In August of 1974, I was helping my friend, Bea, in her garden. We were on our knees, weeding, when out of the blue she asked me, "When are you going back to college?"
I had quit college after my freshman year almost a decade earlier, having, as I thought, much better things to do than study. There was the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, and not least, getting married.
The question caught me completely off guard; I said, "I suppose whenever my husband and children can spare me and I miraculously have some money, and - do you know what my college record is like?"
|Beatrice Bruteau, my one-|
time spiritual guide, mentor,
and best friend
"You know your family will be happy to make the necessary adjustments."
"That's probably true..."
"And as for the money, I'm proposing to supply that myself."
I said, "That's ridiculous!"
"No, it isn't."
"There is no way I could ever pay you back, so just forget it."
Standing up and wiping off her hands on a towel, Bea said, "Come inside a few minutes. I want to discuss a business proposition with you."
So we went into her office and she said, "Since I have no children, and I've always wanted a daughter, and you're the closest thing to one, I regard you as my daughter, sort of."
I didn't even know what to say to such an honor as that. Bea is exactly 6 years younger than my mother, born on Mom's birthday.
"But I have no biological children, and Jim is 15 years older than I, so I figure there's a good chance he may die quite a while before me and I'll be left all alone..."
"...with nobody to take care of me," she concluded. "So here's the proposal. I pay for your first two semesters of college. You make top grades and get scholarships to pay for the rest. And when I am old and alone, you make sure I am very well cared for. I do not require you personally to be the caretaker, only to take charge of my affairs and make sure somebody is providing excellent care."
My mouth dropped open; my eyes filled with tears. What kind of a deal was that, so lopsided in my favor?
But we got busy that very afternoon, requesting my transcript from Meredith College, making an appointment with the admissions lady at Wake Forest, etc.
The dear admissions lady took a liking to me and did some sort of finagling to get me in despite my earlier grades - I never did ask or find out how she did it - and next thing I knew, I had a letter of acceptance from the appropriate dean. I ran over to the campus on the second (last) day of registration and signed up for all sorts of exciting classes.
(Greek was the first thing I signed up for, and this was years before Orthodox Christianity was even on my radar, or ever I dreamed I would need Greek for anything other than reading the New Testament.)
I did get top marks as promised (and sent a copy of my report card to the sweetheart in admissions, attached to a large bouquet of roses, which she kept, atop a filing cabinet, dried up, until the day she retired) and I did get the necessary scholarships. The dean in charge of that was startled when, during an appointment with him, he happened to glance down at my transcript from Meredith.
"How did you ever get into Wake Forest?" he asked. "We don't admit students with those kinds of grades."
"I received a letter with your signature on it," I said with a smile.
"It was a mistake! Well, obviously a felicitous mistake."
"I grew up some in the interim."
So he congratulated me on the scholarship as he handed me the certificate.
Well, eventually I did graduate, but meanwhile I had discovered Orthodoxy and was moving away from Bea's New Age eclectic religion, and that was hurtful to Bea; I had been her most ardent disciple for 10 years.
And then the final blow was the break-up of my marriage, regarded by them, I think, as mostly my fault. Not long after that, I moved away and became Orthodox, and that, for practical purposes, was pretty much the end of the friendship.
But there's a sequel, and it happened just a couple of weekends ago, on Mothers Day. I took my sister's daughter Elizabeth and went down to North Carolina to be with my children and Lizzie's various cousins, and my daughter hosted a cookout Saturday night. She took me aside beforehand and said, "I hope you don't mind; Dad's coming." Okay, he and I have been together at numerous weddings, baptisms, birthdays, and the like and have gotten along well; no problem. "But the thing is," Erin continued, "he took the liberty of inviting Bea and Jim."
I said good, there was a thing I had been wanting to say to Bea for a long time. "But invite your neighbors, too, the MacDonalds," I said, "so it won't be just us alone."
So she did, and armed with a prayer and a margarita, I sallied forth to meet my old friends.
And what do you think happened? Exactly what Emily, Anam Cara, and s-p have been recommending. We were all cordial; we asked one another polite questions; Katie MacDonald asked them many more and pretty much took over the conversation for me.
And at the end of the evening, I finally got my chance to say to Bea that I have never forgotten my promise to see she was well cared for in old age. She smiled and said, "Have you heard about Dusty and Barbara who come in every day now to look after us?"
I said yes, I had; I have monitored that all these years. But should the time ever come when they do need me to organize something more or different, I most gladly will.
So Bea smiled again and thanked me and said she needed to be invited back to more such get-togethers, especially whenever the children were involved.