This is what I wrote:
Phyllis even tried my stupid hot dog casserole recipe.
She was ever ready to explore new things – new recipes, new books, new theatrical productions, new skills, new travel experiences, new people. Especially new people. She was an INcluder, not an EXcluder, as so many are these days.
She was curious, intelligent, interesting, a great story teller and a loyal friend. She had a wonderful sense of humor. I loved it when she laughed so heartily tears rolled down her cheeks.
I met Phyllis in the 1990s when I worked for a local community newspaper. She contacted the paper about the young adult novel she had just published: One for Sorrow, Two for Joy. I was asked (or maybe I volunteered – I can’t remember) to write about Phyllis for the paper’s weekly personality profile.
Phyllis was delighted. We set up an appointment. I read the book. Then I went to her house to interview her about the book and take a couple of photos. She even had her hair and nails done professionally, so she’d look good in the pictures. She did look good.
The book? That was a story itself – why she wrote it, how she wrote it, how she got it into print. But I learned so much more about Phyllis that day – the exchange students she and her husband had invited into their home for many years; her early jobs; her training for working with deaf children; her daughter, who is deaf; her son; her travels; and on and on.
It was too much to put into one measly article that was supposed to be a short personality profile of a local resident. I wrote the piece mostly about her book, but Phyllis was a multi-dimensional lady.
Some 10 years later, I ran into Phyllis again, at Curves, an exercise franchise that caters to women and promises a 30-minute complete workout. Phyllis was on the exercise machine next to me.
Never shy, “Are you Margie Reins Smith?” she asked.
We were reacquainted immediately. Gradually I learned about her health problems, including a battle with breast cancer. Phyllis was still going strong, however. She was a walking-talking-exercising rechargeable battery.
Time went on and I ended up joining Phyllis’s writing group. There were about six of us then, all with writing projects – novels, travel memoirs, plays, essays and short stories. Phyllis never missed a word, a sentence, a chance to comment, a chance to help the other writers. She took criticism and suggestions about her own projects.
She often forgot her hearing aids, so if she DID miss a word, she stopped us and asked for a repeat.
By then she was in her mid-80s, which might be considered “old” by some. I don’t think either Phyllis or her husband ever ever thought they were old. They might admit to senior citizen status, but never never never OLD.
Phyllis read her work to us – her poems, which were wickedly clever; her short plays which were humorous observations about common human shortcomings; a few short stories; and a collection of letters to her parents that she wrote in the 1950s.
When they were young women in their 20s, Phyllis and a girlfriend sailed to Europe and traveled for three months. Phyllis wrote home almost every day. She asked her parents to keep the letters, which she later put together as a travel journal.
They were wonderful letters. She told about sightseeing, about learning to communicate in a different language, about some skirmishes with her girlfriend, and about several young men she met – some of them hopelessly smitten with her, and about the wonders of travel and the thrill of trying new experiences.
Even then, Phyllis was eager to try new things.
Phyllis is my role model for growing older. Older, not OLD. She was a rechargeable battery. An explorer. An INcluder.
For Pete’s sake, she even tried my Hot Dog Casserole recipe, which was a joke. I don’t think it turned out well for her (probably my fault, as I forgot one step in its preparation) but she, her husband and daughter ate it anyway.
They are missing her terribly. So am I.