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Saturday, December 31, 2011

This One's For Lil

Several years ago I worked for a publishing company, as a secretary in the sales office. I loved that job. I had a blast with my coworkers and I enjoyed what I did and actually looked forward to going to work every morning. Of course the company got bought out, people were laid off, and that was that. Welcome to life, ladies and gentlemen.

In that office, we had a part-time clerical worker, a wonderful old gal by the name of Lillian. Lil took the job to pay for her twice-a-year trips to Italy, and the occasional pair of expensive shoes. She had a twinkle in her eye and a spring in her step and weighed about 90 pounds. She was also full of stories, and all of them great. We found out quite by accident that she used to be a Rockette, and she could still do the time steps and the kicks (demonstrating in the back room by the fax machine, to our everlasting delight). She was also in night school, studying cultural anthropology and art. Did I mention she was 72?

We were working together one New Year's Eve, with the office preparing to close at noon that day. People were bustling about, laughing and talking about their plans. Lil was strangely silent. I went over to wish her a Happy New Year before I headed out the door, and caught her just as she was slipping on her coat.

"Happy New Year, Lil!"
"Oh, same to you! Are you going out?"
"Yeah, somebody my husband knows is having a party. I won't know anybody, but what the hell, right?"
"Live a little, honey. Live while you can. That's what I always say."

She started walking, so I fell into step beside her.

"What about you, Lil? You going out?"
"No, not me. I spend New Year's at home."
"I would have figured you for a party girl."
She smiled slightly. "Yes, I used to be. But that was years ago."
"C'mon Lil, you still got it in you. Kick up your heels!"
"No, it's not for me." We lapsed into silence, waiting for the elevator. The doors opened, we stepped inside, and they shut again, cocooning the two of us for a few moments. Lil cleared her throat delicately, and broke the silence.

"Twenty-five years ago this New Year's Eve, I lost my husband."
"Oh Lil! I'm so sorry. How awful! Was it an accident?"
"Heart attack. We were getting ready to toast each other and the New Year, he was pouring, my back was turned, I heard a strangled sound and he hit the floor, along with the champagne. There was nothing anyone could do."
"Lil...I...God, I'm sorry. Of course you want to be alone. I totally understand."
She straightened her shoulders, and smiled. "Oh, I won't be alone. I have my memories. They're pretty much all good ones, too."

The elevator doors opened, and we stepped out, heading out the doors for the parking lot. I hugged her again as we reached her car.

"See ya." I said, lamely. Wishing her a happy anything just didn't seem right somehow.
"Happy New Year!" She replied, gaily. She opened her door as I began to walk away, but I heard her call my name, so I turned around.

"Yes?" I said.
"Remember what I said," she told me. "Live while you can. Go to that party with your husband and dance every dance and laugh too loud and eat all the stuff you shouldn't and drink an extra glass of champagne for me, okay?"

"I promise, Lil. I'll drink one for you."

This New Year's Eve, when the clock strikes 12, I'll drink to life, to my family, and I'll drink to Lil, as always. And I'll laugh and I'll eat and I'll enjoy that moment, even though the venue has changed to a neighbor's living room, surrounded by all our kids.

I don't know what the New Year will bring, other than possibility. Still, as I stand there on New Year's Eve and I raised my glass and say "This one's for Lil", I won't be as apprehensive as I could be. Yes, I'm facing another hard year as a single mom with a special needs kid and a screaming tight budget, but I know you can get through what you thought you couldn't. I know that no age is too late to do what you really want to do with your life. I know that you never know what the New Year will bring, and that can be a good thing, not necessarily a scary thing. It can be an adventure, if you'll only let it be.

Someday, I'm going to look back on this year, and it will only be a chapter in the book about my fabulously interesting past. I'm going to be a great old gal, and full of stories. Maybe I'll have time to write them down, maybe not. Who knows? I'm going to be awfully busy just living while I can.

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