Meet my friend Eleanor. She’s a terrific writer, former teacher, advocate for the mentally ill at city, state and national levels, addicted thrift-store shopper (though she claims to have quit cold turkey this past year), patron of the arts, and all-around good person. She is also THE poster child for lifelong learning.
In honor of her 95th birthday, which she celebrated yesterday, she shared hostess gifts of Toblerone chocolate and kitchen knives. Well, not all were kitchen knives. A few looked like daggers and there was one cleaver.
The photo shows those tools remaining after many of the guests, who were as keen as Eleanor and much sharper than the knives, snapped them up.
I met my friend in the Popular Fiction course at the University of Washington. She had not started the program with the rest of the students, but by the end of her first class appearance we all knew her as well as if she had been with us from day one. Eleanor is special. She’s written a memoir of her life up to age eighteen. Now if most of us started telling our life stories beginning in childhood we wouldn’t have much to say, at least not much that any reader would care about. (I know this because once I was a judge for a literary contest and the selection I read, about a girl’s life from birth to age twelve, was notable for its lack of a single interesting event.) But Eleanor’s memoir as one of nine children of Italian immigrants is stuffed tighter than a ravioli with history, adventure and, shall we say “interesting” family dynamics.
In addition to learning about Eleanor’s past from her writing, I know about her present life from having spent two weeks a month for the last three years in a critique group with her. She’s excellent at analyzing others’ work and offering suggestions for straightening out a confusing paragraph and enlivening a dull scene.
What impresses me most about Eleanor is her energy level. She puts the Energizer Bunny to shame for its indolence. She says she wants to live until she’s 101, another six years. For those of us who love her, that’s not nearly long enough.
Happy Birthday, Eleanor. And congratulations for a life so well-lived that you continue to inspire all who meet you.