Week before last, I got word from my sons, Jon and Andy, that their grandmother and my former mother in law had passed away. She had been in ill health having suffered a stroke some years before and the second one that afflicted her on July 3rd finally ended the life of someone I loved and respected even though we hadn’t communicated in earnest since the first ex Mrs. Me and I divorced a lifetime ago.
I don’t want to concentrate on the loss, though of course I grieve with my sons and the rest of the Ginsburg family. I did want to recount a couple of anecdotes about life with Patty over the years that we interacted. In a nutshell, she was brilliant, articulate, caring and a delight to be around.
Deborah and I lived with her family for about six or seven months at their home in Augusta, GA while I was in the Signal Officers Advanced Course at Fort Gordon. It wasn’t long before we were fully integrated into life with Patty, Deb’s dad, Jack, and the rest of the family. Trying to be the considerate guy, I did what I could to help around the house, though I admit I could have been a much better houseguest.
One day, I was wandering about the house and noticed wet laundry in the washing machine. I says to myself, “Self? You can help out by putting those clothes in the dryer!” So I opened the machines and transferred the goods from the washer to the dryer, set the controls on desert and pushed the “go” button.
Sometime later, I hear this loud gasp from the laundry area. I don’t remember the words that followed – not that there was any profanity involved that I recall, but the next thing I remember is Patty standing in the laundry area holding up a teeny, tiny and particularly luxurious brilliant green cashmere sweater which had once fit her quite nicely. Post drying, it would have been a tight squeeze for my infant son, Jon.
I was horrified.
But I don’t think I was more horrified than Patty was. Here was this really gorgeous, soft, undoubtedly expensive cashmere sweater which had been one of her favorites shrunken down to the size of a dishtowel. Still brilliant green. Still soft as could be. Just a thousand sizes smaller than it had been at the start of the day.
All was quickly forgiven, of course. But I was pretty sure for a while there that I was going to be pitching a tent out in their steeply sloping back yard. It was one of the bigger of many faux pas that I inadvertently perpetrated against the family, but probably the most memorable.
I used to tease her mercilessly for watching reruns of “The Dukes of Hazzard” on cable TV in the evening hours. I know it wasn’t really destination television for her, but somehow I always seemed to catch her sitting in her chair in the family room, feet up on the ottoman and “The Dukes” on the TV. It became a running gag that, upon catching her in the act, that we’d both launch into words of great praise for Bo and Luke Duke, wondering if this were the time they’d finally get nabbed by the law.
When she was watching “The Dukes” or anything else on TV with her feet up, if she wasn’t wearing shoes, she would cross her little toes over the ones next to it. Now while this may seem odd at first to the casual reader, it was a habit I developed myself early in life. I thought I was the only one! I remember the first time I noticed it, I laughed and laughed – so much so that it was a few minutes before I could explain that I was not laughing at her feet per se (I was literally pointing at the time, if memory serves) but rather at the fact that I wasn’t the only one whose little toes got a bit of a workout in front of the TV set.
She was a botanist by interest and training. She was like a kid in a candy store when she came to Belgium to visit us and was able to observe the native foliage that she couldn’t see in the U.S. I remember she had a thick coffee table book on European plants in preparation for her trip.
While in Belgium, she also rearranged our kitchen cabinets and did a superb job. In fact, she did such a good job that when we talked on the phone over the years, I would ask her “Hey Patty, when’re you coming over to rearrange our kitchen cabinets again?” It was my way of saying “We miss you – come visit.” And I’m pretty sure she took it that way.
Even though my marriage to Deborah didn’t last, my respect for Patty did. Even though we didn’t stay in touch, I know through Jon and Andy that she continued to be the amazing woman I knew her to be. I’m sure that the high school students to whom she taught biology for decades would in retrospect also agree.
Patty was unusually kind to me, and for that I am forever in her debt. After all, I still owe her a cashmere sweater.