There’s no time in my life that I don’t remember Susan White. Susan and my father were married for most of the first 16 years of my life. I always called her Susan, and for some time we introduced each other to strangers as step-mother and step-daughter. We dropped the ‘steps’ after awhile, and I called Susan my ‘other-mother’. We figured that the people who wanted details would ask.
When she and my father separated there was never any question that she remained in my life. She was there for all the big events, and a lot of the small ones. She celebrated, helped, worried and watched the stories of my life unfold. She added her beautiful flare to many of my memories. She shared my joys and sorrows completely, as a mother would.
And when Lulah, and then Levon, came along, she did the same for them, with incredible enthusiasm.
Susan unexpectedly passed away last week, and we have been plunged into the icy hot waters of shock and grief at her sudden departure. I walk through the places she occupied, feeling a wash of memory in every glance. I can’t find her there anymore, but when I look deep inside myself, when the grief makes way for a moment, I find her love inside me, always. Love that has been shared does not die.
I’m not able to write more as of yet, so this week I’m sharing a beautiful piece written by a friend of mine, a friend of Susan’s…
My Friend Susan White
By Cella Neapolitan
My friend Susan was, you could say, more of an acquaintance. We never hung out, shared intimacies, exchanged presents. I considered her a friend just the same—as many people did—and this is why.
Like the lotus blossom of her beloved Buddhism, Susan revealed her depth and beauty in time.
Our relationship was primarily professional, as I was a long-time customer and consignor at New Century Books & Goods. More interested in the “& Goods” part of the store, I nonetheless often sought Susan’s advice on books. Her thorough knowledge of poetic, historic, and Asian philosophic writings was dazzling. Yet she never made one feel inferior. Quite the opposite. If you asked her a question, she would look at you inquisitively—everyone knows this patented “Susan” look—and truly listen to what you were saying, so as to truly help. This is rare, as we all know.
I loved a bumper sticker I once bought there, saying “Non-judgment Day is coming.” When it was destroyed in a car accident, I asked if she could get another. She said she would try, and I’m sure she did. I was feeling frustrated by months and months of waiting and asking. Then it dawned on me … I should let go … Non-judgment Day was here!
Susan’s way was sometimes brusque, but so is mine, so I got it. She worked so hard … in her shop and in her good works. Naturally, they often went together. I remember the day I noticed a sign in the window announcing “This is a safe place” for runaways in need. I also witnessed her patient handling of the poor souls who would walk in off the street. And she would open her doors to book clubs, sanghas, food co-ops, and other worthy groups … though I don’t know how she found the room … New Century was so beautifully full!
Susan’s professionalism was unimpeachable. She kept records like a pro, always paid on time, and was very much a partner. Before I rented space for my artwork, I relied on Susan to help navigate commercial and marketing waters. She was brilliant in this regard – as to what to sell, how to price, where to display, and so forth. And all this was willingly shared.
Susan’s generosity of spirit shone through in everything she did … and she did so much. Folks counted on the Community Bulletin Board & Table she devoted precious retail space to in the front of the store. I think we actually took this for granted, realizing now how rare this was. She herself was a font of knowledge about the town, the community, the “subtext” of activities that made them more meaningful.
Somehow, Susan also managed to take personal interest in, I’m sure, many people in her life. She and I were both old rock-hounds. Once my nieces and nephew joined in this love of stones, she would remember to show me new specimens she had, in case I might be interested. She just knew so much about so many things!
Susan was a natural-born conservationist. Her counter had free, recycled bookmarks available. She always had paper scraps handy for customers to jot down notes. Loose cards from various decks were there for purchase. And she stacked the nine-holed plastic packages that her candles came in for folks to take, if desired. I still use these to organize my art and jewelry materials … and they still retain their faint candle scent.
When Susan announced she was closing New Century, it was upsetting … more to others, it seemed, than to her. She had a matter-of-fact approach to life that was inspiring. Take the management of her uncle’s ill health, passing, and estate … all in Michigan … I’ll never get over her handling of that with such aplomb.
The joy that entered Susan’s life when she closed her shop was fairly evident. A weight must have been lifted, even though she continued to operate New Century as an online business out of her home. Her time was freer, and it showed. She could join her daughter Coree and family each Thursday at the Farmer’s Market, where they now delivered their CSA goodies, rather than at the store.
Wow, did Susan ever love her grandchildren Lulah and Levon!!! And they so loved her, calling her Momo, the Tibetan word for grandmother. They crawled all over her, chattered away, would go on walks, read books, and play whatever they wanted. It was an easy-going, free-wheeling kind of love that put Susan in her element. As capable and hard-working as she was, I see her happiest with these children.
No memory trove of Susan White would be complete without mentioning her laugh. What can I say? It was frequent. It was hearty. It was contagious. It was an incarnation of the Buddha. It is forever in my heart.
My friend Susan, I love you.