I was lucky to have a woman I considered a second mother; she lived across the street from us in my hometown and she was more than just a neighbor. She was a nurse, a public health advocate, world traveler, friend, confidant, and guiding force in my life. Her name was Josephine but everyone called her Jo.
Jo and her husband had no children of their own and they were both busy in their careers, a rarity for that time. She had a very modern view of women and independence and a passion for knowledge and education. She would often have me over to dinner “just because” and I loved her cooking, which was markedly different from our house. There were lots of spices and flavors, interesting tastes from around the world. One of my favorites was her stuffed cabbage rolls and I have made them several times over the years, using her recipe. I would help decorate their home for Christmas, assist with gardening projects, or we would have a spa day and do our nails and hair. I learned how to put on nail polish from Jo! She took me on my first train ride to Chicago, where we went to the top of the John Hancock building, followed by what seemed like a very fancy lunch. As I got older, she lectured me on drinking and driving, going to college, and waiting to find the right man in my love life (that was advice I took to heart!). Just before we moved to California she gave me a bracelet that had belonged to her mother. She wanted me to have something special from her knowing our lives would be diverging, at least in geography. I still have that bracelet.
But mostly, Jo and I talked. Her calm demeanor often guided me in the direction of compassion and forgiveness. She always considered me to be “partly hers” and she always thanked my mother for sharing me with her.
She was a great friend to my own mother and father and she remained in my life until today, when she passed away. We had spoken on the phone about a month ago and she was “feeling pretty good” she told me, but slowing down. She wanted to know what I was up to without a job, what was I considering? Jo was always wondering, looking forward in life, and curious about what was next. She was still interested in me, in my life, almost 50 years after we first met.
You see, Jo was the first person on this planet to greet me… My mother was in labor and called Jo over to see if “it was time” and Jo saw the crown of my head entering this world. I was born with a head full of dark brown hair, so it was pretty easy for her to tell that it was, indeed, time!
And today was Jo’s time to pass on to what’s next. She was 93 years old and she led a long and remarkable life. My joyous retreats with Jo were found a few steps away, just across the street called Forest Lane.