I am adjusting to the thought of Bel being gone, little by little. Al said to talk about my feelings, Nina said the same, and others have echoed that sentiment. Many suggested that I write some stories about Bel, and I am doing that. I have so many years of photos, a digitizing project I had hoped to tackle when I retired. Yeah, right, who has any time after retirement anyway. I think that is somewhat of a fantasy. Still, I pulled out the old boxes, the old journals from the early 90’s when Bel and I first met, and eventually I’ll get out all those VHS videos that I want to put on DVD’s.
I look at the photos and remember just what a very different kind of human Bel was, and I remember just how crazy-making she could be. It was that very difference that made her life so hard and yet was such an amazing blessing to so many people. When she went to work for me she had six cats, and was nearly homeless. She worked in my flower shop, then she had nowhere to go so she moved in with me, and in the process brought all her stuff and all her cats and all her craziness. I was a neat freak, healthy food, new-agey kind of person and she was a hoarder, wildly disordered and incredibly creative. She smoked and drank Mountain Dew and talked in rambling circles that never seemed to stop or start in the same place.
There was a lot of ambivalence in our friendship. When she left for Florida, I was incredibly relieved, I could finally clean my house and have two cats instead of dozens. But because we shared so much of life and work and silly stuff I missed her terribly. Somehow she became someone I knew I was supposed to take care of, and yet she took care of me too. I wrote a eulogy for her that we passed out at her memorial, and thought maybe it would be OK to put it here, as a start at least, just a way to share a tiny bit of Bel with the bigger world.
born on February 1, 1947 died on February 25, 2013
Bel came into the world in a Wisconsin snowstorm and left us on a warm Florida day. Her life was a blessing to anyone who came in contact with her. You may not have understood her, but if you were in her line of vision, you usually became a recipient of her care. She cared about people, especially those that others might have never noticed. Stray cats by the dozens have felt that love. Homeless people have felt her generosity, and we all have listened to her rambling conversations filled with tidbits of wisdom and counsel. If you were lucky enough to be on the receiving end, over the years you probably received what my entire family refers to as “a Bel Box”, random collections of small things wrapped lovingly and creatively in ways that could bring a smile to your face no matter how gray the day. Monthly Bel Boxes were sent to my grandsons in Iraq to bring a little bit of joy as they fought for our country.
Bel never had children of her own, but she knew how to get right down with kids on their level and communicate with them, and play with them, and say things to them that would pump up their self-esteem, and make them laugh. My grandchildren all knew this loving, funny, caring, wonderful side of Bel and treasure their memories of her presence in their lives, even though they are now adults.
All of us have remnants of Bel around to remind us of her creativity, her caring, her eccentricities. We all know Bel was eccentric in the way the most beautiful souls can be. There are bird houses in yards, little cat and dog steps for elderly animals that could no longer reach the bed, little packages of talking stuffed animals sent to ailing hearts that would say “I Love You’. My family has been the recipient of untold dozens of home baked tiny cookies wrapped individually in perfect little papers. After long, long days working long hard jobs, my feet have felt the kindness of her touch as she rubbed out the knots and pain.
People she has cared for will never forget her. If you never felt the full force of her love and care, you might only think of the crazy cat woman down the street who was maybe difficult now and then, or maybe you didn’t understand her. If you never got close enough, maybe you didn’t get it. But those of us who did, will forever be touched by this incredible, loving, creative, magical, and yes…very different human being who touched our lives. There has never been and will never be another one like Bel in this world. We were blessed with her for far too short a time. All the humans and cats that she nurtured into old age I am sure met her when she crossed to the other side, and I can’t help wondering if the angels will take some lessons from her.