Passing the Baton

“Live each day as if it will be your last.  Remember that you will only find ‘tomorrow’ on the calendars of fools.  Forget yesterday’s defeats and ignore the problems of tomorrow…  Take the baton, now.  Run with it!  This is your day!  Extend to each person, no matter how trivial the contact, all the care and kindness and understanding and love that you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward.  Your life will never be the same again.” ~ Og Mandino

Vivid, joyful memories of Nancy and Mary Ann Poffenberger and my sister Sarah, in their 1950s high school days, lock those three girls forever in my awe-struck mind as THE prototype of teenagers having a really great time.  All three “valedictorian-salutatorian” material, the trio excelled at whatever got attempted.

While they shared intelligence and spirited outlooks, comparable heights remained a different matter. The probably 5 ‘ tall petite Poffenberger sisters looked up to my 5’7” sister who was smart enough never to entertain the pursuit of copy-cat baton twirling.

I, 5’9” at the tender age of 11, lacked such common sense and begged my dad for twirling lessons. He recruited the youngest 15 year old Poffenberger sister, Margie, as my instructor who met me in the alley as she walked from her Collinwood Avenue house. Off we strolled together headed to West Ward’s wide-open, mildewy basement where she, with great finesse, demonstrated repeatedly the fine art of flip/spinning a gleaming metal rod skyward, barely missing suspended light fixtures and then whisked the “scepter” beneath each leg as she leapt straight up nearly bumping into the ancient, worn ceiling. Next, how about something called “Left Backhand Release Double Knuckle Pop”??  I was to follow her lead.

Picture Mutt & Jeff!  Abbott & Costello? The Tin-man & the Scarecrow?  Thelma & Louise?

Her patient endurance of my awkward gymnastic attempts — to be something and someone I was not — would earn her a fiver from my indulgent folks several Saturdays in a row, no doubt

I mastered sluggish figure eights with my relatively agile right wrist, then alternating from one hand to the other as creepily slow as molasses, finally attempting to roll the threatening weapon behind and across my bony shoulders, consistently clunking the back of my head.  To this day, I maintain some residual ability to repeat successively exactly the same three moves — only in agonizingly slow motion.

Those three girls, also peppy car-hops at Clarence “Cotton” Gall’s Eighth Wonder of the World drive-in “The Barrel” on Main Street extended, achieved local fame as major players.  Yes, MAJORETTES!  Perky!  Plucky!  Sarah and I became pretty proficient at Canasta, Scrabble, croquet and badminton, instead.

Marge, a tad older than I and considerably shorter, disappeared from my life until a quarter of a century ago.  We reacquainted ourselves when she served as an exceptional teachers’ aide at Marshall Memorial, while I struggled valiantly as an addled substitute teacher.

We bonded one particular afternoon when I barked at a frisky, third grade, bespectacled boy who was so full of life he simply could not remain seated at his desk:  “For heaven’s sake, Shane, sit down!”  A horrid, boisterous reversal of initial consonants, involving the letter “s”, roared across the partitioned communal Marshall Memorial set-up, echoing throughout the over-sized room – from class to class to class!  Instead, I thundered out the spoonerism:   “For heaven’s sake, Sane, ____ down!”

Marge and I became adult friends for life at that precise moment.

We biked.  We celebrated births of her grand-children.  (Marge perilously approached accidental primitive midwifery when darling Erin entered this world!)

Marge served as a cheerleader for “Don Sexton, Mayor” every time he vied for that position. I drove her to pick up her husband’s truck at an Albion gas station the afternoon Jerry suffered a heart attack on his way to work and was rushed by ambulance to Ft. Wayne. “There for each other” we two…always!

She attended our Roy’s very special one-man summer concert in 1999 at our C.C.H.S. auditorium and became such an instant fan, so startled that absolutely every seat was not occupied, that she immediately decided to write a letter-to-the-editor chastising those not present in the audience! (She also revisited her twirling prowess during our backyard post-gig party that evening. Her age then?  57!)

She and Jerry drove miles to Roy’s once-in-a lifetime performance at Dearborn’s Ford Performing Arts Center for “Side by Side by Sondheim”!

Dropping by Marge’s whenever I walked home from Burnworth Pool, I’d beg for supper cuz I was famished and she’d feed me before I crawled allllll the way to my own house.  Marge and I consistently defeated Jerry and Don at card-games.  We spent some Christmases and New Year’s Eves together and Thanksgivings also.  We compared heart-wrenching accounts of being misunderstood “baby sisters”, totally commiserating…always bursting into laughter instead!

 We porch-sat, phone-chatted, bragged about our kids’ successes, and informed each other of local illnesses, births, and deaths.  Marge bought a computer long before my brother-in-law Mac gave me one of my sister’s after Sarah died.  Marge literally would sprint three blocks to present print-outs to me of wacky animal pictures…and also questionable jokes!  I was a captive audience!  Marge never ever missed sending us our first Christmas card of the season…for over 20 years.

All of this is just to say that when I found myself at Smith’s Funeral Home hoping to console her remarkable family last month, I recalled our adventures and wished to chat with HER.  Marge honestly looked wonderful, only asleep.  A fabulous mom, grandmother, wife, daughter and sister who served her community well…but best of all, a genuine, fun, funny, and one-of-a-kind person would be the very best characterization of my dear friend.

Hugging her soul-mate Jerry, I commented that Marge and I degenerated into “zaniness” whenever we got together. Jerry corrected me, “…Both of you behaved just as ‘zanily’ when separate as well!”  Laughter in the funeral parlor…I am sure Marge approved!

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