There’s a small restaurant in Northboro, MA, at which I have been having special lunches for many years. It’s set in a little building that looks like a house, and the rooms look like old country rooms, and in order to get inside, you must walk through the kitchen (and say hello to Martha, the owner.) They serve curried chicken salads, and savory scones, and sandwiches made out of the scones, and a bajillion different kinds of tea, and wonderful handmade salad dressings, and a beautiful selection of tarts and pies and things. It was always an occasion, going to go to SpecialTeas, and especially when we’d go there with Lillian.
Lillian was the wife of a doctor colleague of my dad, but the story is much more precious than just that. Once high school sweethearts, they had a terrible misunderstanding and broke up, married other people, had children, and and lived completely separate lives. (Lillian once admitted to me that she had seen Jack in the supermarket one time, but hid from him out of fear and embarrassment.) Many years later, after both of their spouses had died, they reconnected and started dating. As a child, I remember driving past Lillian’s house at the end of my street and hearing mom giggle “look whose car is at Lillian’s!” They eventually married, loved each other very deeply, and in their retirement, led very rich lives. Jack taught me how to model in clay in his basement studio where he carved the most beautiful wooden sculptures. Lillian was active in basically every Jewish group in Worcester.
Jack died many years ago, but Lillian had many years to go, and I just loved her so. Every year for a very long time, I would accompany her to Worcester State College for a touring opera company’s production of whatever opera they were doing that year. She’d pick me up in her boat of a Cadillac, hair perfectly coiffed and excited as ever, and we’d sit in the best seats so that I could read the supertitles without worrying about a tall person in front of me. I looked forward to those evenings so much: it made me feel so special, bouncing in the front bench seat of her car on the way to the college, and talking about why we loved opera as we waited for the conductor to enter the pit.
But loving Lillian wasn’t just about the things we would do together. It was also loving her unbelievably positive personality and demeanor when we’d talk. I can hear her voice so distinctly, saying “Sara, darling,” except with her Worcester accent, it always came out more like “Sayrer, daahling.” Nothing could change her enthusiasm. Any time I’d mention a problem, or a decision I was trying to make, or something that was blocking a path, she would say “I know you’ll figure it out. You’ah very smaht. And smaht girls like you always figure it out.” Talking with Lillian made you feel like there was absolutely nothing you couldn’t do.
The last time I spoke with Lillian was about two weeks ago, as I was leaving a job interview. I called my mother, and she asked if I wanted to speak to the “surprise” person who was accompanying her in the car. When Lillian got on the phone, she told me that she was so happy to hear that I had been on a job interview, and that she was absolutely convinced that I would get the job. She was so enthusiastic, so positive, even though she had been struggling with health issues, and kept telling me that she knew everything would work out.
Lillian died overnight yesterday after a short illness. She was a remarkable 98 years old. To my dear Lillian: I got the job.