23 years ago today I came home from attending a twins game with my fellow school patrol kids. It was our reward for a job well done. I was overly excited about going to the metrodome and getting to go to the big city. Like a normal 11 year old girl would be. I could tell my mom was trying to be excited, but something was off.
Like all mom’s do she called my dad into my room and sat me down. I could tell she was about to cry, she said “I’m sorry Mannie but Cora died today.” My soul was instantly crushed, I had questions, I was angry, and the tears came seeping out. The last thing I knew was that she was going to the nursing home to recover from a bad fall and that she would be home in a few weeks. It was spring. Cora had to come home to see her violets bloom. Violets were her favorite flower. I felt lied too. At 11 I instantly associated nursing homes with death. Cora went in alive and well she didn’t get to leave.
I cried for hours that night and I was so upset that my parents kept me from school the next day. Ms. Dorothy had plans for me. I went over sniffling with my Mama at my side. Berk and his wife were there too. I remembered him from the pharmacy. Dorothy and Berk decided that I should get to pick out Cora’s final outfit and jewelry.
Through my tears I opened her wardrobe and ran my fingers across her dresses. Her nylons and unmentionables were neatly folded on the shelf, her shoes at the bottom, and her ratty sweaters rested on the hook. The clothes smelled just liked her, I breathed her in as I looked through her dresses. Green was her favorite color. I picked out a green dress with stripes, black shoes, and nylons, because according to Cora a lady always wears nylons. I carefully chose a pair of clip on earrings, a pearl necklace, an owl pendant necklace and the matching Pearl bracelets for her. Basically I had the necklace layering thing down at 11, I am sure Cora shook her head in heaven when I chose not one but two, she’d never wear two.
Her funeral arrived sooner than I liked. I sat in the front row next to my mom in full on ugly cry. People squeezed my shoulder, they thought this was my first funeral. Nope it wasn’t. I just lost my best friend and I was devastated. The minister made mention of our funny pairing, a 97 year old woman with an 11 year old best friend. We laid her to rest in the Wisconsin country side, at the Swedish cemetery.
Since Cora left I have written her 22 letters (#23 will be dropped off on Easter), tended her grave, left photos, and planted flowers. Every time I go I am instantly 11 again and the tears they still fall. I trace my fingers across the letters in her name and clear away the dirt on her stone. A stack of pennies, show the visits I’ve made to this tiny sod yard. She died at 97, 3 years shy of her 100 year goal. If you ask me she died to young.
Cora and I spent hours playing dress up, she’d drape her pearls on me and I’d run around in her heels and with a purse half the size of me. She would always tell me I looked beautiful and would offer me an empty cup of tea. Speaking of tea, Cora would reuse her tea bags three times before she threw them out and she horded condiment packets like I horded barbies. She never let anything go to waste and always always mend her cardigans no matter how ratty they became.
Fifty cent pieces always remind me of Cora. She would drop one in my hand on New Years and would tell me to make a wish as we ate spamoni ice cream. I longed for summer, summer meant sitting in the back room, sipping lemonade while playing dominos. She always beat me by the way, that is until I learned how to properly count. She would just roll with laughter when I won and would say “come on again.” I would beg my parents to let me stay up late so I could watch golden girls and the news with Cora. What she did I wanted to do too.
Cora taught me how to be a lady, to be strong, and to never let anyone decide my future. She’d say “it’s ok to be a spinster Mannie.” Being little I had no idea what a spinster was and that it had to be cool, because Cora was one.
Cora didn’t have any children, I am the one left with her stories. My memories are all that remain of her. The best way I can honor my best friend is by naming a child after her. She will live on through the stories I tell and domino games I play with CoraLeigh. She will be in every violet we pick and every fifty cent piece we wish on.
I know deep in my heart that she is smiling in heaven with my babies at her side. She is watching over a piece of me in heaven as a tend to a piece of her on earth. One day when my turn comes she will be in the rainbow that breaks the storm and lands a baby in my arms.
I was Cora’s and she will always be mine.