by Christine Adams Beckett
Doreen is a gregarious woman who walks her Rhodesian Ridgeback regularly around Edgemont Memorial Park. She is also exceedingly brave, a trait made apparent by her seemingly fearless ability to read poetry of her own pen to a crowded-with-parents Edgemont Montessori School library. She walked away from a marriage that didn’t quite fit properly, knowing that nothing but deep and meaningful love would be good enough for her. She has survived breast cancer.
She is also creatively talented, a seamstress and costume designer who has worked a variety of jobs, including for the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, a post which offered a connection to another strong woman who she had never met, Judith Mortenson. Judith was a regular as an extra for various productions at The Met, a pastime that she enjoyed wholeheartedly.
Judith owned a beautiful brownstone on West 20th Street in Chelsea, along with her longtime friend Charles who spent part of his professional writing career penning speeches for Herbert Hoover. Ms Mortenson never married, never had children. Throughout her life she was able to regularly visit her Parisian pied-à-terre – that was gifted to her by a generous uncle – without familial impediment. A happy byproduct of her real estate holding was the cheeses she smuggled on her flights home from France to New York. She entertained her tenants with those cheeses, made complete by the only Christmas gifts she would accept from her housemates: whatever could be eaten or drunk.
She was practical, yes, but also well read, well spoken and never gushingly friendly. If she was kind to you, interested in you, you knew you deserved it somehow.
When Judith was well into her 70s, she decided to go under the knife to illustrate the intention of living the rest of her life well, with agility and lithe gait, by replacing a knee rendered useless by osteoarthritis. As routine as it is a hopeful surgery, it came as a shock to her housemates that she died under that knife, leaving her only intimate relation, a confused housekeeper, to handle the arrangements. It was an arduous and painful task for Judith’s longtime employee turned quasi-sister, so she simply ignored it.
Months later confused tenants – past and present – mourned the loss of a good French conversationalist, the tours of cheap New York and Parisian restaurants, the behind-the-scenes stories of the Met. Most of all they longed for the impossible proper good bye, ritualistic or otherwise. Yet the costume designers at the Met found an appropriate way to commemorate the life of a music loving, unassuming person of no particular ties: by retiring permanently her favorite strand of costume pearls. The necklace remains unassigned to anyone, taking indefinite residence in a decorative box with an engraved plate bearing Judith’s name and a mounted glossy photograph of her in full pearled regalia.
One of Judith’s former tenants-turned-suburbanite, who wept over her loss in Edgemont Park one morning, was comforted by the story of the box, found by Doreen one evening whilst rounding out some Diva’s cache of fake jewels. There was someone who was thoughtful enough to leave behind something tangible of Judith, a reminder of her metaphysical contribution and value to those that knew and loved her. It was appropriate that Doreen found the makeshift memorial, a similarly strong woman with a love of opera and art, and judging from her poetry, one with a clear understanding that love is an intangible commodity not found in a string of costume pearls, but in survivors’ still beating hearts.
“Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.” -Viktor E. Frankl