My Mary’s namesake

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Thinking about my college roommate last week when, don’tcha know, her Christmas newsletter arrived. The envelope is postmarked 5 Feb 2008. When I’ve been that late, I’ve dubbed it a “holiday” newsletter, or just an annual update, but Mary faces things straight on, admits she’s a procrastinator and hopes friends and relatives had a wonderful Christmas.

Mary and I hit it off late in our freshman year, but were already paired as roommates with other frosh and couldn’t gracefully swap around. When the second year began, we had requested a room together and actually got half a suite – the only suite in the building, originally the residence of the dorm mother.

Besides that, the second-floor corner room was spacious. We had to share the bathroom with the two girls from the other room, but that beat the showers down the hall by a long shot.

I was by no means a neat freak, still am not, but I didn’t just drop clothes on the floor either. I think I was the only one who cleaned the bathroom, simply because it wasn’t going to clean itself.

For all the little irritations, Mary and I got along pretty well. We were about the same height and weighed about the same. We swapped clothes occasionally, although I hated that I had to iron hers before I could wear them. Mary’s worst habit, I guess, was her habit of being late for everything. This justified, for her, the appearance that a tornado had hit her side of the room: “Can’t pick it up now. I’m late to class.”

Not to suggest she panicked. Reread those two sentences at half speed.

My best memory of Mary must have been late in 1953, the evening of the first snow after freshman year began. A college campus is never so magical as when bedecked with the first snow, the bare trees trimmed out in white ermine, the lights around the quad turning the flakes into gold dust, the muffled silence. Watching Mary was a delight. She was born and reared in Florida, you see, and this snowstorm was honest and truly her first. She’s a couple of years older than me; that would make her about 18 then. Her face turned upward to feel the snow gave her an angelic look.

In our third year, I took off with Dave Satterthwaite and Mary dutifully finished school with other roommates. She served as my only wedding attendant and looked so pretty in my blue prom dress.

Dave’s parents still lived in Safety Harbor, and we tried to get down there every few years. Finally Mary and I met for lunch. Mary ordered a Pink Lady, and assured me I’d love one. Not very sophisticated, I nearly gulped it down, it was so good. The cost prohibited a second. Just as well, I guess.

Now I’m not sure of the sequence of events here. I already knew that she had become the first sworn female police officer in St. Petersburg. That was a stunner. Casual, but slovenly Mary, a police officer?

What I didn’t know was that she was also pregnant. There was a quick divorce (his) and a quick marriage (theirs), and, soon, a baby girl. Scandalized, I nonetheless loved Mary so dearly that I named my own firstborn for this free spirit, and I have a picture of our two daughters in the surf at St. Pete Beach.

We lived in New Jersey and before long, Mary and her daughter moved to California. Letters between us were sporadic, usually at Christmas time. Somehow Mary eked out a living in Los Angeles, although her letters often referenced her latest book. I’m not sure she ever actually got published. One letter mentioned a Christian romance.

Googling just now, I find her name in connection with a romance-comedy – Beautysleep Symphony – she calls “ours,” so maybe she’s doing all right. She doesn’t have or won’t share her e-mail address; she didn’t even get a computer until about 2001.

She has lived at the same address for quite some time now, very near the epicenter of the 1993 earthquake in Northridge. She was involved in some way with the American Red Cross and was not home when the quake hit. Her house was not badly damaged.

When last fall’s fires were circling West Hills, she had to remain on-call to help at the shelters. “The local responses that I’ve been on the last few weeks have all been electrical fires, caused by faulty wiring or similar,” she wrote in her “Christmas” letter. “One was a young woman with six kids whose one-bedroom apartment burned throughout. Glad we could help.”

Mary’s daughter, I regret to say, was in and out of recovery for years, and bore Mary’s first grandchild at a very young age. History kept repeating itself. The granddaughter now has two daughters, 9 years and 3(?) years old.

In a familiar scrawl, she added to her letter the following: “Sallie – I’ve been reading again the collection of your columns that you sent me some years ago…You’re so talented. My forté seems to be organizing, not being artistic.”

Organizing? Maybe. Just not organized.

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Correction: In last week’s column there’s a reference to an intersection that should have read “Peachtree Parkway South and Crosstown Road.” Sorry for any confusion.

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