There was this woman, Irene, who was the most generous woman I had ever met. She bore a son, Eric, and raised him to be just like her. She was the matriarch of her family, always the leader, strong and firm in her beliefs. I met her ten years ago or so. I recall the summer afternoon, it was warm, sunny, and calm, we were all sitting on the back porch. Immediately, I could sense my wife Denise’s friend sizing me up. Denise was an only child and Irene had all brothers so to each other, they had always been like sisters to one another.
Irene, who sat across from me at the patio table, lowered her sunglasses, leaned into me from across the table and said in a very soft yet affirming tone, “Denise is a great person… and we love her very much, but I warn you… she had better not get hurt!
Denise; caught off guard, did not know how to respond. Irene was giving the big sister speech and I was fine with that. Irene’s husband, Harry, who stood 6’3 and weighed in at a stealth 270 pounds, glanced my way and smiled. Eric, only eleven-years-old and five-foot-seven at the time, was off in never-never land daydreaming of fireflies and skateboarding into a big vat of chocolate ice cream.
After that day, my friendship with Denise’s friends grew. My wife has known them for over thirty years. Every Easter since they have known one another they would get together and make a day out of going to Irene’s church to get baskets blessed and a girl’s hangout, normally held in the kitchen, afterwards. For the past dozen years or so, I would join in and Harry and I would sit around and shoot the bull, while they went off and did their “Easter thing”, as we called it.
It’s always been a joy going to Harry and Irene’s for the Easter thing. I would end up with homemade Polish sausage (Irene is Polish and she makes the best Polish food!), homemade pirogues, and one Easter I was even given Irene’s family hooch; moonshine from a recipe handed down from her ancestors – Yum! I never left their home hungry.
Never a terse word has ever been spoken between Irene, Harry, Eric, and Denise, or I – we have always jelled. A few years ago, Harry was diagnosed with kidney disease, he now requires dialysis. Irene remained resilient for Harry and their son, Eric’s sakes – always had. Eric went off to college. Mom and dad saw to it that Eric would receive a top-notch education. I always thought Eric would end up on a National Football team, but he was too kind-hearted; he would never harm a mosquito’s stinger. Eric grew out of the nickname I bestowed upon him, “Little-man”, he stands about six-foot-six and weighs in around 340 pounds, give or take. Standing next to Eric, one is reminded of how the Lilliputians must have felt standing next to Gulliver. Eric is a fine… huge, young man – he studies biochemistry and ecology.
Many years passed and our friendship grew stronger. We watched each other’s children grow; we watched each other grow. As long as they were there and we were here, and we were available for one another, there was nothing, which seemed insurmountable – no pain too strong, no problem too difficult. A testament of true friendship indeed, enduring the test of time – the pangs of life.
Today on May 6, 2012, a telephone call informs us; Irene passed away. We are indeed grateful for the time we spent together, yet somehow feeling cheated. About two weeks ago, we learned she was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Nobody had a clue she was even sick. As I said she has always been the Rock of Gibraltar. We feel a bolt of pain travel through our hearts, and heaviness all about our bodies.
It’s easy to begin pointing fingers; at the church where she would spend most of her free time devoted to assisting others, at God for not allowing her to stay just a little while longer, at medicine for not catching this any sooner. But when it all comes out in the wash; cancer doesn’t give a damn about anything going on, or who it attacks, it just does what it does – it destroys.
I don’t know if I am any better off for writing this, but I am a writer and that’s what I do; pour my emotions out in art form. One thing is for damn sure though, I am a better person for having been blessed with knowing Irene, even if it was only for ten years. Rest in Peace, Irene Klepacz Randleman, you will surely be missed!
This has been a very sad… View From My Loft