Saturday, June 23, 2012

MamaMelba and My Friend Lynn

Lynn dropped by the house in Bellingham two days ago to tell me some news.  "I came by a couple of days ago but didn't realize you had gone back to college. Congratulations!" she said.

Lynn and I had worked in the Alaska Oilfields at the same time, knew some of the same people. She was an engineer, an environmental scientist. I was in arctic retailing, doing a little writing on the side We ended up living two doors down from each other in Bellingham, two blocks from my Western alma mater.

I knew her when she married her husband Jim. Lynn and Jim would come over to our deck when Joe and I were "on R-n-R" (Lynn had left the North Slope for an environmental job in Washington state). We would watch the sun set over Bellingham Bay, drink wine and eat the Brie cheese and crackers that Lynn and Jim would bring. We talked of life, love, music, old times in Prudhoe Bay, what was happening in Bellingham. Lynn and Jim told us they were trying to start a family and we were all
thrilled  when their twins Bennett and Arianna were born, seven years ago.

My mother Melba lived in Lake Stevens. She was widowed a second time when my stepfather Glenn died in the year 2000. She was a fun-loving and healthy youngster of 76 that year, and suddenly able to come visit her daughters a lot more than she had before.

When the unthinkable happened on Sept. 11, 2001, Joe and I were fortunately on "R-n-R" from Prudhoe Bay. Melba jumped in her car and drove up, and we started playing Scrabble as if there were no tomorrow. We played on the deck overlooking Bellingham Bay when weather permitted; or in the house when the rains of Bellingham fell.

And dear Lynn joined in with us, playing as often as her schedule permitted.

 Melba had an uncanny knack for winning, though she was timid about her spelling, humble about her vocabulary, and often reminded us that she barely passed second grade out here in Washington after her family moved out from North Dakota during the Dust Bowl of the the 1920's.

Hmmmm. The lady who passed second grade "on condition" versus the engineer and the writer, meeting on a playing field of words. And who won more often than not. Her secret was that she was strategic. She never met a triple word square that she didn't try to reach; would never squander a J or an X on a regular square if she could play it on a double or triple. She would hoard any U that she got just in case she got stuck with the pesky Q. Her Scrabble dictionary was so old that it did not contain the Scrabble players' new best friend, the word QI (meaning CHI TEA).

And then there was her technique that we called "pulling a Melba", which was to write a very simple short word next to another simple short word, resulting in the formation of three even shorter words, and racking up points as if she were a Rhodes Scholar.

One time Lynn got stuck at the end of the game with the entire word QUEEN on her tray of letters.
The best of luck to have such a word! became the worst of luck when all those points counted against her--the Q alone is worth 10! Melba clucked her tongue in sympathy, yet managed to win that one because of Lynn's penalty for not being able to play the QUEEN.

And so we played, and so we visited,  any time it was possible that Melba could come while we were on R-n-R and Lynn's scedule permitted.

Lynn often spoke of her mother who lived in Oregon, and how it would be great to get her Mom involved with Scrabble, because after all, isn't it so healthy for the aging mind to challenge it with word games? When the reality was, we just really liked playing it. We played while we drank tea. Sometimes we would drink wine, Melba gamely allowing us to fill "her glass", which was a tiny, crystal, one-ounce cordial glass, with the wine; many times she didn't even finish the ounce, but just wanted to toast with us.

Lynn and Jim and the twins would visit Lynn's mother in Oregon several times a year, wanting to let her know Bennett and Arianna and also just letting her know how much she was loved.

Lynn and I were both so blessed to have mothers who lived so long, but with so much health and zest. Melba was 88 when she passed away this last March. Lynn had wanted to come and play one last Scrabble when Melba was starting on her gradual slide, her sentimental journey home, in Lake Stevens, but it was not to be. Lynn came to Melba's memorial.

And then, two days ago, the news that Lynn brought me was the saddest: her mama had passed from this earth. Lynn and family had just been there a very short time ago. Lynn's daughter Arianna burst into tears at the news; Bennett tried not to let his sadness show at the time.

When Lynn told me of her Great Sadness, she, like  me,  enumerated all the blessings: thanks heavens we saw her a lot. That she wasn't in pain.That she lived into her 90's.  That her grandchildren got to know her. Just like I did when speaking of my mama. We had great mamas and there were  many blessings, even more magnified at the end.

Which may be why the pain of losing these grand ladies is surprisingly greater than Lynn or I ever thought it would be. We know they had good lives, were well loved, were happy. It's just that we miss them so much that we can burst into tears at the drop of a memory. We have no regrets, no unfinished business. Although one last Scrabble game would've been marvelous. 


  1. What a Beautiful post Debs, I remember playing Scrabble with your Mama Melba when you brought her to Prudhoe Bay for a visit. What a dame!!!! miss you!

  2. I'm glad you were able to post again!

  3. Deadhorse, your writing about your mother and SCRABBLE is just what I needed today.