Parting Gifts

This is one of those blogs that started out headed in one direction and then, because of things that happened, veered to another.

Photo0007Sunday afternoon a week ago, after Moonlight & Magnolias, I drove into downtown Atlanta to attend the memorial service for the editor of the Daily Dragon, Nebula Award winner Eugie Foster, pictured at left in a photo graciously supplied by Amy Herring.  Eugie died in late September of respiratory failure following a stem cell transplant to fight sinus cancer. The memorial was held at the Hyatt Regency, one of the host hotels for the con and the site of the Daily Dragon office for those few days each year.

DC2014_StreetSignLike Brigadoon, DragonCon and all its components, such as the Daily Dragon, exist only at set intervals, in this case during Labor Day weekend.  So I figured this was going to be weird, being in the hotel with no superheroes or Starfleet officers or anime characters or gamers or general fans.  And honoring Eugie’s memory on the same level of the hotel where she spent so much time putting the DD together every year was going to be doubly strange.

So I was going to write about DragonCon, Brigadoon, and losing friends.

Except then we lost another.

While I was at M&M, the dh and I learned that our friend Judy Rosenbaum, whom I had known for more than 30 years, had passed away September 30, three days after Eugie, from pancreatic cancer. I couldn’t write a blog about memorials and not include her.

I met both Eugie and Judy through fandom.  Eugie was a former student of Ann Crispin’s and spoke to her classes, one of which included me, at DragonCon.  She and some other students from Ann’s earlier class had formed an online group and let me join it.  So I heard from her online from time to time between con weekends.  A few years back, you may remember, I wrote a couple of stories for the DD, and then a few more the next year, and then last year, Eugie said, “If you’re going to write this many stories, you should be on staff.”

There are a limited number of staff slots, so the offer of one was a high compliment. This year, I officially joined the DD staff.

photo-32Judy and I were both members of an amateur press alliance called Interlac.  An amateur press alliance, or apa, is a lot like a giant chain letter.  Mailings go out several times a year at prescribed intervals.  Members who want to participate write up their contributions and send enough copies to the central mailer for every member to get one, plus a few extras.

The central mailer then collates the contributions, or zines, into sets and uses a really, really big stapler to bind them into sections.  Then he or she mails them out to all the members.  And yes, if you’re wondering, this practice arose long before email or computers, though Interlac is still rolling along. Anniversary mailings might be as many as 10 such sections.  That’s a bit less than a year’s worth on the left.

Anyway, Judy wrote a fair amount of fan fiction for the apa, which was devoted to the 30th century’s Legion of Super-Heroes (sort of like the Justice League of America but with teenagers and in the future).  It didn’t take long for me to start checking each mailing as soon as it arrived to see whether she had a story in there. I finally worked up the nerve to call her and tell her how much I loved her writing, and that was the beginning of our friendship.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about these talented women, both of them writers and fans in their different ways. About what stays with me from each of them.

coverEugie wrote brilliant short stories, as her Best Novelette Nebula Award for “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast”  attests.  In addition to receiving many other awards, she was also a finalist for the Hugo and the British Science Fiction Association awards.

nothing_of_meI’ve read some of Eugie’s stories but not all, so I have those to look forward to, each one doubly precious because the number available is now finite.  Pictured at left is the cover of one I particularly liked, “Nothing of Me.”

The day before she died, Daily Science Fiction ran a very short but moving story, “When It Ends, He Catches Her.”

Eugie made me welcome in the Daily Dragon office even when I was an extremely casual volunteer who only wanted to write a story or two.  I’ll always remember how smoothly she ran the office and pulled each issue’s paper version and web copy together without ever seeming ruffled.

One day I checked my own website, found the book page not loading and, yes, sort of–maybe definitely–shrieked.  Eugie looked up from her spot at the end of the table and asked, “What happened?”

“My books aren’t coming up,” I sputtered.

She was probably relieved I hadn’t, like, crashed the DD network or something, but she said only, “Get me into the back of your site, and I’ll see what I can do.”

In a couple of minutes, she had it fixed.  Despite everything she juggled all the time during the con, she took those minutes to fix a problem for me that wasn’t even related to what we were working on.  That’s the kind of person she was.

DC2014_PwrRgrSitting in there, working on stories, I got to know the staffers.  This past year, one of the editors and I spent half an hour poring over parade photos to figure out which Power Ranger got out of his convertible, took a running start, and leaped into an aerial somersault.  He was in civvies, of course, and not his Power Rangers uniform. (You’ll have to click on the photo to spot him.  He’s to the right of the back bumper. Too bad I don’t have the actual somersault.)

The two most likely candidates somewhat resembled each other, so we, who do not watch Power Rangers and so do not know the actors, were going back and forth from IMDB to various online photos until we got one from DragonCon Photography that showed one of our two candidates in the car with the Gold Ranger’s helmet on his knee.  And he was not wearing the same shirt as the guy who did the somersault. Victory!

It’s a small matter, in the grand scheme of things, but having the right actor credited was important.  His unexpected feat was one of the most fun bits of that hot morning on Peachtree Street, but we couldn’t use it unless we could pin down his identity. And figuring it out was fun, too.

king_of_rabbits_145x200Eugie created an atmosphere where high standards prevailed without making working on the DD seem like actual work.  She always had a sense of humor about it.  Even though she worked mostly from her hotel room this year, being scrupulously careful about germs, she wore a wig, lab coat, mask, and gloves so she looked like a mad scientist when she was in the office.

All the good times I had at the Daily Dragon, the friendships that developed there, and the stories I wrote were because of Eugie.  So I have those memories and her wonderful fiction to remember her by.

If you would like to learn more about Eugie, who also edited bills for the Georgia legislature and wrote various types of nonfiction, please visit her website, www.EugieFoster.com.  If you like science fiction or fantasy short fiction, you should check out her terrific stories while you’re there!

supb89I don’t have a photo of Judy.  She didn’t like having her picture taken, though she didn’t flee if she was in a group someone was photographing.  Because of her reticence, I wouldn’t feel right about posting a photo even if I had one.  So I’m posting a picture of Judy’s favorite Legionnaire, Mon-El (at left with one of her other favorites, Superboy), instead.

Mon-El has powers like Superman’s because he’s from a Krypton-like planet.  He crash-landed on Earth in Superboy’s era.  The crash gave him amnesia, but clues in his ship led the Boy of Steel to erroneously conclude that the new arrival was Kryptonian, possibly his brother, and to call him Mon-El because he arrived on Monday and El was Superboy’s family name. The two quickly formed a tight bond.

Because Mon-El is from Daxam, not Krypton, lead is not benign to him.  He became exposed to it through a series of unfortunate events and contracted lead poisoning.  Unable to cure him, Superboy projected him into the Phantom Zone, where Krypton’s worst criminals were sent, because that was the only way to save Mon’s life.  He stayed there, taunted by them and helping Superboy and then Superman when he could, for a thousand years.  Finally, in the 30th century, one of the Legionnaires devised a cure and freed him.  Mon-El joined the Legion and, when Superboy came forward in time to see the Legionnaires, renewed their friendship.

imagesJudy wrote wonderful stories about the Legion and especially about Mon-El.  She explored what it would be like to live a thousand years past the time you should’ve and to have spent that millennium as an immaterial phantom surrounded by hardened criminals.  Her Mon-El reveled in the use of his senses.  He could fly but mostly walked–because he liked the feel of the ground under his feet.  He made bread, kneading it by hand.  And of course he was brave and honorable and loyal.

She had a real knack for seeing beyond the costumes and the powers to the people. Among the stories she produced were many about Superboy and some about the Batman family of characters.  One of the latter is a superb post-World War I murder mystery set in Hollywood’s silent era.  She paid me the compliment of loving my fan fiction, too, and encouraged me to create worlds and characters of my own.  I’m so glad she lived long enough to see those worlds in print.

Judy also wrote nonfiction, copy for textbooks, articles, and book reviews. She had an encyclopedic memory with a vast, deep range of knowledge on many, many different subjects, and she was always willing to draw on it if that would help someone solve a research problem or merely satisfy idle curiosity.  One of the pleasures of reading her fan fiction was in seeing how she pulled in her many interests.

112077She put me onto Dorothy Dunnett by sending me The Game of Kings for Christmas one year. I didn’t love the beginning but persevered because Judy had sent it to me, so surely it had to get good.  Eventually.  I hoped.

Along about page 200 (of 700 or so), I phoned her and demanded, “Are there ever going to be any more characters besides this blind chick I can like, because I gotta tell you, I’m not keen on anyone else in this book.”

“Weeeellll,” she said, “I can’t promise, of course, but I think if you keep reading, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

So I did.  And…O!M!G! About 150-200 pages from the end, Dunnett turned everything inside out. I was totally bowled over.  I called Judy to tell her, then rushed out to buy all the other books, which I devoured in every spare minute I had over the next week.  I will never again look at those books without remembering her.

n91760Judy also put me onto Mary Jo Putney.  A battered copy of The Rake and the Reformer, which was out of print at the time, arrived in the mail one day.  Mary Jo was one of Judy’s favorite authors, and Judy thought I might enjoy her books, too. And so I did. The book was re-released as The Rake, with a different cover (and I think it may have been expanded, too, though I’m not sure), but this is the cover on the edition Judy sent me.

I still have that beatup Signet paperback.  Because she gave it to me, I never replaced it with a more pristine one.

In recent years, Judy moved away from comic book fandom and became active on the Narnia fan boards.  She loved that series.  An avid doll collector, she enjoyed creating costumes for her dolls and won a prize in a competition sponsored by a doll company.

Judy didn’t have a website.  A beautiful obituary written by one of her coworkers appeared in The New York Times on October 16.

Going to the Hyatt, as I expected, was weird.  My friends Amy and Bryan and I had dinner after the memorial and kept marveling at how vast the lobby, which we could see from the restaurant, seemed without its con population.  People in football shirts strolled in–apparently the Bears and the Falcons played that Sunday in Atlanta–and that was strange, too.  Besides which, they didn’t come close to filling the lobby. And there was a water station.  That would last about 15 seconds during DragonCon.

This is what the exhibit level looks like during the con:

DC2014_Hyatt1

DC2014_Hyatt2

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is what it looked like last Sunday. My mind’s eye kept trying to fill the emptiness with the sights and sounds of DragonCon.

photo-30photo-31

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going back to New York will be weird, too. Visiting the museums will be particularly strange because that was what we so often did with Judy. She loved the museums and knew so much about history, science, different periods of art, and the history of costume, among many, many other things, that she always enriched our rambles through the exhibits.

I’ll miss both Eugie and Judy, in different ways because our dynamics were different.  Even though neither of them said, “Here.  Have this to remember me by,” they shared themselves and their talents freely, and that was a gift from each of them.  I have the wonderful stories and beautiful memories they left behind, and I will treasure those.

What parting gift from a friend or relative do you hold dear?

 

Posted in , , , ,

Comments

31 Comments

  • flchen1 says:

    Nancy, thank you for sharing your friends with me today–what a lovely memorial and sweet tribute to them. I think that usually, it’s the stories and memories we have of our friends and relatives that are the dearest and most precious gifts. While we may also have physical keepsakes that remind us of them, it’s the memory of shared experiences and feelings that keeps them close to our hearts.

    • Fedora, thank you. Memories are precious things, and one of the main values of objects, I think, is that they prompt memories. On the TV show Heroes, where most of the characters had powers of some kind, a bad guy keeping a secret was persuaded to talk by the threat to take his memories of his dead wife and daughter. The character who made that threat crossed a lot of lines, and I thought that was one of them. Memories are part of what make us who we are, I think.

  • Helen says:

    Nancy

    That is such a lovely post and hugs to you on losing both of these dear friends over the years I have lost a lot of family and very close friends and although I don’t have gifts from them all I will always have some great memories that I can relive whenever I want to

    Have Fun
    Helen

  • Amy Herring says:

    Nancy, although I did not know your friend Judy, I wish I had and would love to read some of her stories if that becomes possible.

    As you wrote, “I’ve read some of Eugie’s stories but not all, so I have those to look forward to, each one doubly precious because the number available is now finite.” I had also read many of Eugie’s short stories, even some in earlier drafts she shared, but I have not read all 100+ stories puiblished. I am doing so now and writing short personal reviews. The experience has been bittersweet as each day brings fresh tears but also fond memories of our friend.

    Not only reading Eugie’s stories, but thinking about them analytically, has given me new insights into her psyche and her imaginative and creative range that I believe may make me not only a better writer, but a better person. I cannot think of a greater parting gift than that. Thank you, Eugie. And thank you, Nancy, for letting me share my thoughts. Losing our good friends has been wrenching, but when that friend is also a writer, so much more is left behind for us to remember.

    • Amy, thanks again for the photo. You’re always welcome to share your thoughts here.

      What people put into their fiction is interesting, sometimes expressed only on the page. The dh is into psychoanalytic criticism, but I’m not sure where imagination plays into that. I’d like to hear your insights about Eugie’s stories in person sometime.

      • Amy Herring says:

        Absolutely! If not before, we can dedicate Sunday evening after ConCarolinas to remembrances, literary and otherwise. Hope dh will join us?

        Thanks again and my condolences to all the family and fiends of both Eugie and Judy.

  • Anna Sugden says:

    What a lovely post, Nancy – such a moving tribute to your two friends. Big hugs on their loss.

    Ironically, this weekend I was scanning my late MIL’s recipe books for her children and grandchildren. Since her love and her baking went hand in hand, having her handwritten recipes is something very precious.

    • Thank you, Anna. Scans of those recipes will be wonderful to have. Something handwritten is so much more personal than typescript. Judy and I wrote a story together for Interlac, back in the days before computers, and I kept all the drafts and correspondence. Looking at her handwritten notes on the drafts and at her letters is so much more evocative than reading her old emails.

  • Mozette says:

    What a lovely post. Such a pity we lose friends as the years pass us by – as well as family.

    We lost my Uncle Allan in 2012 from Prostate Cancer… he had never been checked, and it took him quickly.

    But when I was around 17, he bought this awesome entertainment unit from Super A-Mart Furniture Store… it was large, made of wood and held his television, stereo and vinyls as well as videos too! Everyone loved it, drooling over it and were forever touching it!

    Me?

    I ran one hand along the top of it whispering, “Mmmm, very nice.” and that was it. I didn’t look sideways at it again… ever!

    But everyone else did… they just wanted it in their homes.

    Uncle Allan noticed this about me. I wanted that piece so badly, but the best thing to do was to not react like a drooling puppy over it and he’d end up giving it to you… and guess what!

    about 18 months before he passed away, he called me up asking if I needed something for my television to be stored in… and my ‘sweet stereo system’… I said yes! He asked if I remembered that cool entertainment unit he bought when i was a teenager – of course I did! – and he offered it to me! I was agaste he offered it up… I asked for how much, he said he was giving it to me!

    Wow! I mean, jeez!

    So, I phoned up my folks and we got it over to my place faster than we could break a sweat!

    Well, he passed away 22nd, April 2012. It was a Sunday morning around 4am… very sad, but he wasn’t in pain, he just slipped away in his sleep. I went downstairs to my living room and cried while I looked at the entertainment unit… it was the best thing he ever gave me.

    Six months after his service, I received a phone call from Uncle Iain – Uncle Allan’s brother – asking is I knew where the big, old entertainment unit he used to own was….

    …um… yes, I did, I said sitting on my lounge with my feet up on the coffee table… it’s in my living room… 😛

  • Mozette, I’m sorry for your family’s loss. The entertainment center sounds beautiful, and the memory of your uncle’s generosity sounds wonderful.

    • Mozette says:

      Thank you.

      Uncle Allan was a Favourite Uncle. He was one of those Uncles who did a lot of things for everyone. He was an engineer who made a lot of money; and wasn’t funny about spending it. He collected cars and lived in a big house… he loved everyone equally; and spent his money any way he wanted – and died broke.

      he didn’t want anyone fighting over his fortunes… you know how family can get.

      When I broke it off with an horribly abusive man in my late 20’s, he was the only one who could help me. Being openly gay, he invited me to his ‘special parties’ where I could socialise without having the problems of having any men come on to me… it was great!
      A lot of the guys had heard of my ex-bf and helped me through the hardest time of my life. However what I didn’t know about these guys – these wonderful friends of his – was that a lot of them were suffering from AIDS and Cancer… they were battling their own private wars; and they came to his parties to have a social life without harming anyone and to just enjoy being together.

      A lot of them are gone now – about 95% of the ones I met those 4 or 5 times – but I remember them well as the most wonderful people.

      And my Uncle Allan is missed horribly by my family because of how wonderful he is in every way.

  • Amy Conley says:

    Beautifully said, Nancy.

  • Cassondra says:

    Big hugs on your loss of your two friends, especially so close together. What a wonderful tribute to them you’ve put here, though.

    I have the china cabinet and some other pieces my grandfather made for me, and those are very special to me. Honestly it is the memories of him that are the important thing. It’s interesting to me how I almost NEED some object to sort of “hold” those memories. I’ve never thought of it quite like that before until I read your blog.

  • Shannon says:

    I am sorry for your losses. (It sounds like we all lost someone special when these two ladies passed.)

    I have part of the spoons my Grandma O. collected, most of them when she was in Europe visiting my aunt. I have Grandma M.’s coffee cups and saucers that she brought out on special occasions. I have a photo album of my Dad’s Navy career, with a few pictures ripped out–pictures with his various girlfriends. According to my uncle, he did indeed have a girl in every port.

    • Shannon, thank you. Spoons and cups/saucers would be lovely to display. I had to chuckle over the photo album. We have some pictures of my dad, who was also in the navy, pre-mom, and he is definitely a couple of sheets to the wind.

  • Becke says:

    Nancy,
    What a lovely tribute. Cancer robs us of our loved ones too often.

    A few of my favorites:
    An apology note hand-written by Dad.
    A Chili’s cap Dad picked up off a parking lot and washed. Considering his wealth, just the irony of his selection makes it special. It’s hanging on my bedroom mirror.
    b

  • pjpuppymom says:

    What a beautiful and loving tribute to your two friends, Nancy. They both sound like very special people who, no doubt, touched the lives of many.

    From my mother, I have the family photos with her meticulous descriptions on the back of each. Such precious memories, penned in her hand.

    During the weeks preceding my dad’s death (he had terminal cancer and knew it was coming), he gave me the courage to overcome my fear and resume my love of travel. I cannot thank him enough for the wonderful adventures I’ve had during the past ten years.

    • PJ, thank you. How great that your dad got you back to traveling! You’ve had some wonderful adventures. I always love old photos, especially with handwritten messages.

  • Nancy – That was a very lovely tribute to your two friends.

    Fortunately, I’ve only lost one close friend, but both my husband and I have lost our parents. While I have many memories and lots of “things” to evoke memories, my favorite is a clown music box. The day I learned my dad had brain cancer, I drove down to Cincinnati to be with my Mom while he was in the hospital. I stayed there until my oldest brother could come about four days later. I went home to see my kids and husband. My dad was so glad that I’d been there when mom needed me, he sent my brother off on a mission – to buy a music box he’d seen of a clown playing a clarinet. The clarinet was important – that’s a whole ‘nother story – but as I collect music boxes, the gift was special to me. Even more special was the card that accompanied it. He wrote “thanks” in very shaky script. It was all he could manage. I lost my dad about eight months after that.

    About ten years ago, I took a writing class at OSU. One of the assignments was to write a short story and present it as something other that a written paper. I wrote about my father and memories of the clarinet. I illustrated it with drawn pictures of the music box and a portrait of my dad and put the whole thing in a gift box with the label “My Father’s Gift.” I got an A on the project – but more importantly, I gave the story to my mother. When she read it, she cried. She said it was the best memorial to Dad that she’d ever received. The portrait is framed and hangs in my hallway.

    As writers we have a gift. It’s only right that we use that gift to memorialize those we love. You did that. Hugs to you, Nancy.

  • Nancy'sDH says:

    As Nancy’s husband, I share Nancy’s sense of loss over the deaths of Eugie and Judy. I heard a lot about Eugie from Nancy, but I never actually met her in person. From everything Nancy told me about Eugie she struck me a talented and generous person, and I know she will be missed by her legions of friends. Judy, on the other hand, was a dear friend of mine. Judy and I shared a love a children’s literature. I am supposed to be an expert on children’s literature, but when I talked to Judy, I always had a sense that she was the true expert. I will miss our conversations about classic children’s books and movies. For those of you who might be interested, Judy has a great essay in a forthcoming book, Walt Disney, From Reader To Storyteller.

  • What a wonderful tribute to two amazing women, written by one of the most amazing women I know. I am so very sorry for your loss. I am looking forward to reading Eugie’s stories. The titles are so evocative.

    My Great Aunt Icie was one of the toughest and most sharp-tongued women I have ever known. But from her I learned how to sew, quilt, cross-stitch, net darn and tat. She made some of the most beautiful china dolls. The clothes she made for them were exquisite and sewn without any pattern at all. When she passed away at the age of 93 we discovered she had written in her will very explicit instructions about the distribution of her property. I ended up with two of the dolls, her 100 year old mahogany rocking chair and the queen-sized bedspread she tatted. The bedspread is now the canopy over the French provencial bed in my childhood bedroom at Mom’s. I don’t want anything to happen to it and it always makes me smile because she wrote her reason for leaving it to me in her will “because she is the only one who bothered to learn how to repair it.” Lets just say there was a great deal of mumbling, dirty looks, and indignant huffs from the Mobile cousins and my mother’s only sister about that. Aunt Icie lived life on her own terms and she never let anyone or anything tell her who she was. I learned a lot from her and when I sit in her rocking chair I can almost hear her saying “Honey, nobody gets to tell you who you are. Nobody.”

    • Louisa, thank you. Your Aunt Icie sounds like she lived on her own terms, and that’s great. I learned to sew from our neighbor across the street, and I’ll always remember her for that. How cool that you have these skills as your aunt’s legacy.

  • Perhaps slightly less finite then I’d thought as I’ve found more works on Eugie’s computer than I had expected (things she’d been working on, but hadn’t sent out yet), and my one real goal now is to see all of her works published.
    And it wasn’t sinus cancer, but lymphoma, but that’s just me being picky.

    • Matthew, thanks for the correction. I wasn’t aware of the specific diagnosis but thought it was a tumor in her sinuses.

      I hope you succeed in getting all of Eugie’s work published, and I’m glad to know there is even more of it.