Monday, 14 January 2013
Mary B. Summerlin – R.I.P.
By Lyn Burnstine
[EDITOR'S NOTE: I am deeply sorry to report that last week one of this blog's most popular and prolific contributors, Mary B. Summerlin, has died. She was a wonderful writer and left an excellent collection of stories here.
She and another regular contributor, Lyn Burnstine, were close friends and Lyn graciously agreed to write a remembrance for us.
Mary began sending stories to ESP three years ago and you can find links to them here. There are hundreds of her photographs on her Flickr page.
I said goodbye last week to a wonderful woman, Mary B. Summerlin, my buddy and a frequent Elder Storytelling contributor who sometimes wrote as “Mayrie” - the soft sound of her name as spoken in her own South Carolina accent.
We do have a tendency to praise people who have left this earth as if they had been perfect. I’m an inveterate reader of obituaries, so I know this.
Not every woman who dies can possibly have been “the most wonderful wife, mother and grandmother, living only for her family.” However, my close friend, Mary, who died on January second, just may not have one single detractor on this planet. She was all of those things, and so much more.
She was well-loved by so many people, that I’m sure it will be quite a feat to squeeze them all into the memorial service.
She had been a popular teacher for many years, always jolly yet in charge and full of the wonderful stories that led her into a career as a professional storyteller after retirement.
Her laugh was legendary, her warmth and caring also. Her great love of nature and animals fed her storehouse of stories.
This large woman did everything in a large way. Not content to be just a member of organizations she felt strongly about, she’d soon end up as president of them.
She acquired a camera, initially taking photos of her two precious granddaughters and her many pets. Before long, she was exhibiting and selling them.
She began writing down her oral stories and soon became a blogger, delighting with her southern voice and viewpoint. She became a popular leader of memoir-writing workshops.
And the animals! Hilarious tales of her stint as a pet sitter found their way into her repertoire as well as delightful photos of her own menagerie (two dogs, three cats) and the wildlife surrounding her house in the woods.
Mary and I were first drawn together by our commonalities: we were divorced, single moms of grown kids; we were grandmothers; we were both Unitarian-Universalists; we were writers and performers; we were nature lovers; we were near the same age, and we loved to laugh. Oh, boy, did we love to laugh!
As the years drew us ever closer and added to our travail, we laughed even harder – the more tragic our stories might sound to someone else, the funnier we found them!
She was in and out of hospitals dozens of times in her last year and we got a lot of mileage out of her dubbing it, “the spa.”
MARY: Guess where I’m calling from?
ME: Don’t tell me you’re back in the spa again?
When we were younger, we toured and performed together as storyteller and folksinger. We traveled to storytelling festivals, arts conferences and to Cape Cod vacations.
Our greatest bond crept up on us – photography. I got interested in scenic shots first, then Mary did and by the time she handed down to me my first digital camera, we were both hooked.
The timing was perfect since our wings had been clipped by aging and illnesses by then. We shared hundreds of hours taking the shots and viewing each other’s products.
She became my sister-friend. When I said good-bye to Mary before the morphine haze put her out of reach to hear and respond, I was able to say again, I love you, you’ve been the best friend anybody could ever have had and you’ve been the sister I wished I’d had.
She, who had been my sounding board during many long years of frustration with my blood sister, responded with a faint little chuckle. We both laughed – a fitting closure to our 25 years of laughing together.
We were never able to capture on film the bald eagles that we chased for two winters. I like to imagine her spirit soaring high with them now.
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]