I leave tomorrow morning for Minneapolis. This one wasn’t planned. They never are. Why does it feel we are always gathering together for funerals? I request someone get married or birth a child, give us a different reason to gather. But, nevertheless, we gather. All the women will wear scarfs and pearls and because we will hear Joanne whisper in our ears while we dress. I suspect we will hear her until we join her. I doubt I will ever meet another woman with as much class and elegance as my grandmother had. She set the bar high, very high, in my life in regards of what it meant to be a lady, what it meant to be a woman, what it meant to be a person. She was tough as steel, sharp as a blade, kind as a child, smart as a scholar, and more stylish than I could ever properly appreciate. We gather because she was our leader, under her wing we were created, a legion of Mahoney’s.
Last summer before I went to grad school I went back to Minneapolis and stayed with her for six weeks in the heat of June. She knew why I came, she agreed to it. I was to record her story, a period of her life that has fascinated me since I was a child, the four years she spent living in Southern California near the beach during World War 2. She said to me once, and I never forgot it, “I probably shouldn’t say it, but we had the greatest time during that war.” And I saw before me a world open up. I will not tell you the details of this story, as I work tirelessly and will continue for years to craft it into a novel. But I will never forget those six weeks with her, they were ours. She told me stories she confessed she’d told to no one in forty years over coffee in the mornings, over wine in the evenings. We looked through photographs taken of her and the girls she lived with, the men and soldiers that came to visit, the times they had. We flipped through entries in a guest book one night, only for her to turn to me and say, “everyone in the book is now dead,” before she took her glass and headed off to bed. I think if the afterlife allows us to revisit the best of times in our life, that my grandmother, Joanne, is sitting in that little beach house tan and young and smiling and sipping whiskey, waiting for her husband to come home from war.
Forever classy, forever daring, forever in pearls. I love you.