My lovely friend Ruth passed away in January. I wrote a letter to her on my blog last year and I want to share my final letter here too. I read it aloud at her recent memorial service and celebration of life to honor our friendship.
You have been a shining light in my life for as long as I can remember. Your friendship has meant so much to me, and has touched and blessed me and my family in so many ways. As I reach into my memories and my heart, I see just how deeply you’ve changed me and my life for the better.
You filled me with your boundless love and made me feel less lonely. Your smile, optimism and zest for life added joy at many celebrations and milestones, and lifted me up during rough personal times. You were always there for me.
We met at a Mommy & Me Music class when our younger children, Nathan and my daughter Claire, were only two years old. They clanged cymbals and pounded drums while we tried to hold a quiet conversation on the side. I learned you grew up in Massachusetts where I went to college and my husband is from, and you were a recent lawyer turned stay-at-home mom, like me. Your openness, warmth and intelligence drew me to you instantly.
We both sent our younger children to preschool at Montessori and you became one of my first mom friends, helping me find grounding in my new full-time role. My daughter used to ask me “Mommy, is Ruth your best friend?” and I’d say yes. You became like a sister to me too.
You invited me to join PV Juniors and I learned how to be a good volunteer by watching you lead, and began appreciating the pleasure of serving others.
You helped me become a better cook by signing me up for cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma, and I watched in awe as you hosted flawless dinner parties. You made sure there were enough linen napkins and silverware, only the best china and glassware, and we all knew we couldn’t wear white after Labor Day—some East Coast rule. Your sense of style and graciousness was something I aspired to and admired.
We became doubles tennis partners and, although we didn’t win many matches, you made me laugh. You used funny expressions, like “sugar” or “jiminy cricket” when you missed a ball or made a mistake, instead of the words I wanted to shout. You were always classy and kind.
You sponsored me for NCL, a mother/daughter organization you and Grace participated in, and I was able to grow closer to my daughter and other moms, thanks to you.
We spent holidays, birthdays and vacations together with our families, and we all became one big family, surrounded in your arms.
We spent my 50th birthday in Portugal, and we promised that what happens in Portugal, stays in Portugal. It was the girl’s trip of a lifetime, and the last trip you took overseas before you became ill.
There are so many words to describe you, and I want to share some that other friends have expressed.
You are: “lovely, generous, smart, welcoming, gracious, beautiful, soulful, brilliant, witty, gorgeous, a gem, a class act, sweet through and through, someone who took the time, wonderful sense of humor, total acceptance of everyone, a laugh like no other, and too soon to be taken from us.”
The image we all have of you is how bright a light you were in our lives. You always wore cheerful colors, sparkly jewelry, and enjoyed life to the fullest. You were curious, loyal, and deeply devoted to your children, family and friends. I hope to live by your example.
You said to me at my last visit to the hospital in Boston, “Don’t forget me.” Ruth, I will never forget you. I will never forget the privilege I’ve had to be your friend. I love you and will miss you so much. You will always be in my heart and my shimmering light.
Ruth’s family organized a beautiful service. A gorgeous altar wreath encircled Ruth’s ashes. Family friend Me.Kai sang one of Ruth’s favorite songs, 100 Years, which brought me to tears (I’m listening to her now as I write this). We gathered at a lively reception at the church afterward, jotted down memories of Ruth on notecards, and watched a slideshow. Some out-of-town guests, family and friends came over to our house to continue the celebration and enjoyed a table of memorabilia I put together featuring Ruth. Joey liked eyeing the food and the company too.
After months of querying agents, I’m excited to announce that I signed with one earlier this year! She’s an outstanding agent and person, and one who will champion my novel, White Mulberry. Since she’s on the East Coast, I’ve had several Zoom and phone discussions with her, and she seems fantastic. Most of all, she loves my work and that is such a great feeling.
The next step in the path to publication is to attract the interest of editors and hopefully receive an offer to publish. I just completed a mini-book proposal that my agent will review and submit to editors to convince them that my novel is financially viable. The proposal includes an overview, author bio, audience analysis, competitive titles, marketing plan, possible endorsers and a synopsis. I checked out over 40 books from our library to find comps, and had to buy a new book tower for my office to accommodate all my books! Writing the proposal was a very useful exercise to see where my book fits into the marketplace and show there are readers, like yourselves, out there.
I also had one of my writing pieces accepted by CRAFT Literary, an online magazine. They loved my flash creative non-fiction “For Rent” and it will be published this August. Submitting to literary magazines takes discipline and time, in addition to the hours writing and revising, but I want to keep sharing my work. Even if White Mulberry gets picked up by a publisher, it will still probably take a year or two to actually see it in print. I will keep you posted.
Next week I will be attending the AWP Conference and Book Fair in Seattle. The Association of Writers & Poets Conference is one of the largest and most well-recognized conferences for writers, teachers, students, editors and publishers with hundreds of events over four days. I can’t wait to connect for literary conversation and festivities!
As President of the Palos Verdes Board of Library Trustees, I’ve been busy leading our monthly in-person board meetings, attending special meetings, governance workshops, mayor’s luncheons and educator dinners. A highlight was meeting “Thurgood Marshall” at the Living History Museum of African American Heroes, an event at our library commemorating Black History Month.
That’s all the news I have for now. As a final note, many guests at Ruth’s service commented on how much my letter to Ruth moved them, and how letter-writing is a lost art. I love writing letters, as you can see. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone you love? Let me know. I’d appreciate hearing from you.
What I’m Reading
Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang
This was one of my competitive titles for my book proposal which follows a Chinese teenager who is kidnapped, sold into prostitution and poses as a man to survive the American West in the late 1800s. It sheds light on the lives of Chinese immigrants who built railroads and worked in mines who were met with racist persecution when they tried to assimilate into American life. White Mulberry too covers a tumultuous period of Korean history that has been overlooked about an ostracized Korean teenager trying to fit into Japanese society only to be met with racial prejudice. Find it at bookshop.org
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
I read this book for my Smith College book club and we all loved it. The author reveals the struggles and hardship that black citizens faced during America’s Great Migration from 1915 to 1970. The book follows the lives of three ordinary people who fled the South for northern and western cities in search of a better life. It is a must read for anyone who wants to understand one of the great untold stories of American history. Find it at bookshop.org