I’ve known Maga my entire life, but I didn’t really know her until 2007. After Jobo’s unexpected death, loneliness became her new roommate and knowing the shape of it too well, I started calling her weekly to check-in, check-up, check on her. Unless I was traveling out of the country (upon which I would send her a postcard), I faithfully called and she dutifully answered.
“Hi, Maga! It’s Abby.”
“Hi, Abby, dear.”
It was the same start to nearly every conversation. Wild travel adventures or quiet quarantine life, Maga was always an attentive audience. “I will always be interested in what you’re doing and where you’re going,” she said. And she meant it. Even this past year with no travel and nothing of note to talk about, Maga always thanked me for calling and for having such a cheerful voice, but it’s me who was grateful for the warm reception she gave me. It’s a rare breed who’s happy every time single time you call.
In August 2016, I began keeping track of our calls, scribbling notes on whatever was nearby trying to capture the cadence of her words. Sometimes the junk mail envelope or notepad was lined with a month’s worth of calls. Sometimes it held just one. I never knew how talkative she’d be or how fresh her memory. She wasn’t aware I was taking notes or recording the emotional threads on my blog (heck, she didn’t know what a blog was), but I think she would have gotten a kick out of them. Most especially because she also always kept a pen and paper nearby.
“I like to jot down little items like that. Catch up on things.” It was one of the facts I cherished because there we were, separated by thousands of miles, and yet, mirror images of each other with our note taking.
I knew the arc of her story (only child raised by a single mother, graduated high school, then college, married college sweetheart, had four kids, lots of grandkids, zillions of great grandkids), but the details were what fascinated me most and what I tried hardest to track down. She was usually content to stick to the present, but occasionally, I’d get a bit of history out of her, like why she and Jobo started sending $2 bills to each grandkid for Valentine’s Day.
“It was a crazy idea, I guess. We have so many grandchildren and it didn’t cost us too much to do that. Plus, $2 bills are unusual and neat.”
Her sense of humor often caught me off guard and made me laugh that much harder for it. In one roundabout conversation that started with her European travels, we got sidetracked by the bright, round, full moon outside. Me: “What do you think it was like to walk on the moon?” Maga: “Well, once you get there, there’s not much to see or do.” Or another time when she made sure to keep me humble: “I was just watching TV. It was sort of dull and I thought of you.”
Some nights, it felt just like two gal pals gossiping. Such as the time I detailed how my sibling’s family had been brought down by a stomach bug and Maga replied, “He didn’t mention anything of the sort to me. I guess one doesn’t really talk about unfortunate things like that. But you and I can talk about it privately.” It was a quick and dirty conversation short on epiphanies or life lessons, but it was one of those silly talks born from regular contact.
“I just need to know when it’s Tuesday because that’s our day. That’s always been our day,” she said. “You and me. We understand loneliness.” And because of that, even if we didn’t have much to say, the quiet was just better together.
Sometimes that quiet was punctuated with her eating her dinner as we chatted. And, of course, dessert was a must. “I like cookies. Always have.”
Sometimes it was the big things she said that I filed away, but mostly, it was all those tiny moments together that added up to one grand story.
What started as a spur of the moment idea transformed into a decades long relationship that filled my life in ways I never saw coming. I treasure the glimpses I got into the matriarch of this family and my heart hangs heavy at not being able to learn anything more. I will, though, always be comforted by one last similarity. Our love of the sky at sunset. This brilliant sky greeted me on the morning of February 5, 2021.
I didn’t yet know Maga had passed, but as I viewed the flat, endless gray sky mere moments later, I instinctively knew she’d had a hand in that beauty. Those colors painting the sky just as our phone calls added color to my Tuesdays. That even though a global pandemic had kept us physically separated this past year, she’d reached out to touch me one last time.
“Good luck and take care and be good.”
Her voice, while no longer just a phone call away, will always be inside my heart.