Do you know 100 people?
Sure you do.
Do you know 100 people who would happily pick up the phone and call you to chat about old times?
Not sure that I do.
But imagine you’re 99 and the last living person of your group of friends and peers. What then? How many people will call you?
In the months leading to Lucile Palsson’s 100th birthday, her daughter Billie Ann had an idea. What if, in the 100 day run up to Lucile’s birthday, 100 people were to call her. One person a day calling with remembrances, stories and fondness for Lucile. At first, Billie Ann was concerned about how/where she would track down 100 people when the passage of time was having its way with those who knew her mother. But this initiative snowballed and people she hadn’t spoken with in 50 years were clamouring to call.
Lucile was a teacher – the school librarian in my small town high school – and my mother’s most enduring friend. The connection between her family and mine went back to years before I was born. Lucile and her husband were the kind of friends you get maybe once in your lifetime, if you’re lucky. They were teachers. My parents were storekeepers. Teachers had summer vacations, my parents did not, so the Palssons would take over the store so my mom and dad and kids could have a holiday. That’s the kind of people they were.
I visited Lucile on her 99th birthday. She was wearing a Wayne Gretzky #99 hockey jersey – a gift from the Great One himself. She inspired acts like that.
Anyway, back to those phone calls. They began unexpectedly. Students and the children of old friends began calling her. My sister called her, our childhood neighbor called her. Each morning Lucile received a call from the past. Each morning brought a surprise that she began to anticipate.
In December, Lucile, who lived alone and independently in her own home, took ill and was hospitalized. When her daughters arrived the next day one of her first questions was about the phone calls she was missing. Who was going to call me today?
My phone date with Lucile was to welcome her into 2018. On New Years Eve her son-in-law called to say I shouldn’t make that call.
She passed away that week, three weeks shy of her 100th birthday.
This past weekend, the planned celebrations of Lucile went ahead, but with a different focus in remembrance of a wonderful woman’s long life. There was music, singing, poetry, good food – all of which the absent birthday girl would appreciate.
People filled a hall to remember Lucile on her birthday and a restaurant to celebrate her the next day.
Imagine making such an impression in your quiet and graceful way that at 100, 100 people would wait their turn to call you.
Lucile Palsson was an inspiring model of a life lived well and right.