The day after Polly died, I took a drive up the 101 just like I had done with her several years ago when she was out for a visit. I headed north—past the sprawl of the city, past the strawberry fields in Ventura, and past the place where the highway signs start saying San Francisco. As I watched the roadside float by, I replayed that drive I had taken with Polly in my mind. That day we listened to Johnny Cash, we drank sweet frozen coffee drinks, and she remarked that people did an awful lot of sitting in their cars out in Los Angeles.
But no matter how hard you try, you can’t fully burn the memory of a person into your head. The edges fray, the colors fade and the memory dulls, so you start writing things down.
Because I couldn’t take drives with her at whim or see her in person very often, I started calling her on my way to work each morning. And during these calls, I would take notes.
My notes were usually quick, capturing just a snapshot of how Polly saw the world, a viewpoint that was unlike any other.
She said things like:
“They wanna get smart ass, you tell ‘em to call me!”
“I’m gonna go out to the shop and shiver and shake while I get my permanent.”
“You don’t want to be caught writing a bad check; that’s one thing I’ve never done.”
“I hadn’t done my hair, so I looked like a booger.”
“I saw the doctor yesterday. He come a bouncin’ in and said it looks fine, gave me a hug and then left. I tell ya: that’s gonna be an expensive hug.”
“She didn’t know her butt from a hole in the ground!”
“I know you’re smart because you’re mine.”
“We never knew we were poor. We were just happy.”
“I heard some man singing last night, singing ‘I’ll fly Away,’ and he was loud. I thought, ‘I’ll fly YOU away!’”
“You little heifer, you!”
“Well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.”
If I couldn’t have Polly with me in sunny California, I’d sure try to have her in my pocket. Sometimes, when I needed a chuckle, I’d pull out my little notes and have a laugh, remembering her sass me from her chair.
As I took that drive, playing back memories of Polly, I thanked God that I had carved the space out in my life to create those memories. Spending time with a person changes you, if you’ll allow it. Their humor and outlook on life quietly weave themselves into the tapestry of your being, and before you know it you’re carrying around a tiny bit of that person with you.
No pictures or words or songs will ever capture how much Polly meant to each of us. Nothing can quite capture the ache we feel, standing together in the presence of her absence.
But we must continue living. We must completely invest ourselves in the present and in the people around us. And, in doing so, we will carry on those bits goodness Polly impressed upon each of us. Each time we serve one of her pound cakes or make someone laugh, we will see that we have been forever marked by Mrs. Pauline M. Regan.
Unless you act like a hussy, and then there ain’t no help for you.