Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Missing Claire and Mariana

Two of my dearest friends, Claire Garrett and Mariana Thomas Gregg, are gone.

Claire died last year, Mariana died last week.

In the photo, Claire is on the left, Mariana on the right -- this is a rare photo of Mariana. She hated having us take her picture.

I had been mourning them for a long time before they died, as both of them had begun to recede from us into the terrible fog of Alzheimer’s several years ago.

Both Mariana and Claire were older than I am, but the age difference was part of why I treasured them. Their wisdom, common sense, and sheer grace were ongoing gifts to me. [Somewhere, Mariana is surely giving a very ladylike snort at the very idea of the word “grace” being connected to her – she was a very no-nonsense pragmatic woman who did not see herself that way.]

Mariana was an architect, among the first women to practice that art in Fort Worth. She designed lovely homes with a Japanese influence, full of clean lines and simple elegant beauty. Her son Brian is equally talented. She supported herself and her three sons quite nicely with her work.

She taught me so much. She taught me how to “see” buildings. She taught me more about art than any book or course simply by letting me watch and listen to her reactions at various museum and gallery openings. She was smart and blunt and funny and deeply, essentially kind.

She had the best “eye” for quality I’ve ever encountered. She would walk into a store, a market, an art gallery, and instinctively head straight for the best thing in the building. She knew more about color than most artists.

Shopping with her was always educational. I’d pick up something I was considering purchasing, and look over at her. If the eyebrow went up, I just put it back. Later she might or might not tell me why. Usually she left it to me to figure out.

She taught me a lot about gardening, since she brought that same excellent “eye” to landscaping. She taught me how to fearlessly prune a tree to help it be its best, and she taught me how to see the bones of a garden even amid overgrown brambles and shrubs. She taught me to see beyond the immediate satisfaction of flowers. She taught me to appreciate the thousands of different shades of green that make up a garden and how to value the different textures that various plants add, even if they never ever actually bloom.

She taught me that a few fine clothes beat a lot of merely OK clothes. She taught me that if your feet hurt, it doesn’t matter how cute your shoes are. She was an earthbound realist, and suspending disbelief was not easy for her. I can’t count the numbers of movies we went to where Mariana’s snorts of disbelief had me giggling all through some fantasy of a movie.

Her extremely dry wit caught me off guard all the time, and it was only when I learned to look for the mischievous twinkle in her eye that I began to keep up with her.

Claire and Mariana and Diane Orr and I spent a lot of time talking over meals of excellent food and drink. Claire, Mariana and Diane are all better cooks than I am, so many of these meals were at Claire’s house. Claire would prepare a brisket or a pork loin, and the rest of us would bring salads or vegetable or wine.

These meals taught me what agape means. They were the embodiment of “self-giving loyal concern that freely accepts another and seeks her good.”


Just saying the name makes me feel cosseted and safe.

Claire was an astonishingly beautiful red-haired woman with the best legs in town. She was elegant and classy and all of us wanted to look like her. My daughter, who also has red hair, has always said she wants to look like Claire when she’s a grandmother.

Claire had the gift of hospitality. She made everyone feel welcomed in her home. I’ve lost count of the number of people I met in Claire’s kitchen. We always ended up in Claire’s kitchen, no matter how many times she tried to entice us out into the rest of the house.

After a deck was built onto the back of her house, we’d gather out there, but only if Claire was out there. If she was in the kitchen working, we would all migrate back inside. Being near Claire was wonderful. She made us all feel loved and valued and treasured and safe.

Claire would sit at the head of the long dining room table that Mariana and I had helped her pick out, and preside over conversations that ranged from politics to religion to ethics to raising kids to the strangeness of automobiles to just about any other subject one can think of.

We celebrated the births and accomplishments of children and grandchildren, mourned the death of parents, rejoiced over promotions, comforted the sad, argued with the stubborn, listened to the passionate, and fed our bodies and souls on great food amid love and companionship.

Claire taught me how to be a real hostess, how to be a welcoming presence in the world. She taught me that plates don’t have to match for a dinner party to be a success. She taught me that good food is nice, but good friends matter more.

She taught me that if you wait until your house is perfect to entertain, you’ll never entertain. She told me that if friends are coming over to check on your housekeeping, they aren’t friends.

Claire was the supreme appreciator. I don’t care if you brought her a bouquet of wilted dandelions, she would make you feel you had showered her with rare roses. She thought all of us were the most brilliant, talented, gorgeous people in the world and told us so regularly.

Claire could talk with anyone. Someone once said Claire had raised small talk to an art, but the truth is, there WAS no small talk to Claire. She was genuinely interested in everyone, and they sensed that within seconds of meeting her. People would positively glow under Claire’s regard. She thought they were charming and interesting, and around her, by gosh, they were.

These women have left enormous legacies, even if most of the world might never realize it. Claire’s sons and daughters and grandchildren are all beautiful successful people, endowed with her graces. Mariana’s buildings remain gorgeous, of course, and her sons are handsome talented men, carving out their paths in the world with supreme individuality.

I will never smell a scented geranium without thinking of Claire. I will never prune a tree without thinking of Mariana.

I will miss them for the rest of my life.


Ann said...

Prayers for you in your grief.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

What a truly beautiful tribute to two amazing women. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

And may the memories of all these wonderful gifts they gave you comfort you in your sorrow. Thank you for sharing their stories.

Unknown said...

My deepest sympathy for you in this time of loss.

Unknown said...

Katie, I lost a dear friend about 5 years ago who was about 10 years older than me. We taught together for a number of years and I learned more from her than I did (I think) from anyone else. Annie was the type of woman who was reserved yet was quick to give direction and I could lean on her at any time. My prayer is that the memory of your loved ones will bring you comfort always.

Lea Fallbrook