Photos are priceless. We know that. Especially when we manage to organize, date and find them. But hearing the voice of someone who has died is barely a second, like listening to old messages on voicemail or pulling up an earlier interview like I did this week when a Pittsburgh radio station took clips of Ceci Sommers, one of them old friend and a giant in public, the radio was playing.
She died a few weeks ago. It’s been a tough month for deaths. Overall and personally. Can i get an amen? I am ready for the brighter days. But there she was, and her voice was sharp and clear from my computer on 50th Street, from a studio hundreds of miles away. As in life, she was persuasive, persuasive, passionate. She could have stood next door. She campaigned for classical music, public radio and homeless shelters for women.
Crazy what we remember, right? I remember her crazy, naughty side, the part of her brain that could tell about the former president that we don’t need to see anymore. “He’s ruining my age.” That was before she met Marjorie Taylor Greene and heard about space lasers. Oy, that could have put pressure on her a lot sooner.
It’s the disrespect I’ll miss, not the good deeds, not the perfect hair, the perfect skin, the perfectly polished toenails and fingernails.
We reconnected about 15 years ago after I took a break from Savannah to do a Masters in creative writing from Chatham University. I was in Savannah for almost 20 years, but I had to go north. After pinning the Chatham thing down, I remembered Ceci had moved there. I drove into town, rang the doorbell at her apartment in Squirrel Hill, and was invited to her 75th birthday party. We hadn’t seen each other in 35 years.
We met in the early 70s when we were both working at WTTW-TV in Chicago. She was in her first really paid job as head of development; I was in my first real writing job in the station’s PR department.
That was before she “ran” from the station to Pittsburgh with a handsome, talented, charismatic producer.
With her by my side, I didn’t have to know anyone in Pittsburgh. She was generous with her friends, her kitchen (can you say pear / parsnip soup?), Her car. That morning when I was driving to Fallingwater with some Savannah friends, when some villains hit the back window of my car, she said, “Take mine.”
But how did she die? I kept asking. It was so important, so quickly. That scared me. It fell on my head in Italy, a friend told me. Note for yourself: never leave the house without a helmet.
Many things annoyed Ceci, which is why I loved her. She didn’t like to suffer fools. I’ve never been a mother, but somehow I could tell when she said, “Murderers get paroled, mothers don’t.” Or, “When I die, I won’t miss bras, panels about women in movies, Clarence Thomas, Joe Lieberman, or the sound of vacuum cleaners.” You “remember” these things when you have emails to check can.
The Christmas carols outside the department stores annoyed them, as did the nearby dueling and singing Buddhist monks in robes who played their tambourines. “Everyone wants to participate,” she would say. “Jimmy Durante said that.”
How many people quote Jimmy Durante? How many people rave about the authors Gary Shteyngart, Julian Barnes and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, who wrote “The Leopard”, one of their favorite books? How many people send Billy Collins poems like “Litany”?
One time she was moving, she told me that she had gotten rid of 600 books, including four sets of Dickens and seven copies of HW Janson’s History of Art.
She once said she felt guilty for throwing away everything that belonged to a deceased loved one. “I’m worried no one will remember her when I’m gone.”
Don’t worry, Ceci. Your books may be gone. But we will remember you.
Contact Jane Fishman at email@example.com or call 912-484-3045.