My post title is taken from my note to myself to remember to write this.
When I moved to Atlanta in the mid-90s, I was naive about many things, but one of the most interesting was Southern culture. Once I got to know it, I realized that this culture is not much different from Thai culture, or Jewish, or any culture in which matriarchs are strong and social traditions are fiercely upheld. Southern culture seemed full of hidden rules, and the person who helped me decode it (in the sweetest way possible) was a friend and former co-worker, Kelly Black.
I met Kelly at my first job at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We were both poorly paid advertising helpers, and our job consisted of trotting print ads up and down the hall between the dingy room where the advertising executives sat, to the rooms near the enormous clanking machinery of the printing press where the layout artists sat.
The entire process of putting together the newspaper was complicated, and we worked in the final days of exacto knives and layout boards and wax for sticking things onto other things. Kelly and I spent many a day begging layout artists to laboriously apply changes to print ads, and occasionally there was a change so epic that we’d get our supervisor to tell the ad supervisor to tell various other people to STOP THE PRESS. It felt like being in the trenches with someone, and we got close.
Kelly had a busy life back then. Sometimes I’d ask what she was up to, and she’d say, “Father-daughter day at the baseball field,” or, “bachelorette party for a friend,” or “I had a mother-daughter tea with my mother and some friends.” She had two sisters as well, and I have a vivid memory of Kelly describing how she helped her littlest sister choose some makeup. “We got her soft browns to highlight her eyes.” Kelly was a good sister and daughter and friend… and as you might have noticed, I’m using the past tense.
A few months ago I wondered what Kelly was up to. It had been over ten years since I’d spoken to her. Life before Facebook made keeping in touch a lot less orderly, and I’d broken up with a boyfriend who somehow got to keep the friendship. Then I moved cross-country to Oregon, and Kelly and I lost touch. Right around the time that I was wondering about her, the ex-boyfriend sent me a message. “Tanya, I just found some bad news on the internet today. I’m sorry to be the one to deliver it.” Two news articles about a car accident. One obituary.
The terrible thing is that it happened years ago, when Kelly turned thirty. She was with her new husband and one of her sisters in a car in Colorado, and someone rear-ended them. Kelly died. Nobody else was hurt. It happened just as I was moving back to Georgia to attend graduate school. The problem with finding out about a death years later is that people have already mourned and are trying hard to move past it, but luckily, a mutual friend and I could mourn together. I wondered how her sisters and parents are faring. She was such a good person that I know that she’s left an aching spot in many lives.
I found out about Kelly’s death right before I found out about my own cancer. These two things combined to completely shift my perspective about staying in touch with people. It strengthened my resolve to be better about this, and to take all of the old Southern (or Thai or whatever) traditions of connecting more seriously. I’m not great at this. I’ve moved around a lot, and because of this, I tend to narrow my focus to wherever I am. I cope with everyday life and spend time with the people around me or the people who share my current interests (whatever they are). Therefore, I’m thankful to social media for helping me to reconnect to people across the world that I’ve known, and I’ll definitely take grand old traditions like Mother’s Day a little more seriously.
It was tea that reminded me of Kelly today. I was reading through an article about Mother’s Day presents, and someone posted about a lovely tea set. It was formal yet cosy, and the blogger suggested that it could be used for a mother-daughter tea. I might have to get this for my mother, and we might have to use it together, in memory of a girl who took great care of all the people she loved.
(Images are all from the internet.)