Archived Post March 2009

March 2009

Camille and Jean

The Immaculately Dressed Bingo Buddies

This ain’t a song for the broken-hearted.  No silent prayer for the faith-departed.  I ain’t gonna be just a face in the crowd. 
You’re gonna hear my voice, when I shout it out loud.  It’s my life. It’s now or never. 
I ain’t gonna live forever.  I just want to live while I’m alive. My heart is like an open highway.  Like Frankie said I did it my way. 
I just wanna live while I’m alive.  It’s my life.  This is for the ones who stood their ground. . .
       ~ Bon Jovi ~

            We recently had some new friends to dinner, who made it into our neighborhood, before getting lost in the maze of houses, which mostly look alike.  They stopped a pedestrian to ask for directions, who eventually asked them where they were trying to go?  The response was to Kate and Jill’s house.  Oh, the pedestrian answered, pointing out our home.  Later, the new friends, asked us how we became so famous?  I responded that ours was more about infamy. 

         About a year after we bought our house, we got involved with our HOA, home owners association; about a year after that, we went to war with our home owners association.  There had been a lot of little things which we took issue with, mostly regarding fiscal irregularities and the way certain home owners were signaled out for harassment. We had not been on any hit list, but one of the powers that be came after Phil, our next door neighbor; a man well into his 90’s, and the boxing gloves went on.  Without Phil’s permission, his Syrian cherry trees were butchered.  Phil had planned to place a gated arch in his grove of trees, and create a place to sit and contemplate.  I will never forget the look of sheer devastation, which washed over his face, when he saw what was left of his beloved trees.

          The war was long and hard fought.  There were petitions, flyers, door to door campaigns, committees, both clandestine and open meetings, protest and photographs in the newspaper, letters to the editors, complaints and charges with criminal and state agencies.  We eventually had to change our phone number, had our car vandalized, were repeatedly threatened, harassed and literally man handled.  In the end, justice did prevail and we made some very good friends, who fought in the trenches, without fear or self regard; and yes we became infamous. 

          For a while, we would go to the pool or to an HOA meeting, and people literally seemed afraid to be seen speaking with us.  There would be those quick head nods and half smiles, and then our neighbors would turn away fearful of being associated with us, and thus incurring the wrath being vented in our direction.  I did not blame them, as I did not wish our misery on anyone else. 

          I remember leaving an HOA meeting, shortly after the war had finished, and being stopped by Jean and Camille, who were standing behind the kitchen counter, where they had both spent so many countless hours, preparing refreshments for their neighbors.   “You should try the strawberries, aren’t they beautiful!”  Jean said with great enthusiasm.  Camille quickly followed offering me cookies and asking if I wanted coffee.  I stood there several minutes, mumbling something, while wondering if they were really speaking to me. 

          It had been a bad meeting.  Not a horrible meeting – no blood had been shed, but a bad enough meeting that I just wanted to go home and once again beg Kate to put our house on the market.  A lot of our soldier friends had wisely sold their homes, at the height of the market, and many others had been pushed out by Hurricane Wilma. Camille and Jean’s kindness surprised me and deeply moved me. 

          I have always thought of Jean and Camille together.  They had homes across the street, from one another, on the best cul-de-sac, in the neighborhood, because, of course, Jean and Camille had homes across the street from each other.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to a few of their block parties, and truly there were no better hostesses.  They made their street the place to be!

           The two women looked alike to me.  They were always well dressed in perfect Floridian fashion, they were both always well groomed, with perfect hair and nails, and they both always carried very fashionable handbags.  Though Camille was taller than Jean, and there was a good fifteen years between them, and Jean was a blond and Camille ran toward the brownish – red end.  Jean is very soft spoken, with a waspyness to her.  She is from Pennsylvanian.  While Camille was from New York, with that New Yorker accent, and a very loud, passionate voice which was always raised in support of those she loved and the issues she cared about. 

          Neither Jean nor Camille had been a part of the war.  Camille and Jean had not been recruited by either side.  They both seemed to float above the fray.  They had always been involved in the community, contributing their time and efforts by serving on the board and working tirelessly in the kitchen, and lending a helping hand when needed.  I remember walking away from that strawberry conversation thinking perhaps there was hope; and adding Camille and Jean to our Christmas cookie list. 

         Jean and Camille also shared decade’s long marriages with men they loved, which we were fortunate to meet.  Jean was married to Al, to whom she was devoted.  Last autumn we lost Al to diabetes.  Camille was married to Joe, who is a gem.  The two couples celebrated life’s millstones together and always shared Christmas Eve.  Al and Camille’s Italian heritage set the Christmas Eve menu, which would include a vast array of delicious seafood and pasta prepared by Camille and Jean, and served not only to their husbands, but to any friends and neighbors in need of a warm and loving environment in which to pass the holiday. 

         Kate and I were blessed to sit at that bountiful table that overflowed with love.  We had been dropping off Christmas cookies, when we were graciously invited to sit down and share a meal with these kind and lovely people. We had politely tried to decline, but no one would take no for an answer.  I shall never forget that evening. 


            Yesterday, Helen, who also lives on the best street, in the neighborhood, called to tell us that Camille had been put on life support and that it did not look good.  There is no worse phone call to hear – someone you love is not well and all of the magic potions and machines do not seem to be enough.  As I heard Helen’s words, my heart sank.  I did not understand how this could be. 

            Around Thanksgiving, Camille, who had been losing weight for several months, began to have a great deal of pain, in her legs.  She was having trouble walking, and went to see the doctor.  By the time we came back, from our trip to Maine, Camille was already in the hospital.  It was Helen who also called to share the news.  Camille had developed blood clots in her legs and lungs, and the test to diagnose the blood clots had revealed that she was also suffering from pancreatic cancer.  As Helen spoke, I thought of my Uncle David, who had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away a few months before, from a series of events which included blood clots in the same places, and who had the same screens placed in his body, to solve the problem.  Camille was optimistic and sure she was going to win this battle. 

            I started to replay Camille’s last words to me.  I think one of the things which Camille and I shared was our mutual respect for the right to speak our mind.   She is one of the only people, in my life, who never tried to censor me; likewise I was always happy to hear her comments regarding whatever person or thing had been foolish enough to cross her way.  I hate being told to calm down or not get too excited; but if Camille told me to calm down, I felt like it was because she was worried about me, and not because she felt uncomfortable with my fervor.  Camille had been so upbeat during our last conversation.  She was feeling great, gaining weight, and talking about her grandchildren.  I felt guilty that I had not seen her in awhile, and apologized.  Camille cut me off, which was okay.  We began talking about life, and she offered me a couple of the happy pills the doctor had given her, she said I sounded stressed.  I felt worse.  Why was she thinking of me?  She then gave me her one and only lecture.  Camille told me I had to stop.  I had to quit thinking about everyone else and their problems.  I had to start taking care of myself.  I had to let things go.  “You can’t do everything.”  Our conversation started to wind down, but before we said good-by, she told me that Jean too had cancer; and that I should not mention that Camille told me that Jean was sick, when I saw her.  We said good-bye.

            Kate has one side of the mansard to paint, and I have one flower bed left to weed.  On Friday, we talked about our weekend and mentioned our chores and the Calle Ocho festival, in Miami.  We also agreed to see Joe and Camille, and Jean.  We discussed what I should make – we were fresh out of ideas for Joe and Camille, but I would make Jean peanut butter cookies.  We worked late into the night, on Friday, in the yard.  On Saturday, we woke up and found that our plans were of no importance.  Why had we not gone to see Camille on Friday, instead of mulching the yard? 

            Yesterday we sat in yet another hospital.  When we first saw Camille, she was still alert though intabated, and therefore unable to speak.  Camille was wincing in pain, and I think agitated by the ventilator.  Her hands and feet were swollen and periodically a tear escaped her eye.  She was too young and too feisty to be lying in a hospital bed at everyone else’s mercy.  Camille is a fighter, and fiercely loyal.  If you were going into battle, you wanted her on your side – you certainly did not want to find yourself on the opposite end of her conviction.  Joe leaned over her bed, whispering in her ear to fight.

          The hours passed and the news did not improve.  We went in and out of the intensive care unit and back to the waiting room, sitting in disbelief.  Joe’s pain was palatable.  He was losing his girl of 42 years, he could not be consoled.  Helens’ heart was broken.  She had spent so much time with Camille, and knew this moment was coming.  Camille was tired and she had shielded her loved ones from the pain and agony that she had been living with. 

            Nitt and Frank, from the same famed cul-de-sac, brought Jean, who looked very frail, to the hospital.  The mad bingo buddies said goodbye, as the rest of us stood around Camille’s bed and cried in disbelief. 

            That is all for now. 


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