "called her…Shirley"…my big (though much more petite than I!) sis.  I observed a changed, transformed demeanor and an easy acceptance deep within her dignified yet delicate features that establish a path to what I previously feared but instead now understand.  "Surely…goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives."  Thank you, Shirley Ann.

 

 

"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new."  ~ Socrates (by way of my dear Facebook fellow blogger Beth Kennedy of Ann Arbor, Michigan)

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