Praise II

A few people have asked about this morning. These are the notes I used as the basis for what I said. People at the service, including Leslie, seemed to appreciate it. I think I captured what I knew of her mom as well as I could.

    For the last twenty years I’ve been lucky enough to call Leslie my best friend. I met Odessa shortly after Leslie and I graduated from college, when I moved to New York for the first time, and Leslie moved home.
    I should admit, that in my case, like many of Leslie’s college friends, my first affection for Odessa came through her cooking--specifically, her transcendent, superior, delectable green beans.
    Over the coming years, Leslie and I would become best, best friends, and I would come to consider Odessa practically my second mother. When Leslie and I spoke about Odessa, she was always, simply, “Mommy.” “How’s Mommy?” “When is Mommy coming to L.A.?” This was the perfect way to refer to a woman whose life, in many ways, was defined by that role.
    Odessa loved her food. Her nephew Reggie, visiting with Leslie after Odessa’s passing, called her “Auntie Zagat.” And she earned that nickname. In trying to explain Odessa these past couple of weeks to friends who did not have the privilege of knowing her, I’ve talked about her as the consummate New Yorker, a woman who rode the bus all over town, an adventurer, an explorer, in large part to try new restaurants. From homestyle cooking to fine French cuisine, Odessa tried it all. Leslie, by her own recollection, only ever introduced her mother to one favorite restaurant. Ever other place she brought up to her mother, Odessa had already tried. Odessa was always the first person to have tried someplace new, someplace hot. She loved this city, and explored and enjoyed it to the fullest.
    But as we all well know, her greatest love, beyond anything else, was her darling, brilliant, beautiful daughter, Leslie.
    My knowledge of Odessa is defined, simply and utterly, by her relationship to Leslie. Motherhood, mothering Leslie, was everything to Odessa. I have, simply, never known a mother and daughter who were closer, more intertwined, or more sure in their love for one another. A few minutes after Odessa died, Leslie called me to let me know. She said, and I hope she won’t mind my repeating, that she felt as though there were a hole in her, a hole that might never be filled or heal. And that makes sense, because Leslie and Odessa were that close, that supportive, that loving of one another.
    Odessa was the type of parent who supported her child without indulging her. Everyone here, I’m sure, knew Odessa as a woman who was unafraid to speak her mind or her heart. She was that way with Leslie. Leslie always knew exactly where she stood with her mom, good or bad. Last week, in the hospital, Odessa was quick to mention her feelings about he state of Leslie’s hair. (You’ll all notice that it looks beautiful today, and I’m pretty sure Odessa’s looking down and muttering about the fact that it took her memorial service to get Leslie to the beauty parlor.) But Odessa supported Leslie through the hard times and the good. Odessa loved Leslie fiercely. She encouraged her to move to Los Angeles 18 years ago, to go to graduate school, even though it must have been incredibly difficult for her to see Leslie leave New York. Odessa loved Leslie unconditionally. When Leslie and her wonderful partner Natacha faced struggles, as we all do, with the responsibilities of home and children and work, Odessa was there for them both. Odessa loved Leslie completely.
    I always knew how proud Odessa was of Leslie and her accomplishments, but I never saw Odessa as a sentimental person. Last week, though, as I sat with Leslie in Odessa’s apartment after her death, I learned differently. Odessa saved everything from Leslie’s baby pictures to a recent press release from her architecture firm. In looking through one of Odessa’s albums, I found Leslie’s school evaluation from the 1st grade. In it, the teacher praised Leslie to the skies--her intelligence, her sensitivity to others, her perseverance, her delight in achievement. But then, the teacher did something I’ve rarely seen: she also singled out Odessa, her dedication and empathy to her daughter. And as I think about the person I know Leslie to be, this all makes sense. Leslie is her mother’s daughter. She has the same feisty spirit as her mother. She has the same loyalty and pride, the same acute intelligence, the same ability to appreciate and befriend people from all walks of life.
    The hole that Leslie felt in those moments after Odessa’s passing, she will continue to feel in the coming weeks and months as she grieves for Odessa. As the people who love Leslie, and who loved her mom, it is up to us to help her get through the pain that she will surely feel. But I think we also have a duty to remind Leslie that that hole, is, on some level, an illusion. Even without Odessa here, in the physical world, her legacy to Leslie is very real. Her legacy of love, of courage, of humor, and of persistence will, in time, fill up the emptiness that Leslie is now feeling. Her mother’s gifts will always be with her--they made her the person she is, Odessa’s daughter, and her mother would not have it any other way.


monika said...


On so many levels.

What a gift to a friend, what a gift to have such a friend who speaks like this. How amazing to have a mother-daughter relationship like this, so far from the one I know.


Lori N said...

As someone who has never met either of these women, I just wanted to say that this is beautiful. What a loving tribute to both a wonderful woman and her daughter.

This was probably pretty hard for you to get through, given love I hear for Odessa in this piece. I hope you're doing okay.

Nicie said...

Beautiful words, Paige.

I found this today:

Each that we lose takes part of us;
A crescent still abides,
Which like the moon, some turbid night,
Is summoned by the tides.
~Emily Dickinson

swimgirlseries said...

That was really lovely.

meema said...

Your words moved me to tears - this is a beautiful tribute to Odessa - Leslie couldn't have more devoted friend

mitch said...

Lovely portrait. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on her remarkable life.