Loving Lynda: The Sunshiny Queen of Catharine Street
"We cried in each other’s kitchens. But mostly we laughed, at the beauty and briefness and absurdity of it all. During these years I got my first glimpse of Lynda’s other superpower: Tenacity. That her grace and lightness were gossamer wrapped round a titanium core. That she was the toughest bad-ass of them all. "
We bought our house in the nineties-long before any of us had kids. We rode the wave of lawyers that came after the architects started restoring houses with their hip eyeglasses and exquisite taste. Tony was a gifted architect and Lynda was a graphic designer. They were folksy and relatable - 'just regular folk' but with an elevated design eye and trips to Italy. They converted a duplex into a single with a vast backyard that stretched back along three lots. They held hella Kentucky Derby Parties there, with mint juleps and live bluegrass. Whenever I wanted to know the best anything-restaurant,camp, pre-school, atelier, pie-I’d just ask Lynda: she’d already done the research, and was rarely wrong.
We were young mothers together. Three families in a row: Max, Leo and Emma, were born the same year between October 6th and November 29th. Molly and Ali followed. The block was suddenly thick with kids and Lynda was the Sunshiny Queen of Catharine Street. We once saw a child fall. Before I could stub out my cigarette Lynda had already leapt across the street, hugging the bawling girl with one arm while pulling all sorts of remedies from a Mary Poppins-worthy bag I hadn’t even noticed she was carrying. Band-aids. Lollipops Bactine. (Bactine!) Wipes. Lynda was always ready: and her superpower was Kindness: Well, that’s what I thought then.
Lynda had a rollicking sense of whimsy and just enough of a dark streak to be authentic and hilarious. Loved silliness. Puns. Giggling. “A dyslexic man walked into a bra...“ she’d chuckle. Her iconic Halloween costume, reprised yearly, was a Macaroni suit. She’d sit on her stoop with the rest of the neighbors, greeting trick or treaters by name, handing out handfuls of candy (even as I was smacking hands, yelling, ‘one per customer’.) I thought I was the tough one and she was the creampuff: trusting. beautiful inside and out-sweet spun-sugar atop dancer’s legs.
We taught Sunday School together. Lynda was a woman of strong faith: not just ‘Sunday faith’, her generosity of spirit transcended church or dogma and emerged as crystalized faith-in-action; Lynda’s every response was imbued with a biblical Love-thy-neighbor-as-thyself empathy and compassion. No one, NO ONE, walked away from Lynda without feeling better about themselves, better about the world in general.
Lynda was endlessly patient-until she wasn’t. Saintly patient with the rest of us: our foibles, mistakes, missteps and lesser selves. Lynda inspired those in her orbit to live up to the way she saw. us That’s how it felt, anyway. “Love you so much.” she’d write or text me. Again and again over the years. I saved those notes, those tiny beacons of love. Who wouldn’t? I'm not special, but she sure made me feel special.
Most of all Lynda loved her family: loved them with unflappable fierceness. As a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister: she tended to her family like the love-child of Joan of Arc and Betty Crocker; selfless, sublime, and with a fresh pie in the oven.
What else did Lynda love? PennState. Her Kentucky in-laws. The Cape. Spiedies. Music. Pie. Books. Holidays. Sam. Trish. Her pug. Puns. Quilts. Entertaining. Whether it was a pick-up cuppa tea at the table, wine on the steps, her Christmas Cookie Exchange or an open house with a band, Lynda was a gracious hostess, It was impossible to stand with her and not feel seen, welcomed, loved.
Lynda’s openness and joy made living in the city feel like small town America. A magical world where neighbors popped in and out of each other’s kitchens and kids paraded around the block on decorated bikes. Just found a note from ten years ago: “Sorry I missed your call. I left one scrabble set (board) but with 2 bags of letters. I also stuck a fresh bottle of white wine onto your fridge door as a thank you.” Yes, I thought, Lynda’s Kindness is her superpower.
Along the way ‘life happened’. Such happiness: Babies. New jobs and schools. Puppies. Success. Trouble and challenges came too. Loss. Illness. Divorce. Calamity. The 2008 Recession. We weathered the world together. We cried in each other’s kitchens. But mostly we laughed, at the beauty and briefness and absurdity of it all. During these years I got my first glimpse of Lynda’s other superpower: Tenacity. That her grace and lightness were gossamer wrapped round a titanium core. That she was the toughest bad-ass of them all.
Her ultimate superpower turned out to be Hope. Lynda outlived her prognosis but she never outlived her optimism. Her eyes scanned the horizon for the next beautiful thing, the next magic and miracle. Her confidence in the future made us believe too, that good as today is, tomorrow will be even better. In her final illness Lynda walked on hot coals and through a thicket of pain and indignity, yet never faltered in her grace. She chose never to succumb to bitterness. Lynda showed us It’s never over til it’s over - and maybe not even then.
The last time I saw Lynda outside I was crossing Fifth Street and happened to step in front of their red car. Tony was driving. Perhaps they were coming home from an appointment, or back from that last joyful trip to the Cape. He pretended to accelerate. We blew kisses. Lynda was laughing. She looked like she didn’t have a care in the world. I’ll carry that beautiful face with me forever.