Sooz – Female Formed

Lighten up!

“Humor can make a serious difference. In the workplace, at home, in all areas of life – looking for a reason to laugh is necessary. A sense of humor helps us to get through the dull times, cope with the difficult times, enjoy the good times and manage the scary times.”
—Steve Goodier

When I began to outline the chapters of this project and make a list of who has impacted me profoundly in my life, many of the females I selected revealed themselves immediately.  Childhood influences were quite obvious, as were the girls from the years before college. But, pondering the effect of friends as I moved into my twenties and thirties required more discernment and thought.

Johann Wolfang von Goethe said, “Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are.” When I was twenty, I now had a subliminal understanding that whomever I spent time with, men and women, would be a mirror, a reflection, of where I was, spiritually and emotionally. Hang with the high-flying party girls? It followed that I would be required to match them drink for drink. Start attending church with my old dorm roommate? No thanks and amen, but similar opportunities were still there. As far as female friendships, the young women I met now offered a varied menu of possibilities for different kinds of connections. Subliminally, I understood that these choices would inform how my character would continue to develop. And though many of my selections weren’t specifically deliberate, they were now becoming more of a conscious choice.

Laurie and her family had helped to form me; Diana complemented my growth in awareness about certain aspects of life, but the young women who claimed their territory in the next couple of decades felt more like teachers of specific qualities and principles I would do well to emulate. And, a quality I sorely needed then, was humor and a sense of fun.

I met Sooz in the sorority. That experience was brief for me – I was itching for a much less traditional setting for my academic and personal growth, but Sooz came into my life just before I transferred to another school and has remained a beloved friend ever since.

Sooz was a college star. Pretty, artistic, with a beautiful singing voice and a constantly upbeat personality, she was the girl in our sorority everyone wanted as a friend. I wasn’t a very confident student or social hit within or outside of the sorority, but Sooz, in contrast, was socially active in various groups, selected as Sweetheart of fraternities, and formed a cozy sub-culture of followers wherever she went.

She was always friendly, but I didn’t really connect with her until the ‘smoking room’. At that time on campus, smoking was common, but only allowed in designated places in our living accommodations. In our sorority, the smoking room was located on the ground floor, furnished with comfortable couches, chairs, and plenty of ashtrays. (Ick, right?)

I had acquired the habit in the dorm, so tentatively found my way to the room the first week I transferred to the sorority. I recall being shocked to see Sooz there.  She was very feminine – actually ladylike, and most of the girls I saw in the smoking room were bold or slightly rebellious. Yet, there was proper Sooz, holding her cigarette like a 1940’s movie star. I immediately adjusted my perception of the ‘perfect girl’ and cottoned to her even more.

She didn’t often visit the room (I was there constantly) but seeing her in that environment gave me the confidence to pursue the friendship outside that setting.  Then, her boyfriend Gordy, who attended another college, formed an immediate bond with my current boyfriend on one of his visits, and that cemented the friendship.

Once I started spending more time with her, either as couples or one-on-one, I noticed that Sooz, no matter what the activity, always had fun. Not the fun of having a couple of beers, or the fun of telling jokes, but everywhere fun. It was like she was lighter inside, and had more room to enjoy each action, every word or circumstance.

I am not a fun person. I can be funny upon occasion, and I work very hard to try to be fun, but it does not come naturally. I am, at my core, a grump. As another friend (and future chapter) would say to me at age twenty-one, “Rom, it’s like you’re eighty years old!”  Eighty, and cranky.

But Sooz was fun with everyone, particularly with Gordy. Part of their chemistry was their shared sense of humor – one that continues to be incorporated into their conversations after fifty years of marriage. Sooz also, being quick to laugh, somehow makes other people funnier. You know that person that makes you feel wittier and somehow inspires you to spin puns off your tongue like a standup comedienne? That’s Sooz.

Another trademark of her life orientation was treating challenges with a strange but compelling combination of that levity and a talent for analytics. She seemed to register circumstances the way she easily found the high notes when performing; like there was some magical spell she’d received upon birth that helped her glide over whatever darkness the rest of us, particularly myself, were struggling to push through.

One chilly spring day, my boyfriend was out of town and Sooz and I were homesick for friends and family in Seattle. The boyfriend had left his old car – a Chrysler? (who knows – it was old), behind. “You can use it if you need it for an emergency,” he’d cautioned. “But only for emergencies – like, if a hospital is required.” Sooz and I, likely in that smoking room, ascertained that homesickness definitely qualified as an emergency, and that the old, rusty car could deliver us to the airport in Spokane, Washington, theoretically an hour and a half drive away.

We decided on a Thursday. The next morning, we quickly added a pack each of Marlboros to our overnight bags, located the key and walked the chilly three blocks to where the car was parked. I neglected to call my boyfriend and inform him of our plan.

The first hiccup­ was the discovery that the heating system wasn’t working. It was around twenty degrees outside, so we cheerfully (Sooz, cheerfully; me crankily) donned coats and gloves, only removing them to light cigarettes. The cigarette lighting was Sooz’s job. I was hunched over the wheel, now in growing fear of my boyfriend’s wrath and further perils ahead. Snow was predicted, and I’d never driven that car, let alone in snow. No heat wasn’t fun, but a snowstorm would be catastrophic. And, as an Eeyore at heart, I expected the worst.

Twenty minutes out of town, disaster struck. The car suddenly lurched to the side and wouldn’t drive straight. I pulled over to the side of the narrow highway, and we exited the car to ascertain what the issue might be. Flat tire.

I’d never changed a flat tire, nor had Sooz. There were no cell phones then, it was cold, and the cigarettes were now lighting one another non-stop. After about a half an hour, an angel disguised as a passing (male) motorist stopped. He took pity on us and changed the tire. We cheered him on, shivering by the side of the road. He completed the task and we thanked him profusely, gratefully returned to our journey.

Snow was now imminent, and that car had never met a snow tire. Further, our angel had said something like they were all “as bald as an eagle” anyway. I was now terrified, but Sooz kept the conversation light, talking about how excited our parents would be when we surprised them, and what fun we’d have telling my boyfriend about our adventure.  I figured, if that was so, maybe she could take the blame for our decision.

We slipped and slid a bit, but somehow stayed on the road, focused on the destination. Then, a half hour away from Spokane, the car locked up. To this day, I’m not sure what exactly happened, but it had to do with the brakes system, or some kind of system. Bottom line, we could not move the car, and no angel motorist was going to change that.

My memory is foggy on the details, but the following happened, not necessarily in this order: we contacted the parents of some sorority sisters – strangers – and they agreed to pick us up, host us overnight, and somehow assist with getting the car off the road and into a shop; I called my boyfriend, who, for some reason, did not break up with me, and, most importantly, Sooz made the whole thing into an adventure.  I simply could not stay gloomy with her chirpy, “Isn’t this a ball” reaction to the day’s happenings. This, despite the fact that I owed my boyfriend a lot of money I didn’t have for towing and repair of a car basically beyond repair, we had blackened our lungs aggressively that day, and spent the night in the first house I ever saw with plastic covering the living room furniture and the rugs. Sooz found the whole thing hilarious, and as a result, I was forced to transform from an Eeyore to more of an agreeable Piglet. If I’d been with anyone else on that journey, the story we’d retell decades later would read differently.

A few years later, on a very hot summer day, I was a bridesmaid in Sooz and Gordy’s wedding. Standing behind the couple as they knelt for their vows, I fainted, making Gordy wonder if someone had written something suggestive on the heels of his shoes. Two other bridesmaids guided me backward and sat me on the front pew as the couple continued on, not sure what the rustling behind them might have been. That story has been told and retold countless times, again with good humor and laughter.  I can guarantee that, had the situation been reversed, I would not have been so generous with my laughter in the retelling. (Though, Sooz and Gordy did come late to my second wedding, so maybe there was a bit of payback).

More than a half century after the debacle of that car trip, Sooz is still the one to laugh first.  I remain my wittiest in her company. And though I am still an Eeyore at heart, whenever I’m with her, I invariably have the highest level of fun and leave infused with a dose of that lightness and laughter surrounding me like an invisible cloak – the remnants of which lasts for hours. I always have a little talk with myself after being in Sooz’s company, realizing how good it feels to lighten up and not take everything so seriously.  “I really need to be more like Sooz,” I have told myself for fifty years.  Unfortunately, the magic within her has not transferred to me, but I am able, for some time, whenever I’m in her company, to deny my inner Eeyore.  No one else has been able to ignite that temporary transformation, and Sooz will always claim first prize, cosmically, for the accomplishment.

Next: Mickey, Stranger in a Strange Land.

New to the series? Start with ‘Ellie‘, the first chapter in “Female Formed.”

Art by Lisa Jensen.

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