May 25, 2014: Janie

Janie purportedly "misordered" when she received this whooper!
We celebrated Janie's 80th birthday a few weeks back. My friend Angelique's mom was in town on a visit. We gathered at Roja to raise our glasses for her glorious eightieth milestone. The waitress guessed her age to be 63. A common mistake.

This story has been in sitting on my mind since our little birthday celebration. Although my time at the celebration was short, the conversation with Janie stuck. And the ironic part was that she hadn't a clue that the words she had spoken were impactful to me.

I met Angelique when our boys were in basketball together in 2nd grade. Although many within my circle of friends via Grant's friendships came much earlier, not Angelique. But she was worth the wait. And with her friendship came her mom, Janie.

Angelique had always described her exceptional mom as the original desperate housewife. Every trip to Omaha included the appropriate nightly moisturizer combo with make up in tow to match her perfect clothing. Obviously her hard work toward personal maintenance has paid off. She looks great.

In the black and white family photos I have viewed, Janie was stunning. Dressed to the hilt whether she was serving the Thanksgiving turkey or washing the car. Other than photo colorization and entry into the digital world, little has changed in the photographs adorning this beautiful lady.

Although casual friends in the beginning, a girls trip to Kansas City brought the vibrant and fun Angelique fully into my life. As we shared stories on our trip home, I wondered how I missed this outgoing beauty all those years in the crowded halls of St.Wenceslaus grade school.

Like girls at a slumber party, our road trip was full of stories about first kisses and skipping school. Angelique told her stories like none other, with arms flying with the intensity expected from the youngest child of an Italian dad and Irish mom. This mix was nothing short of a perfect harmony.

Our storytelling shenanigans became a truth or dare contest of sorts with each middle-aged mom blurting out a story topic to be answered by the others. Questions were asked like “what was the worst thing you've ever done and not been caught?” With the answers came first-revealed confessions that led to roaring laughter.

And then a question was asked on a more serious note.

“What was the most impactful event that has shaped you into the person you are today?”

After a litany of stories from birthing a child to meeting a future husband, I prodded the uncharacteristically quiet Angelique for her response.

Without the flailing of hands and absent a smile, Angelique shared the story describing the night her brother was killed in a car accident. When she finished, there wasn't a dry eye in the car. We were speechless. With detail on every moment of that night, as though sketched in memory from days before, Angelique told us of wearing her nine year-old night gown and being awoken by a phone ringing in the middle of the night.

Watching from the shadows of the hallway, she saw her mother drop the phone with in a cry that depicted death. A father lost in pain scurried to retrieve the phone, requesting details on her brother's condition. Little Angelique was scooped up, still in her nightgown, as they drove to the hospital. No one spoke. Just cries.

Her story did not have a happy ending. Her older brother, Tom, died at the age of eighteen. The pain in her storytelling was raw. Like yesterday.

Angelique’s son, Thomas, is her brother’s namesake. Janie lit up when she talked of what a fine young man Thomas has become; now fourteen and off to high school. Janie leaned in to me after I spoke of my affinity toward Thomas and how I enjoyed having him as a favorite friend to my son.

“Do you know what Thomas did for me after my husband died?”

After giving my negative response, Janie proceeded to tell me how on the morning of her husband's funeral, Thomas made her a cup of coffee. He had it ready for her when she awoke for the difficult day ahead. He wanted to comfort her. Take care of Grandma.

“Sandy, he wasn't even eight years old. And there he was with eyes as big as saucers asking me if he could pour me a cup of coffee. And then he asked if I wanted cream or sugar and had my name written on a note next to them! Can you believe it? Such a sweet boy. Just like my Tom.”

We went on to talk about her deceased son. In detail and without a hint of hesitation, Janie described to me the night her son died. I immediately flashed back to the memory of Angelique telling us her story so many years ago on that car drive from Kansas City.

The details that Janie carried in her memory were slightly different from Angelique's; sitting a chair at the hospital with a friend and the exact words spoken on the initial phone call bearing the awful news. But the feeling was just as raw as the words shared by her daughter. Like yesterday.

I listened and thanked Janie for sharing. I really wish I could have met Tom, but knew for that moment in time, l would be happy with listening. I think Janie appreciated that. The need to talk about her son and keep his story alive was strong. The comparison to young Thomas gave us both a smile as she sipped on her over-sized margarita.

In the short hour I sat next to the Janie, I gained some life lessons. The first was reinforcement that raising kind children is a blessing shared with many and in ways that we will never likely know. The authenticity in little Thomas' action of preparing a simple cup of coffee was a kind gesture that Janie will always hold dear to her heart.

The second was that losing a child is sewn into the heart of a mother forever. Time may heal wounds, but the heart never fully recovers. Sometimes just providing a listening ear is the kindness that a broken soul needs. We all have a story to tell. Some stories and feelings don't fade with the years; no matter how often they are told.

Our group toast to Janie was a perfect way to celebrate her fierce entry into her eighties. I look forward to many more celebrations and sharing of life. And next year, I will stay and help with the jumbo margarita. Promise.

(Story wouldn't be complete without a little photo gallery.....)

The original desperate housewife :)
Janie with grand kids (little Thomas in middle)

Angelique and Janie, two beautiful women!


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