I met Rosanne at my babysitter's house when I was about 4 or 5 years old. She had long, shiny hair, perfectly parted in the center just like Marsha Brady's, and short white majorette boots with tassels on the front. Along with her school books, she carried a shiny silver baton. She was older--not a grown-up, but the age conjured by the phrase "big sister" when you are 4 or 5 years old. She was at my babysitter's house because she was friends with the babysitter's teenage son. I idolized her immediately.
Any day at the babysitter's house when Rosanne was there became an extra-special day. Although she was there to see the babysitter's son, she had a way of making it seem as if she'd come to hang out with me. So many spring afternoons were spent in the babysitter's backyard with Rosanne showing me dance steps (she studied jazz, tap, and ballet), or putting my hair in braids, or teaching me to twirl the baton. This was no easy task; as a 5-year old, I didn't have the manual dexterity to twirl it through my fingers the way she did--the way that made it look less like a short metal pole and more like a firework. With endless patience, she helped me master a way of twirling from the wrist that was easier for my tiny, uncoordinated self. With this new skill, I could begin to imagine that I might someday have short, white majorette boots of my own...
Several years later, when I was 10 and Rosanne was 21, the babysitter's son asked her to marry him and she said yes. (Looking back, that seems so young for them to have gotten married, but I guess maybe people married younger back then. And they had been friends since middle school, so it seemed really right to everyone.) Rosanne asked my mom if she thought I would like to be a "junior bridesmaid" in the wedding. (She might have asked me to be a flower girl, but at 10 years old I was already nearly 5'8"--several inches taller than the bride-to-be--and she felt that the title of "flower girl" belonged to someone smaller, if not younger, than I was.)
"Junior Bridesmaid" was no empty title. At an age where I felt awkward and gawky and tomboyish and out of place everywhere, she declared me mature and graceful enough to enter the glamorous adult world of trying on gowns and picking out shoes and imagining what song she and the babysitter's son would first dance to. She asked my opinion and listened to it. She expected me to help tie bundles of Jordan almonds in white mesh with ribbon right along with the other bridesmaids. And just as she did with the other bridesmaids, she thanked me with a gift of a small gold heart necklace engraved with my initials. It was intoxicating, being treated as person instead of as a kid. I wanted to be like her in every possible way--not just when I grew up, but right then.
After the wedding, Rosanne and the babysitter's son moved out to a suburb and my family moved to a different suburb and we all lived our lives and hardly saw each other since we no longer walked past each others houses every day when we were out and about. My mom would run into Rosanne from time to time at the grocery store, and she and the babysitter's son came to my high school graduation party and my brother's wedding, and I may have gone to their daughter's baptism. At some point I heard that Rosanne opened a dance studio, which meant she was making other little girls feel special by teaching them ballet or how to twirl a baton, and that made me happy. Later I heard she became a nursing assistant, which meant she was also making sick people feel special by providing them comfort, and that, too, made me happy. But it's easily been 20 years since I've seen her.
Still, I think of her from time to time--usually when digging through my jewelry box and coming across that gold heart necklace from all those years ago. And I've been thinking about her non-stop since my mom called a couple of days ago to tell me that Rosanne had passed away. Usually I roll my eyes when I answer the phone and hear my mom say, "You'll never believe who died..." because it's always someone I barely remember, like my second-grade piano teacher's nephew's wife whose name I never knew. But this was different. When I heard the name Rosanne, the memories rushed in a flood: the white tasseled boots, the dusty backyard, the baton spinning and flashing in the sun like a sparkler.
My heart broke when I learned her death was preceded by a lengthy battle with breast cancer. She'd kept her illness hidden from all but her immediate family because she didn't want anyone to worry. I thought about how common that must be in families where the caregiver suddenly needs significant care. It must be difficult for a wife and a mom and a teacher and a nurse to stop thinking about other people's needs, even as her own needs are proving insurmountable.
Moveable Feast provides meals to people living with HIV/AIDS or undergoing treatment for breast cancer. For as long as they've been able, they've also provided meals to the families of the person in treatment. The need for that extra level of service always seemed obvious to me--people caring for someone with a serious illness have so much to think about things like meal planning wold surely take a back seat. But Rosanne's death made me realize that by serving the families of the patient, Moveable Feast is serving the patient as well. They are providing the patient with peace of mind through the knowledge that their loved ones are still being cared for. There's not a doubt in my mind that Rosanne thought more than once during her illness about whether her husband was getting enough to eat, or that she would be comforted by the regular delivery of a nutritious meal to his door. It has become more clear to me than ever before that Moveable Feast needs to be able to continue to provide services for as long as the need for them exists.
When I started this blog, I figured I'd be writing about training rides and fundraising parties. But two days ago, everything about this year's Ride for the Feast changed for me. Now I know that this year, I'll be riding for Rosanne.
Chair, Ride for the Feast 2009