Sometimes cycles of life are completely compelling, even more than cycling in life. This is especially true in the human cycles of life and death, when we are “Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course, / With rocks, and stones, and trees,” as Wordsworth phrased it. And so it is with Dorothy, whom I had known far longer than my wife, almost as long as my first wife, and who, with her husband, was one of my oldest and dearest adult friends.
I met Dorothy in the fall of 1961, when I first arrived in Ithaca, NY, to begin graduate work in English literature at Cornell University. We were part of a cadre of friends, the kind that bond together in mutual love of the subject and fear and trembling at the august professors, not to mention the vagaries of trying to establish adult lives amid the hubbub of university regulations, long days and nights in the library, gravitational forces of faraway friends, families, and lovers, class presentations, term papers, pizzas in Collegetown, issues with the landlords from whom we rented rooms, and the like. I’d never have known Dorothy if it hadn’t been for Paul, my fellow as a new grad student, a tremendously intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, kind, and loyal guy. He’d met Dorothy straight off when they met while registering for classes, he in English and she in French. And they were together ever after that.
During an unusually hot, sweaty September, and an ensuing year of eye-opening graduate work, including the “Bibliography and Methods” scavenger hunt course, dinners in the Graduate Student Union with its oddball ice cream flavors from Ag School experiments, and somewhat mind-bending departmental perspectives and agendas (I’d come from an undergraduate chemistry major), we kept each other afloat with conversations over cheap grad student meals, commiseration over the same wretched academic demands, and just our mutual admiration, pleasure, and satisfaction with each others’ company. It was no surprise when Paul and Dorothy became engaged, and a couple of friends and I were soon on hand, sharing a glass of bubbly with the happy couple.
I went on to UVa for doctoral work; Paul and Dorothy stayed at Cornell, pursuing their respective degrees. They finished a year before I did, and found jobs in Washington, DC–Paul at Georgetown and Dorothy at George Washington. When I was in the job market I sought, at Paul’s urging, and landed a position at Georgetown too. For several years we were junior faculty together there, again along with five or six other couples with whom we formed bonds and started sharing dinner parties, growing families, and professional lives. Dorothy didn’t become a mother, but a gardener, knitter, gourmet cook, and cat lover. She embellished her personality of graduate school–larger than life, as measured by her fashions, her opinions, and her personal style. Always a charmer, Dorothy was more and more into her French professor persona, leaving the demure conventions of suburban America behind.
Over wine and a plate of great food, she’d share incisive and devastating analysis of everything from a classic work of literature to the latest departmental liaison dangereuse. Dressed in over-the-top splendor, with hand-knit scarves and shawls, always charming and also quite sincere and loving to her friends, Dorothy was completely lovely and completely endearing. She knew that we, her friends, knew what she was like at the core of herself, and she and we had fun in the role-playing around that secure, faithful core. She loved her husband, her garden, her cats, all with equally endearing warmth.
After I left Georgetown we saw one another less frequently, but she and Paul were my friends through years of marriage and academic work, some of it at Georgetown. We remained friends through my divorce and remarriage, visiting Virginia wineries and dining together on rare but wonderful occasions at local restaurants. Jane and I had a great meal with them a few months ago, and we had found another place that we intended to introduce them to later this spring.
But it turned out that the relaxed and charming meal that we had together last fall was the last time I saw Dorothy. She died very suddenly last week, a victim of asthma, the pollen season, and a weak aorta. Paul says that she was in severe pain for some hours, and I share his lamentation that she had to suffer that way. Dorothy had her biblically allotted three score and ten. But her death seems so untimely, for surely there was much energy for this world left in her soul.
And we who loved her are so much poorer for this loss, for a grand, intense, intelligent, and loving personality has left this world. I am glad that I can remember her as I first met her, a young, energetic, very bright, pretty new graduate student nearly half a century ago, as well as the mature, scintillating, droll, and charming woman who gave me the key to her office to use in my adjunct professorial meetings, who created great gardens, loved her friends, radiated joie de vivre. It was a privilege to know her, and I will never eat French food with friends without thinking of Dorothy at the table. Salute!
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.