Saturday, August 4, 2012

Friends Forever

Marcella, Marcella, Marcella.  Marcella Bateman died Wednesday night. She was 80 years old and was a member of my writers group, WWW (Wild Women Writers.) She got such a giggle out of that name.  Marcella knew how to laugh.  That, I think, was her special gift.  That and writing... and being extremely kind... and a little bit naughty... and inspiring people to love her.

The first time I saw Marcella, was in 1997 in Puyallup High School as I waited outside classroom 107.  I had decided to take a writing class and I was watching the glass door as she stepped through, momentarily blocking the evening light.

Our teacher for Fiction and Biography Writing was late. When instructors are late, I tend to doubt myself and I was feeling quite alone until this cute little dark-haired lady walked in, looking frustrated and a little frantic.

She asked "are you waiting for Marjorie Rommel's class?"

"Yes, I am." I was instantly relieved to hear her speak that name. I was in the right place and so was she.

"Oh, thank goodness." Out of breath, she continued on in a rush. "I parked clear on the other side of the building."

Of Course I noticed the wheeled oxygen tank and the clear plastic tubing attached to her nose.  She was winded but I couldn't offer her a seat in the hall so as other students arrived, I began to over-share my reasons for taking a writing class.  "I was reading these novels... and they just didn't go along like I wanted them too... and my sister is a poet so I don't have any interest in poetry... I've never taken a writing class before... blah blah blah. I just kept chatting, because I was nervous about taking a writing class and I wanted the dark haired lady to catch her breath without actually pointing out, "you, my dear, are out of breath."

I can't say for sure what she wore that day but after knowing her all these years, I find myself filling in those blanks with a floral, most likely blue or lavender polyester blend top with matching slacks, topped off with a sweater to keep her slight frame warm, her dark brown salon-do perfectly placed. I can picture her now, patting her hair to make sure it was presentable, her lips painted red and smiling a warm and welcome greeting. Marcella, neat and tidy, cared very much about her appearance.

That day in the hallway, I think she must have had her folder in hand, filled with some of the biographical stories she wrote during her time as a clerk with the Puyallup Police Department, a job she felt lucky to have had along with funny stories of the Sweet Adelines and her stint as one of their members.

That image is how I will always see Marcella.  I am sure she would have preferred not to include the oxygen tank as part of who she was but, we don't get to choose how our friends will remember us. All of those things and how she cared about people is what I will smile about when I am not so sad at the loss of her. She was my dear friend.

My association came after she was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension: a result of her years of smoking, which she mentions in a poignant short story she wrote. Marcella was told to "get your affairs in order.  You have about five years to live." That statement would be a difficult thing to hear from a doctor. But Marcella put a smile on and between her and Roy, they got her affairs in order and while they were at it, they got his in order too.

After that first writing experience, I took another class, and another and yet another.  Eventually, some of the women I met in these writing classes started a writers' group.  What a novel idea. At the time of the first meeting, I couldn't participate, but I had made a strong connection with one of the ladies in the group and she invited me to come to a meeting.  This is where I met some of the most wonderful women I have ever known and the Wild Women Writers were born.

Marcella Bateman was part of this group.

We met once a month and that didn't seem like enough time.  We were all writing some very powerful words and each of our stories, like us, were so different.  The creativity was limitless.  At every meeting, I felt like I had stepped into this incredible world of fact and fantasy.  For me, it was like a new awakening and I began to care very deeply for our little group and each of these ladies filled a different spot in my heart.  We spent our first hour visiting and catching up on the events of our daily lives. The second hour was for our writing.

In this lovely, safe and creative atmosphere, I developed a friendship with Marcella.  She was always such a positive influence in the way she carried herself everyday and in her writing.  She wrote non-fiction and was very careful to write positively about people she worked with over the years.  That was her main concern.  She asked us on more than one occasion, "Do you think that would hurt their feelings?"

I visited Marcella at her home on Wednesdays and we became close. Her focus shifted after her husband, Roy died.  She went from working on compiling her stories for a book, to cleaning out the house and making it easier for Tina and Penny, her daughters, in anticipation of her own death which the doctors told her should have occurred years ago. She showed them!

As part of her "clearing out" plan, she wrote vignettes about the history of heirlooms that she and Roy had collected over the years. She attached the story and then gave them to family members that could relate to those items. I always thought these were incredibly kind gifts. 

When my family moved out of the area, I didn't see that much of my writers. I missed my Wednesdays with Marcella.  The WWW continued to meet and those group meetings got me through each month.  I missed my chats with Marcella, but we did talk on the phone occasionally.

The most difficult thing about Marcella being gone, is that I know time got away from us. I hear about this kind of thing happening often; we get busy, we don't make time and we miss out. I am sad because I missed her and will continue to miss her, I know Marcella wouldn't want me to be sad. She would want me to think of her and smile... to remember the music and the laughter that were the life-force she shared with us in our meetings and as a friend. She also would want us to reminisce about her writing.  She was a terrific writer of nostalgia and the documentation of her family history, stories she told with love and care. 

This is who Marcella, my friend for me.  A kind spirit. I know she would love for us to be BFFs. I can almost hear her giggle, nudge Roy and wink at us from heaven.  Best friends forever.

Marcella and Me at her 80th Birthday party.


  1. Oh, Darcy. Thank you for writing about Marcella here. I'm so grateful. And so very sad.

    I remember driving away from WWW many times, wondering how the hell did I get so be part of this amazing group of women whom I loved and who loved me so. The organic nature of our origins. Knowing we couldn't have orchestrated such chemistry if we'd tried. We were the perfect mix.
    And Marcella was our Matron Saint. Our Mother Bear. Fiercely loyal and unbelievably faithful, considering her health. Her stories were like Norman Rockwell paintings with an 'edge.' She had a dry humor and read her pieces with a straight face. But a sparkle in her eye.
    I stopped by to see her, aside from a writer's meeting, not long after Roy's funeral. And she gave me some of the most unforgettable words of advice I've ever received. Too personal to share here, but profound and heartfelt. I'll never forget that conversation.

    I'm so fortunate to have known her. To have heard her stories. To have heard her laugh. To have experienced her love. And I will miss her.

  2. Dear Darcy: What beautiful words you have written about Mom. I love hearing about the special relationships Mom had to others away from the family. She was such an accomplished person throughout her life; but always somewhat doubtful about those accomplished when talking to Penny & I. I will miss her forever.

  3. My first memory of Marcella is also with her oxygen tank, in Bjorn's writing class -- the one after the one you wrote about here, Darcy. She sat a couple chairs away from me, to my left. But I also remember her wise expression. She had this way of appearing quite wise and sweet at the same time - sort of a stance - and yes, there was always that twinkle in her eye.

    I learned a lot from her - through her writing. She had so much love for people and her writings were indeed so like a Norman Rockwell, but maybe mixed with a song from John Denver too.

    I hope that somewhere along the road I actually told her how much she meant to me. But I do have a memory that I will always treasure and I believe that Marcella felt the same about all of us - the WWWers.

    We had all been invited to her house. She wasn't well, and it was easier on her to meet there. When we all got there and sat in a circle in her living room, she said that she had something for all of us. In turn, she gave us each a book by Robert Fulghum, called All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten. Then she gave us each a box of crayons and told us to read pages 49-52.

    I don't know what I finally did with that box of 64, but I can tell you because of Marcella, I used them. I sometimes just opened the box to smell them (how can anyone not feel happy after that?) and sometimes I actually took them all out and colored with them. It was one of the best gifts, ever.

    I don't always cry when I lose someone, but I cried a lot after I signed off of my computer that day I read about her passing. My life no longer included an eye-sparkling crayon-giving friend in Washington who wrote little vignettes about objects and people, and with the same love for both in whatever she wrote.

    I found my Robert Fulgham book and I read several stories this past week. Of course, I thought of her.

    Marcella, you, my friend, were definitely the periwinkle in the whole big box of colors.

    Tina and Penny, huge hugs to you. Darcy, this is beautiful. thank you for sharing it.

    1. It's nice to think of Marcella loving us, because I know we all loved her. Laura, thank you so much for sharing this story.

    2. beautiful Darcy
      simple smells, the glimpse of the sun in a certain spot, the sound of a blue jay can spark wonderful memories... i am so glad you had this experience.

      Theresa Carr

  4. I re-found this quote today and thought of Marcella:

    "The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen."
    --- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

  5. Thats Lovely. Thank you, Barbie.