Sunday, September 21, 2008

Remembering Jean

Today we mourn the passing of one of the official Bonus Moms of Roxie’s World, our dear friend and Aunt Katie’s actual mom, Jean King. She died yesterday morning after a long battle with spinal stenosis. Jean was 87 years old, a widow and mother of two who served as a Navy nurse in World War II and lived for many years in Japan, Thailand, Turkey, and in numerous places in the U.S. while her husband, an Army colonel, did tours of duty in Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand. Jean moved to Washington in 1998 to be closer to Katie, who tended faithfully and with great compassion to her mother through several surgeries and the challenges of managing the pain of her illness on a daily basis. Our hearts go out to Aunt Katie and her brother Ed as they adjust to life without their vivacious, fun-loving mom.

We have many fond memories of Jean in Roxie’s World. Most of them involve the pleasures of eating, drinking, and lively conversation, activities Jean enjoyed with gusto. She had a hearty laugh and eyes that could light up a room. She loved a stiff drink and a good story and was as happy to hear one as she was to tell one. She was a shrewd judge of character who recognized pretension from a mile away and appreciated a job well done whether the job was big and important or small and humble. Her pride in the accomplishments of her daughter and her friends was palpable and fierce. She was a feminist by nature and a Democrat by common sense.

For years, we kept a bottle of pepper-infused Stoli on hand so that we could offer what Goose called a Jeanie Martini (pepper vodka, a jalapeno-stuffed olive, and a faint trace of vermouth) should the King women happen to stop by, which they often did when Jean was still ambulatory. Jean had a place of honor at many holiday gatherings at our house. She was especially fond of the New Year’s Eve dinner parties the moms threw and admired Moose’s commitment to serving lobster and champagne on such occasions because she agreed that the new year should begin on a note of elegance and extravagance. She would stay at the table for hours happily engaged in conversation with a shifting cast of characters – lawyers, profs, kids, writers, rebels, grad students, gadflies, under-employed ex-chefs incredibly skilled in the art of plating lobsters. Months after such a gathering, Jean would ask after one of her dinner companions. She had an impressive knack for recalling the details of people’s stories. “How’s so-and-so doing?” she would say. “I was worried about that horrible job she was in.”

As the years went by and Jean’s debility increased, we saw less of her in Roxie’s World but treasured our moments together all the more. A favorite memory from the last few years was a Mother’s Day luncheon we had on a splendid, sun-drenched afternoon in 2005. It was a simple meal of grilled shrimp, salad, and sourdough bread, but Jean relished each bite as if it were the most sublime delicacy on earth and praised the cooks to the skies. We ended the feast with a few minutes out on the deck, enjoying the sun. In photographs of the occasion, Jean’s cheeks are gaunt, but her eyes are bright with pleasure. She may have been a shadow of her former self, but even the shadow of such a soul looms large and beautiful and leaves sorrow in its wake when it passes.

Godspeed, sweet friend, and may your journey’s next steps be free of pain. We miss your company, honor your courage, and raise a glass to your great, good spirit – an elegant glass, crystal with a sturdy blue stem, filled with something strong and spicy and fine. And, finally, we send out a song to console ourselves and all who are left trying to remember:

8 comments:

  1. Thank you so much -- for this and all else. Some time at Roxie's was always something to treasure with mom.

    And she also enjoyed Moose's travel pics and stories. I would save them as PDFs to show her at the nursing home and we would admire the photography, the stories and the adventure.

    Over and over these last days we would whisper to her how much we appreciated her courage and adventure.

    Love, Katie

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  2. historiann9:52 PM EDT

    Thanks, Roxie, for that wonderful tribute to Jean King. Ever since my grandmothers died over the past few years, I've had a dearth of salty old ladies in my life. Jean sounds like she would have gotten on very well with my grandmothers, who both liked to "tie one on," have a good meal, and hear people's stories so that they could gossip about them later.

    My condolences to Katie.

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  3. Ah our dear, dear Jean. How she made me smile, how she made me laugh, how she taught me the importance of taking pleasure in other's accomplishments, whether, as you note Rox, large or small.

    Oh, a note on libations: one of those fine evenings, Jean, with a gleam in her eye as she/we exulted in amazing conversation, asked to taste my Bombay Sapphire extra dry martini and then switched to those, and we kept that on hand, too, just in case Katie and Jean stopped by. In the custom of our Norwegian family, I raise a glass to our dear Jean, look across whatever separates her now and into those dancing eyes and delightful, delighted grin, and say, "skål" (pronounced skole).

    I/we love you so very much, Jean. We are very fortunate to have had you in our lives and you will always be a part of us. And, perhaps it goes without saying, but I'll add, we dearly love your daughter Katie, too.
    --Goose

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  4. Dudley's human10:53 PM EDT

    Our deepest sympathy to Katie and to all the inhabitants of Roxie's World who knew Jean King. She sounds like a wonderful woman, and the world is poorer without her.

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  5. Jean was funny, smart, sassy, and a joy to be around. I remember talking to her about our separate experiences in Japan, including the one time she surreptitiously disposed of sake in a flower pot at a high-ranking Japanese officer's house. I wish that I had a chance to spend more time with her when she was well. However, I take some comfort knowing that I see so much of her in Katie.

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  6. Oh that was so sweet and sad all at the same time. I too suffer from a dearth of vodka swilling older ladies. I hope that wherever Jean is, she has a good drink in one hand and entertaining stories to hear and share.

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  7. Never heard the sake in a flowerpot story, Geoffrey -- Thanks for passing it along!

    You'd have enjoyed Jean immensely, Red Queen. She was smart, gutsy, and fun as hell.

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  8. my condolences to you Katie.

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