For five years I had a friend named Carol. I described her as ‘my Maude.’ She was 92 when she died, on the Thursday before Halloween. Close friends and family toasted her with gin martinis – it had to be bombay sapphire, and it had to be with a twist (olives “ruin the flavor,” she often repeated).
My friend Carol taught me to have no regrets. ‘You did the BEST you could with the information you HAD at the TIME,’ she would say, as we sipped strong gin martinis in her art and sculpture-filled living room. She was a great listener and coach, and she was sharply witty; she attracted people who were enchanted with the idea of keeping company with an eccentric, intelligent, boozing, fun old woman. And who also didn’t mind receiving her sometimes pushy but well-intentioned advice along the way.
We came to her for advice and companionship, because she needed us for help with small physical tasks or help with the computer, because she was wild and provocative, and for the knock-you-down martinis. We came for the stories about her seaplane flying days, about when Frank Sinatra asked her out, about when she visited Jim Henson’s apartment and saw a giant kermit hanging from the ceiling; we thirsted after details about the young japanese lover who still occupied her thoughts after 40 years; we caught up on her grandchildren who were all about our age. We found an intimacy that we never had with our own grandparents, and a surprising kinship across the 60-year age difference.
My husband and I took Carol to Maine three years ago to visit mutual friends. On the way we stopped for gas in rural Vermont, and while my husband was in the gas station he noticed the attendants craning their necks to see out the window and laughing. Carol had gotten out of the car to stretch, which for her meant performing a prolonged high-kick against the side of a garbage barrel – with her foot at eye level. She didn’t mind the attention. She did the same trick the morning of my wedding two months ago – here she is, with my dad (photo by Carol Sloane):
She wrote a book called Yoga in the Morning, Martini at Night or the First Three-Score and Ten are the Hardest. She had become a yoga teacher in her 70s, and taught until her late 80s. She did yoga every morning, no matter what, and she also believed in laugh therapy – she would look in the mirror and laugh for at least a few minutes each day. She listened to the radio, watched TV, and read books and newspapers; she even used email and started a blog. She would say to me, “you can’t begin to imagine the changes I’ve seen in my lifetime.” She was involved in political groups, she worked at the food co-op, and she was anxious about the impending shortage of water. She liked a stiff drink. She surrounded herself with artists, musicians, and intellectuals – for a period of time she would hold court at events she called ‘Musicales’ in her living room, with live folk music and wine and cheese. It’s easy to understand how she had so much in common with young people.
Carol was an incredible conversationalist and an inquisitive and dynamic person. She grew old and frail on the surface, but her spirit shone with a childlike energy and passion. My only regret is that I never called her in those last weeks, when she was undoubtedly lonely and maybe a little scared, but I know she understood how much she was unabashedly adored by her troupe of followers. We will miss her but it’s comforting to know she is finally at peace, and I’d like to think she’s somewhere in the ether leading yoga classes, telling stories, and sipping martinis.