Pinky Pie

Mary, Amtrak, Scrabble & Me

Posted on: June 25, 2010

Step on a plane and your blood pressure goes up immediately, at least mine does. You stress about how soon you’ll get there and if you’ll miss your connection. And, of course, there are those irrational/rational glances at your fellow passengers, who probably are looking at you suspiciously as well.

On Amtrak, you have no choice but to relax. Even if the train happens to be behind schedule as ours was in late December 2008, there is not much you can do about it. So, you take what comes and go when and where you are taken.

Best of all, you make great friends on the train. The first time we took the Empire Builder out west in 2006, my husband, Dick, played music across country with a couple  whose “roomette” was across the aisle from us. The highlight was singing “Roll on Columbia” across the Columbia Gorge near Portland.

In 2008 we headed to Portland for a niece’s December 27 wedding. Our train was the first to get all the way to Portland after a brutal snowfall paralyzed the west. We had many challenges along the way, but also a great deal of fun.

And, we made great friends: Mary Calvo and her mom, Georgia, who were heading to a family reunion. “We love La Crosse,” they told us when they overheard us talking about the city where we live.

A toast on board the Empire Building with Mary, left, and Georgia.

Family friends of then La Crosse Symphony director Amy Mills, they were season ticket holders. Mary came from St. Paul and Georgia from Waupaca, Wisconsin, for all the concerts.

Also on the train, Mary and Georgia invited us to a martini party with all the fixings. We had it on the day that our very delayed train was supposed to arrive. Michael, who already was 21, commented that it was his first  martini.

Dick and Michael at the martini picnic on board the Empire Builder in 2008.

We might have never seen each other again had we not bonded over Scrabble on the train. Mary, an acquisitions librarian for the St. Paul Librarian, and Georgia, a retired professor, are true wordies. The Urban Dictionary describes wordie this way: “What a foodie is to food, a wordie is to words. A wordie appreciates the nuances, subtleties and power of words and enjoys learning new words and studying the intricacies they offer. Also probably has a large vocabulary.”

I will define a move of mine as a “two-letter word you play in Scrabble.”

Whenever they came to La Crosse for symphony, we played a couple games before the concert. I also convinced Mary to get on Facebook so we could play Scrabble between visits. She became addicted, impatient when I was not immediately available to take my turns in the 25 or so games we had going at any time. I’m not exaggerating.

At times she trounced me and at times I trounced her. And I became impatient when she was not immediately available to take her turns.

When my cancer was diagnosed, she turned out to be a great support. She sent  treats, included chocolate covered bacon (don’t tell my rabbi); books, and researched this or that on the web. Occasionally, she corrected my grammar on my blog. It was needed more than occasionally, but she controlled herself.

In December, as she was passing on the train to see her mother for the holidays, we had a two-minute meeting at the La Crosse station to exchange a few treats. She noted it was exactly one year from when we first met on the train.

Two months ago, I received email from Georgia that included:

“I have to explain why Mary has not been at the Scrabble board all week. She had a severe stroke last Friday afternoon. But she has not only survived, she is making, slowly but truly, a recovery that is predicted to be excellent. Our big excitement is that she talked this morning!”

… This morning with a speech therapist who adjusted the trach so she could try talking, she first said a sort of defiant ‘A – E – I – O – U’  and then, ‘Where the hell AM I?” That’s our girl!’”

Her recovery was supposed to take nearly a year but sadly, anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. She suffered one of those major infections that we read about in newspapers, hoping they will never happen to us. It happened to 51-year-old Mary and kept coming back. Scary stuff.

Last week, she suffered a huge bleed in her brain that Georgia said was not survivable. She died June 18.

Thursday I received information about a memorial program that will be held for her in St. Paul in July. The obituary included the following description:

“World traveler, book-lover, supporter of the arts, avid knitter, gardener, “foodie,” nature devotee, Scrabble and games enthusiast, and dedicated friend. Her intellect, thoughtfulness and whimsical creativity will be missed.”

I couldn’t agree more, especially about missing her intellect, thoughtfulness and whimsical creativity. And oh yes, missing our Scrabble games together.

In July, when I go to that memorial event for Mary in St. Paul, I’ll be the one in a Scrabble T shirt.  And in October, when Dick and I head west for another family wedding, I plan to bring all the fixings for a martini on the California Zephur. We’ll be the ones toasting Mary.

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4 Responses to "Mary, Amtrak, Scrabble & Me"

Thank you so much for the wonderful words about my dear cousin Mary. I should have known that you would know the sad news. I will look for you in your scrabble t-shirt next month.

Mary’s spirit will live in mine until the day we meet again. I love her and her gift of fiendship will support me in the days, weeks and years ahead. We all are feel the loss of this extroidinary friend who so unconditionally gave of herself. Thank you for sharing your love with me.
I remember when I first told her I loved her. I said that sounds funny doesn’t it? She commented no. I was comfortable we felt the same.
Mary lived in Canada when I met her and her family. They had a cottage/home several doors from where I lived. My mom still lives on Camp Cleghorn on the Chain O’Lakes in Waupaca, WI several doors from Georgia. We grew up playing as kids. This woman touched my heart in a way no one else other than Mary could. She will be truely missed. Her spirit, mind and body are free and she is happy. Love Always, Kim

Mary’s spirit will live in mine until the day we meet again. I love her and her gift of fiendship will support me in the days, weeks and years ahead. We all feel the loss of this extraoidinary friend who so unconditionally gave of herself. She is the extra in the ordinary. Thank you for sharing your love with me.
I remember when I first told her I loved her. I said that sounds funny doesn’t it? She commented no. I was comfortable we felt the same.
Mary lived in Canada when I met her and her family. They had a cottage/home several doors from where I lived. My mom still lives on Camp Cleghorn on the Chain O’Lakes in Waupaca, WI several doors from Georgia. We grew up playing as kids. This woman touched my heart in a way no one else other than Mary could. She will be truely missed. Her spirit, mind and body are free and she is happy. Love Always, Kim

I met Mary in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in the 80’s. She was on her World Tour. She was good friends with Jim Strudell in St. Paul and he asked her to look me up. I am sorry to hear of her passing. Her free spirit will be with all of us now.

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