(February 24, 2009) Hear the audio version
When a mother dies, the need to be mothered doesn’t go away. After my mom’s death a year ago, I was fortunate to find a surrogate for all things maternal in a most unusual group of women: her college friends, affectionately known as the Pooh Ladies, as in Winnie-the-Pooh.
Housing was tight at Pomona College during World War II, so in the fall of ’44 Mom and six other sophomores were assigned to live in a dorm basement. Someone decided to spruce up the cement walls and steam pipes by christening the area “Pooh Corner.” Each woman took on the name of a character from A.A. Milne’s children’s books. Mom was Rabbit, and remained so for the rest of her life – always trying to organize everyone, and collecting dozens and dozens of rabbits. Pooh Corner stayed Pooh Corner until the dorm was remodeled years later and the basement became a laundry.
I grew up calling my friends’ mothers Mrs. So-and-So, but I was on a first-name basis with the Pooh Group. Some of their daughters became my own friends. What a gift for a girl with three brothers! The Pooh Ladies were my mother’s primary support group for more than six decades, meeting once or twice a year for Pooh retreats, and always available on the other end of the telephone line.
Especially in those early weeks after Mom died, I called Marylee when I wanted to talk to a mother who knew my own better than anyone. Katie took Mom’s place as head cheerleader about my writing. She sends me notes that make my day. And Helen is my email buddy and fellow political junkie. As a bonus, her daughter Sara and I have rekindled our childhood friendship.
The Pooh Ladies’ retreat last spring coincided with my birthday – the first for all of us without Mom. So Kanga and Pooh and Eeyore and Tigger and Owl and Piglet – my wonderful 83-year-old surrogate mothers – called to wish me many happy returns of the day. Rabbit may be gone, but her love, support and friendship live on.
With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.
(Many thanks to KQED’s brilliant engineer, Howard Gelman, for helping me get through the taping of my most emotional Perspective ever.)