when pictures fail me…
“Guess who died.”
A statement, not a question, from Dianne, that I got every week. She was already “on it”— hours, or even minutes, hot off the presses. Then a link on her Facebook page.
Dianne acknowledged and appreciated people, living and dead. Every 9/11 anniversary she changed her Facebook profile pic to one of her and FDNY Captain Pat Brown, sitting on Mammaw and Pappaw Watts’s sofa, chatting away. That was her way of honoring Pat and all emergency rescue responders. She was lightening quick with the RIPs, mostly for entertainers who had brought her a lifetime of joy and escape, but also for those who inspired her awe and respect. Betty White. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Hattie McDaniel. People with a hidden story. I half-expected a message from her last week, when Larry Storch from F Troop passed. She would have loved the details in his New York Times obit. Goofy “Corporal Agarn” had the kind of moral fiber that Dianne gravitated toward, based on human decency. Not political or religious dogma.
Dianne forced me to go on Facebook more than I would have liked in the last few years. The pandemic and her colon cancer diagnosis were the minefield that made up all the miles between McAlevy’s Fort and me. So Facebook was how I checked on my sister. A world—her world—opened up to me. She seized the day and venue to continue to live her life to the fullest, sharing everything with everyone, and participating in her family and friends’ joys and concerns. Silly-faced selfies from the ER bed were common.
Dianne drove herself to and from chemo and radiation treatments, and to the ER for various and sundry detours on that long road. Over the mountain and through the woods of uncertainty, under magnificent clouds that beckoned her to stop and take a photo. Or ten. She dodged deer, bears, and bad drivers, mostly with success. Photography was Dianne’s personal creative meditation. Her eye was very good.
Then, there was her heart. That was even better. Dianne did not like to ask for help. She wanted to be the rock for everyone else. Becoming a mother to Delaney provided the role of a lifetime, and it extended beyond, to anyone who needed anything. Even just a “Hey, Hon, how’re ya doing?”
Growing up in the Atomic Age—the 50s and 60s—she and I did what all suburban girls did. We played with Tiny Tears and Barbie dolls, watched TV westerns like Maverick and Wagon Train, and devoured Saturday morning cartoons. We’d cut the crusts off poufy white Sunbeam bread and pack it into bread balls to munch on during Rocky and Bullwinkle or Jonny Quest. We made forts, had snowball battles, and played croquet and badminton at Nana and Pappaw DeWalt’s backyard barbecues. That’s when we’d get to hang out with our cousins. We were the smallest planets, orbiting the nucleus of our grandparents.
When I moved to New York City, Dianne gave me a list of people “to meet.” At the top was Frank Sinatra. I was eighteen and living at the YWCA just a few blocks from Jilly’s, Sinatra’s hangout. I once saw him pull up in a limo and enter, crossing the sidewalk right in front of me. I followed him in but was stopped by the maitre d’. So I sat at the bar in my Landlubber bellbottoms and army-navy bag, ordered a Kahlua and cream, and struck up a conversation with a guy sitting next to me. It was Frank Fontaine, “Crazy Guggenheim,” who we used to laugh like crazy at while watching The Jackie Gleason Show. (I did get his autograph on a Jilly’s menu, but never managed to pass it along to my sis. Sorry! I still have it.)
When Dianne left home and moved to Arizona, I asked her if she could bring me back a tumbleweed for my city apartment. She grabbed one on her drive back east and gave it to me at Christmas. Many years later, I mentioned that it had disintegrated. The following week an Amazon box appeared. I opened it to find a fresh tumbleweed. It now sits on my bedroom lamp.
Just so you know she wasn’t always such an angel—she once took a big, black Magic Marker and drew mustaches on all my Paul McCartney pin-ups. I was furious! But she wanted attention, and our three-year age gap had me galloping into teenager territory.
Dianne, you got all of our attention for all the right reasons—for being kind, generous, gregarious—and for being absolutely and uniquely YOU.
Beautiful story of your sister. Thanks for telling it like it is. She sure had a big heart. Life is empty without her.❤️
Thank you, Anonymous. I wonder if I know you. But you certainly knew her.