Most people across the US who have heard me speak will recognize the name Bessie Brown. She has been the topic of many wonderful anecdotes and the source of a score of quotes through the 26 years of our friendship. For those that constantly ask… Yes, she’s still kicking! In January she turned 104! She is still as cheerful and sarcastic and wonderful as she ever was, though the tragic disease Alzheimer’s has struck that witty brain that I have so enjoyed sparing with for so long. And though, occasionally, I need to remind her who I am, she still trades hilarious insults and quick “come-backs” to my jabs at her.
Reflecting on our friendship recently, I wanted to share a few “nuggets of wisdom“ I have received from this incredible woman; some intentionally shared as she pinched my ear and some I picked up through the osmosis of our close relationship.
1. “Try everything once unless it’s immoral or illegal.”
Bessie didn’t discover her love of pizza and motorcycles till she was in her 80”s.
2. Collect things you love, but don’t hold on to them tightly.
Bessie was a consummate yard sale/antique buyer, but she collected most things with someone else in mind as the final owner.
3. Enjoy the company of anybody and everybody.
Bessie had hundreds of stories of people she met “at the store” or in a restaurant that ended with “and we’re still friends. She had more friends than anyone I know and her life was so rich because of it.
4. “Play dumb” and keep your mouth shut during conflicts involving family, church, work or friendship.
She always said “I’ll just let em work it out and pick em all up when it’s done.”
She once told me that the only pain she ever felt was the pain of regret. (Regretting what she never tried) She said the pain of failure went away.
6. Plant, cultivate, and grow something.
She loved to grow any kind of plant imaginable. She especially like clippings from other people’s yards and she spent countless hours in her patchwork “garden”.
7. Laugh. Make others laugh too.
My lingering memories of her will be of the constant banter between us and the reactions we got from anyone who was “lucky enough” to be our accidental audience. Even now, in her diminished mental state, she is quick to throw out a “one-liner”.
8. Live thrifty.
Even though her husband died decades ago and Bessie lived on Social Security and odd jobs for years, she never had debt to worry about. If she couldn’t pay for it… she didn’t need it. What a novel idea!
9. “Face changes and do what ya can with what ya got.”
Bessie realized when it was time to stop driving, leading, working, and didn’t ever really complain about those things. She planned for them well in advance. She seemed to enjoy the “next chapter in life” and what that might hold.
I was going to continue with all of the things she taught me but she’s not dead yet! (She says that all the time) I believe that she’s not through:
Enjoying my company,
Laughing with me,
Or planting, cultivating, and growing me…yet.
To be continued….