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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

My friend Sara died. That was five years ago. Upon returning from vacation and discovering her obituary in the newspaper, I cried. I still miss Sara; but, you may say, she was 92. That doesn’t make it any easier; she was my friend. Although I was a quarter of a century younger than she, we would sit in her kitchen and speak about politics, fashion, family, current events and local happenings.

Never did we suffer from—nothing to talk about. Sara had so much to offer. Twice married to doctors and widowed both times, Sara was quite the doctor’s wife. Head of the hospital auxiliary at “The Beth” (Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey) when her children were growing up, she would read The New York Times and do volunteer work when they were at school. A fashion aficionado, and decorator extraordinaire, Sara enjoyed making exquisite flower arrangements. She lovingly donated her talents making unique fall fruit and flower arrangements for the synagogue bema at the fall harvest holiday of Sukkot.

The last time we chatted in her kitchen, just weeks before her death, she talked in animated detail about plans to have the floor of her front porch repainted. Sara was my mentor when I was Sisterhood President at the synagogue. She went on to be a valued friend for more than a decade and someone to emulate. She would grovel firmly that when I rode by—“if the door is open, you must stop in”—followed up by an endearing laugh. I obliged. I loved to just stop in. Those spontaneous visits, reminiscent of the old days when I was growing up and family and friends would walk in unannounced, seem to be a lost art.

On one of those sporadic encounters, Sara cautioned me to never sell my house…“Stay there and let the children come home to their childhood house and bring their children.” As she walked me around the first floor again, pointing to the fine pieces she had collected, this time she even opened cabinets to reveal more treasures as we stepped into her grand library. All the while, pearls of wisdom streamed from her lips. There was one eye-pleasing view after another. The sofa she had just recently had reupholstered in a classy-looking striped fabric—still covered so her beloved cat wouldn’t spoil it, although her cat had died shortly before that visit—was in her living room. Satisfyingly, she went along with my insistence to keep the cover off, as usual, cementing our friendship with give and take.

When I read the death notice, I called our mutual friend Anne, Sara’s contemporary, who was also one of my Sisterhood President mentors. “Her boys sold the house already,” she was quick to inform me. As I drove by in the ensuing mornings after dropping my son off at the local high school, I wondered why they did that. I paused to think about her three sons. The eldest, a medical doctor, treated me at his office once. I felt really cared for. He came into the waiting room to speak with me—relax me—as though it were just one of those casual visits in his mother’s cozy kitchen. Her son the lawyer, a colleague of my husband’s, joked with me when he was arm in arm with his mother, her eyesight failing, as we bumped into each other (no pun intended) at a local market. I unexpectedly met her architect son from Connecticut on his mother’s porch, where he was rearranging the furniture and potted plants. Could it simply be that her “boys” just couldn’t bear to keep the house with Sara not in it? I think of the wonderful memories there for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren she was privileged to know, and dote upon. Do they know that Sara would tell me she would stand outside at dismissal time and wave to her great-grandchildren as they came by in the yellow school bus? I bet those three little boys waved to the newly painted house. They probably cringed, as did I, when the new owners pulled out the hedges. Tampering with the plants Sara cared for so meticulously seemed sacrilegious.

With her thin, frail frame, she would stand with a big, floppy hat under the hot summer sun, splashing the hose from side to side; I can still conjure up that vision when I pass the house to this day. No doubt the three little boys, reminiscent of her own three boys, kept Sara young. Surely, just like her three grown boys, they think about Sara and all the fun they had inside at holiday and birthday gatherings and sleepovers, as I think about the those discussions in her bright, sunlit kitchen. Did Sara give me misguided advice about the importance of keeping the family house for the family? I guess I’ll never know. For now, I’m keeping the house in which I raised my three children.

By Sharon Mark Cohen