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Day 239: lovemore monday :: hunting for a friend in a graveyard

27 Aug

It’s Lovemore Monday and I did something totally new and different.

I went on a hunt. In a cemetery. 

I know, not my usual course of activity while out running errands. But I was motivated while filling out a questionnaire, specifically answering this question: What three women have most inspired you throughout your lifetime?

Let me count the ways.

There are actually too many inspiring women to fill the allotted three spots, so I went with my younger-self answers, since I can clearly see who led me then, being on this side of thirty (and closing in on forty!) now.

The first woman, of course, is my dear Mama Sling. I cannot imagine my life without her, even though she left way too young, she remains a ferocious force of positivity and a daily influence in my adult life. I could write a book about her incredible strength, love and laughter through all of life’s challenges — and, maybe I will!

The second woman is my high school basketball coach. Coach Kohring was an example of stick-to-itiveness as she, at 9-months pregnant, coached us on the court at summer basketball camp and then drove a van full of teenagers the entire eight-hour drive home, before she finally dropped herself off at the hospital to give birth. She was back on the court less than a week later and has always been a shining light for showing up. Her mantra still rings in my head today, “Practice Makes Permanent.”

The third woman is someone I never met. 

I know all about her life because I studied her papers for my Senior Project at Smith College. She is a Smithie and was the first female television sports producer. She won Emmy’s for her work, she was a part of ABC’s Wide World of Sports and she pretty much set every record there was for breaking barriers in the television sports production field – everything from the Olympics to NFL games. As a woman. Back then.

Her name is Eleanor Sanger.

And, today, as I reflected on all the ways she inspired me, I also felt crushed that I lost The Paper I wrote chronicling her life.

I wasn’t crushed just because I spent an entire year researching Eleanor’s life while at Smith. Or, because I had special access to the Sophia Smith Collection where Eleanor’s papers are kept, or even because I was mesmerized by the interviews I conducted with her family and co-workers.

No. I am crushed because there is very little documented about Eleanor’s life and times and the barriers she broke. And, I lost that damned Paper in my devastating divorce (among so many other things).

Even the Wikipedia page on her life is sparse pickings.

As I looked over that Wikipedia page today, remembering all the facts and details about her life, there was one that I totally forgot in all these years. And that line jumped off the page at me.

“Sanger and Riger are buried side by side in Village Cemetery, West Tisbury, Massachusetts on Martha’s Vineyard.”

It all came back to me. I remember interviewing her children and learning how Eleanor loved the Vineyard, how she came here all the time and how she wanted to die here. And, she did.

Then, I did something totally out of character.  I decided to do something I have only done for one other woman (Mama Sling) — I would walk the cemetery and find Eleanor’s grave. 

So, I set off without a map or any idea where to go, except I held the gut instinct that you can pretty much find anything on this island if you keep looking.

As I drove down State Road I scanned the fields for signs of gravestones and finally spotted a fence line marked with graves. I didn’t know if it was the Village Cemetery, there was no sign, but I turned down the road anyway.

I parked at the end of the dirt road inside the fenced cemetery, feeling like an intruder busting my way into the graveyard. Immediately, I felt sheepish for showing up without flowers or any offering in my hands.

In my head I held conversations with all the imaginary people that I might run into, as if catching me in the act while walking up and down row and rows of tombstones.

Just how do I explain what I am looking for? Do I say I am looking for an old friend? Doing research? Just out for a walk? Lost?

Luckily I didn’t run into a soul — not a living one. But, I didn’t see any sign of Eleanor either.

As I walked to the end of the road, after weaving in and out of rows of Mayhews, Daggits, Slocum’s, Davis’s and other recognizable Vineyard names, I determined my search was over. There was no Sanger.

Besides, I didn’t even know what I was looking for… A tombstone? A bench? A rock? A temple?

And then, just as I turned the final corner to walk back to my car, I saw her name.

Eleanor Sanger.  

“Eleanor!” I sang her name out loud as if finally meeting an old friend for the first time. “There you are!”

As I sat on the grass next to her gravesite, I apologized profusely for losing The Paper. It’s a good thing no living souls were around to see me talking to myself, but I have to say it felt freeing to apologize OUT LOUD and make my peace with this woman who will never know how much she inspired me.

I realized something else too.

I guess it’s okay that The Paper is lost and gone forever.
Because, in reality, she’s been right here with me on this island all along.

I have to say, Eleanor…
it was nice to finally meet you. 

And that’s why, on this Lovemore Monday…
I. Love. It.

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