Priscilla – Female Formed

A Legacy of Love

“Anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me.”
—Fred Rogers

I met Priscilla when I was in graduate school and was a TA for her husband, Max, in the Special Education department at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Max and Priscilla were twenty years older than I, and had five children, a couple of them near my age. Over the two years I studied and worked in the department, they often welcomed my family into their home, sometimes just the four of us, frequently with faculty. At those gatherings, I always found myself seeking out Priscilla’s company.

Where Max presented as a kind-hearted, professorial type, Priscilla, though equally kind, was a calm, capable woman who’d left her career as a teacher once their children started arriving. Max loved maple bars and detested exercise. Priscilla was a natural athlete and gifted golfer. Though I was fond of Max, I became more and more drawn to Priscilla’s company, and she graciously enveloped me into her large circle of friends. I chose, rather than joining in her church groups or community volunteering, to create times when it was just Priscilla and I who would have coffee in her kitchen overlooking Bellingham Bay. Frequently the two of us took my kids to the park or on some outdoor adventure. Priscilla was always receptive to any activity, and her heart open to all. We appointed her and Max ‘godparents’ of my son James *(name changed), though it was an informal title.

Priscilla was one of those listeners who was always totally focused on whomever was speaking. She made me feel as if I were the most interesting person in the world. And, when she was with James, he naturally felt the same way. He couldn’t articulate her magic, but simply wanted to spend time with her whenever possible. I loved how he, a rather shy boy, seemed to flourish in her company.

When I had to return to teaching part time when my son was five, I was loath to put him in any of the daycare options available. He was quiet, not rough and tumble, and I worried he’d get swallowed up or bullied by the masses. I selfishly and bravely asked Priscilla if she would care for him on my teaching days a few times a week. Sad to be returning to work and leaving my last born, I didn’t think she’d be open for such a commitment, but brazenly made my request anyway. Deep inside, I knew it was unfair to ask; she’d raised five children and now enjoyed her well-deserved free time. But this was my boy, and I wanted the best for my kid. I prayed that she’d accept, and somehow that stunning combination of Mary Poppins and Buddha agreed, saying she’d love to spend extra time with her godson.

I’m sure those hours James spent with Priscilla were more fun, more open ended and more empowering than any he spent with me. From the moment he walked through her front door, he decided what they would do that day. Whereas I was strict about candy and sugared cereals, Priscilla kept a fresh box of Kix & Honey, his absolute favorite (forbidden at home) with full, ongoing access. When I’d pick him up, eager for his company, and note how reluctantly he left Priscilla’s side, I came to envy her children for what must have been the best possible childhood; a kindly, quiet father and an endlessly energetic and enthusiastic companion and cheerleader as a mother.

As my children grew, our family remained close to both Max and Priscilla. My son had his one year of bliss with Priscilla as his playmate a couple of days a week, and that extraordinary time they spent together contributed greatly to his sense of self. Though both my kids loved the couple, it was clear there was a special bond between Priscilla and James.

When James was twelve, Priscilla became ill with colon cancer. Max had died, also of cancer, a few years prior, and I know she missed him terribly. Over the many months she was ill, I was able to see her several times a week, already grieving the changes the disease wrought. Occasionally, my children would come for short visits, but Priscilla’s energy was waning. The number of people who communicated with her and provided food and support wasn’t surprising, but it was impressive. At her funeral, there were several hundred people, and I wouldn’t doubt that each one felt she was their special friend.

A couple of weeks before she passed away, Priscilla asked for me to bring James to say good-bye. I worried it would be too tough for him, and was concerned for Priscilla’s emotional state as well, but she insisted, and James was strangely willing.

When we arrived, Priscilla was lying on the couch, clearly in pain but with her standard cheerful demeanor. She pulled James close and gave him a tender hug. Then, she said to my boy, still a boy, but on the brink of his journey to becoming a teenager, “You are wonderful, wonderful young man, and I know someday you will be the best husband and father. Having a family is the most important job in our lives. I promise, you will love having your own children to care for, and a partner to go through life with. I love you, and love what you’ve been for me in my life.”

It was such an extraordinary thing to say to someone my son’s age. I remember being surprised that Priscilla chose to speak of that time, far in the future for James, but retrospectively I understood; family is everything, and that includes the family you choose. James took in her words with a quiet and nearly holy acceptance, suddenly maturing in the moment, clearly understanding the magnitude of what was being said, and the poignancy of the context of the situation.

They hugged again, such a tender hug, and I, heart aching and tears flowing, took my son out of a home that helped to form the best of him. He is now a wonderful husband and father, just as Priscilla predicted.

Friends who bring treasured times and value to our existence are exceptional. Those who do so in the lives of our beloved children are cherished beyond measure. To this day, I often talk to Priscilla, wonder what she would advise, and tell her of her godson’s happy life. I’ve tried also to emulate her inclusive, loving nature with two boys who became my unofficial godsons. Priscilla modeled the concept that there’s always more love, more time, and more reason to care for a child, a person, or someone who, without realizing it, needed an example of how to be their best self. She was that shining example for me, and for all who knew her. Though she died far too early, the force of her love remains here on earth within her friends and family, and deep inside that lucky boy who was always treated to Kix & Honey.

There are many more chapters of ‘Female Formed’ but it is being produced as a book. We’ll post when it’s available. Thank you for reading the beginning of this series.

New to the series?

Start with ‘Ellie‘, the first chapter in “Female Formed.”

Art by Lisa Jensen.

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