Friday, April 18, 2014

Remembering Mary Lee May

Every once in a while we come across people who we know will be part of our lives forever. This is true even after they are gone; proof that the heart doesn’t lie.

I am blessed to have such a wonderful sister, Debbie, but I was also blessed by having a second one named Mary Lee. I was “stuck” with my sister, but Mary Lee May Radja was one I chose. (sorry Deb)

We lost her one year ago today. She had been ill for some time, yet nothing could prepare us for when the time came. This is always the case.

Mary Lee May was born in Lombard, Illinois and was 5 years older than me. We grew up together at the family cabin in the Upper Peninsula and spent time at our summer cottage in Wisconsin, as well as making family trips back and forth from Royal Oak to Lombard.

When she was born she was a doll; quite literally because she was so small she had to wear doll clothes. But being tiny allowed her to grow up quickly and she had a personality larger than life. Once a neighborhood bully was picking on her brother Norman and Mary Lee. . .three foot nothing, stepped in with her hands on her hips and said “quit picking on my brother!” It was then that “Little Joe Stranger” was born, modeled after her favorite character on Bonanza. After that display only a few brave souls dared to mess with her.

She had a “can-do” attitude that went with her everywhere in life and she took things on with confidence even if she wasn’t right. . .like when she confidently stated that there were 52 states in American “just like a deck of cards.” Or on her first day as a tour guide in Arizona when she told people they’d be leaving Phoenix and arriving in a place called “Tuscan” (Tucson)

She worked at George Mason University and I’ve always told people that she was responsible for their Cinderella year in the NCAA tournament a few years ago. Whether she was or not, she was a well-loved fixture around there; always eager to help students.

She expressed her love of life with robust laughter and taught me about important people. . .like Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond and the Osmond brothers, Elton John and more. She also taught me important lessons, like “one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch girl.”

She invented a nickname that has stuck with me my entire life that many people outside of my family do not know, but will be divulged here for the first time. During an overzealous lunch at the family table in the cabin one summer, I took the art of sandwich making a little too far for an 8 year old and in an instant the name “Jellyface” was born. Too bad we don’t have pictures, but enough said about that one.

Perhaps her greatest accomplishment (and risk) was sharing her husband Greg with our family. He quickly became part of ours and we are so fortunate to have, love and know him. When they got married their wedding theme was the carpenters “we’ve only just begun” but we joked that Greg’s theme was more like “mission impossible.” Her mother gave Greg an industrial size bottle of aspirin as a wedding gift, though rumor has it he didn’t need them as much as she thought he would.

She excelled at laughter and making us laugh. We loved her, she loved us and we let each other know as much as we could, though its days like this that make me wish we had said it more often.

I miss you Lee Head.