Thursday, November 8, 2007


Yesterday, standing in my kitchen slicing cheddar cheese, Kate popped into my mind.

I was almost 15 when I met Kate. She had just moved to this area--a freshly minted law degree and two daughters in tow. I became Kate’s babysitter while she embarked on her new legal career.

I admired everything about Kate. She was everything the women in my family were not. Unapologetic for her status as a divorced, working mother (this was in the early 80’s--the beginning of the so-called "Mommy Wars." It was a big damn deal.) Tall and very thin. Educated. Professional.

She stayed out late. She came home drunk. She occasionally brought men home with her. And her men were all over the map. Some were older. Some were obviously far below her socioeconomic class. One was appreciably younger than Kate.

Kate was adventurous. She acted in local stage productions. She skied and sailed. And she was a hella good softball player on her firm’s team, The Ms. Demeanors.

More important than anything else, Kate treated me like an adult. She trusted me implicitly with her kids (who became like sisters to me.) She paid me well, included me in family activities, and wrote a glowing recommendation when it was time for me to move on.

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That’s where the cheddar cheese comes in.

If my mom were slicing cheese to accompany crackers, she would make nice, even little squares--just smaller than the crackers--arrange them on a plate and serve them properly. Not Kate. Kate would stand at her counter, knife and brick of cheese in hand, and make outrageously uneven slashes. This was revolutionary to me. Everything about her life was outrageously uneven. I wanted to be what she was.

I imitated her gait. I realized yesterday I also imitated her cheese slicing method. Cheese--of all things. And one other thing I’m aware that I copied from her is the way she answered the phone. I still answer after her fashion to this day.

And I realize something else. "Phil," the young man who I had a long and committed motherlike friendship with, now answers his phone like I do. Our friendship is over, but that little detail softens the pain of our parting.

I know I’ve been influential in his life, and in much bigger ways than just a phone greeting--but that one little compliment to me . . .

I confess, I hope one day when he’s 40 he notices someone in his life answering the phone like he does and he remembers where that came from. I hope his memories of me are as full of admiration and gratitude as mine are of Kate.

How’s that for egotistical?


Jennifer (Jen on the Edge) said...

I was just musing on my own teenage babysitting gigs recently. Isn't it funny how something so simple can stay with us for so long?

whitenoise said...

I can relate, though in my case it's more the grizzled, old jet captains who diplomatically but very firmly put an egotistical, brash, young second officer back in his place.

Much of who we are comes from the people we've been around. Hopefully, we've chosen the better characteristics to emulate.

ajooja said...

What a great story. :)

My wife cuts and measures everything perfectly when she cooks. I slice it best I can and throw in spices on a whim.

We both cook like our moms. I like that.

countrymouse said...

Yes, Jennifer! I'm surprised at how profound the impact was from some of the most mundane moments of my life. Makes me wonder how I might be influencing (for better or for worse) the impressionable people around me . . .

So, WN, are you now the "grizzled" captain who has to put brash, young second officers back in their place? : )

Thank you for the compliment, ajooja. And thankfully, I do *not* cook like my mother ; )

whitenoise said...

Grizzled? Probably. Somewhere along the line, I became one of the old guys...

No S/Os any more. Modern jets are two-man flight decks. I've had the odd pushy F/O, but they're a generation older than the S/Os. And, since this is a high-performance position, it's pretty easy to lean on those egos.

countrymouse said...

Whitenoise, you bring up another subject: What we thought of as "grizzled" when we were in our teens and twenties is probably exactly what we are now--just folks in their 40's who have some life experience.

Somehow, way back then, getting older didn't apply to me. It wasn't going to happen. I still feel that way when I see some of the ancient pharmacy customers--that state of being is just never going to apply to me : )

Geggie said...

Isn't it crazy the influence that people have on you. Do you wander if Kate still thinks of you?

countrymouse said...

Yes I do wonder, Geggie! And I wish I could get in touch with Kate to tell her what an impact she has had on my life.