Lady Abigail kept the ideals of Lady Liberty alive

Lady Abigail kept the ideals of Lady Liberty alive

‘She would explain how seeing Lady Liberty through her students’ eyes allowed her to deeply appreciate our country and all that we stood for in the world, despite our many faults and failings.’

WESTMINSTER WEST — I recently attended a memorial service for a dear friend who died last year at the age of 92.

“Abigail” was a person whom I met through work, someone I probably would have never met under any other circumstance. She became the diamond in the rough in an otherwise nightmarish work experience.

Abigail and I bonded as we tried to maneuver through our trying workdays while learning to communicate with each other. She became deaf in her 50s due to a heredity disease. She didn't read lips well, but she spoke very clearly.

I communicated with her by writing notes and gesturing in a manner that she found hilarious. We were a good team and remained friends once I moved on to other jobs and she retired.

We were an odd couple and had only a few things in common: a love of dogs, a sweet tooth, and similar political views.

Abigail was always dressed to the nines, even when at home and casual. As if by magic, she looked fresh and spotless in the summer heat and was always bejeweled. I was usually donned in a dirty coverall or ratty sweatpants as I walked dogs or gardened and my hands were, more often than not, dirt-stained.

I always made an effort to be presentable when visiting Abigail, but my clean T-shirt, jeans, and earrings contrasted poorly to my friend's sense of style.

This difference evolved into a running joke, where at the beginning of some visits I would curtsy and address her as Lady Abigail. She would, in turn, give me permission to be seated.

Sometimes I would drop by, and Abigail would be eagerly sharing something she'd embroidered or she'd sewn with an equally animated friend. It would bring to mind a home economics class in middle school.

At the end of the fall term I remember bursting into tears because the other girls had knitted beautiful scarves and mittens for Christmas gifts and I had managed to knit only one single row.

My teacher comforted me by telling me that I might not be good at the home arts, as she called them, but I must be good at something.


Needless to say, Abigail excelled in the home arts.

* * *

Abigail was a self-professed couch potato and had been, as she used to say, from day one. Her idea of exercise was walking to the mailbox, which was right outside her door. I was an avid hiker and often sacrificed sleep for the call of the trail in the cool of many early mornings.

Despite our different ways, we liked each other's company and visited regularly. We would talk-slash-write about a variety of topics as we tossed treats to Abigail's little dog and munched on sweets.

As the years passed, Abigail's health issues started to affect her memory and thinking. Even so, she retained old memories and stories. During that phase of our friendship, I would steer her toward my favorite Abigail stories, and she would tell them again and again.

My gesture of friendship was to try to hear them each and every time as if it were the first.

There was the story about her excitement when she took the bus into town with her mother for her first hair perm, not knowing that the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was about to hit.

The bus driver made everyone get off the bus. Abigail and her mother struggled to walk home but could barely stay upright against the ferocity of the wind. They were exhausted to the point of giving up. Then, to her amazement, Abigail saw her adored father driving toward them, and he managed to get them all home, safe and sound.

As for the perm, it was toast.

She also told the story about traveling from the Boston area to Putney for a job interview with the Experiment in International Living (“the Experiment”), an immersive international educational program for high-school students.

For the interview, Abigail dressed to the hilt: complete with a matching hat, purse, gloves, and high heels. Imagine her surprise when she was lead over a stone wall and through a mucky field in order to get from one building to another. Once home, she reported to her father that the interviewers were a bunch of kooks.

But when Abigail was offered the job, she bravely took the leap, joined the “kooks” (who became dear colleagues), and changed the direction of her life in ways large and small.

She had a 25-year stint with the Experiment. The program was so renowned that they were tasked with training the first class of Peace Corps volunteers.

* * *

My favorite story, another Experiment-related one, followed Abigail to other countries as she would chaperone foreign students from their homeland to the United States.

Her beautiful eyes would light up as she described the students' excitement and endless questions. They were teeming with life and joy.

In those days, they traveled by ship. When Abigail described how the students would fall silent as the Statue of Liberty emerged into view, this cynic's eyes would often fill with tears.

She would explain how seeing Lady Liberty through her students' eyes allowed her to deeply appreciate our country and all that we stood for in the world, despite our many faults and failings.

* * *

In these days of Trump, I think the United States' standing in the world is low - very low - and Trump's nasty, childish tweets and inappropriate behavior while visiting other countries is embarrassing beyond words.

Tragically, the death and suffering at our southern border serves as dark proof that he has made a mockery of Lady Liberty and all that she represents. It's hard to feel any pride in our country lately.

We have rarely fully lived up to the aspirations penned in the Declaration of Independence.

Our brilliant founding fathers were men of their times, and the founding documents reflected those times.

They include no rights for Native Americans, who were being slaughtered and ravaged by European diseases. The evil of slavery was entrenched in the economics of the country. And only white, male property owners enjoyed many of the rights the world came to treasure and aspire to.

Yet, in some form or fashion, Americans have never given up on striving to reach those founding ideals. The Declaration of Independence and the more noble moments of our history give me hope, even today.

So, at my cherished friend's memorial service, amid all the other feelings, thoughts, and memories, I remembered how Lady Abigail kept the ideals of Lady Liberty alive for me.

It is one of many reasons I feel blessed to have had some time on this Earth with such a fine person. May she rest in peace.

* * *

§“Give me your tired, your poor,

§Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

§The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

§Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

§I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

-A Portion of “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus

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