This June 17th would have been my dear friend, neighbor and yoga student, Sallye McPhaul’s, 93rd birthday. She had been practicing with me for almost 3 years. She was the same age as my father and would ask about him everyday. During sessions which would’ve been 24/7 if she had it her way, she’d detour from seated eagle pose into conversations about how to make chicken foot soup and about how the collards didn’t grow in the backyard this year. Stories of her (large) family history came like a waterfall. She and her siblings were all from North Carolina and still have the house down there where they go for reunions once a year.
They came up north one at a time for work (she found work as a nanny for a baby who she cared for until he asked her to be his children’s nanny. He supported her after she could no longer work and until her passing as per marching orders from his mother’s deathbed). Sallye and her siblings reunited in Brooklyn and bought a house together 2 doors down from mine where they’ve lived since before I was born and have had Friday fish fries weekly with extended family and card nights on Sundays. She was devoutly religious, read the bible and watched sermons on TV when she could no longer walk down the block to church.
Her family is one of the few left on the block that has been there since I was a child. One of the kids on the block was JJ, her nephew, who I remember as tall and kind to me before I could make head nor tail of the world. He’s since moved to Atlanta. Sallye and I would swap memories sometimes. We discovered we worked at the same catering company in DUMBO in 1985. My first sort of real job. Now she was much more up on current local events than I as she’d sit at the window all day and watch the whole neighborhood go by very attuned to every new sighting.
She would alternate between motherly (“Stand up! Turn around! Let me see what you got on!”) and a best friend as she’d often have me in stitches- both of us in tears laughing. Her humor came out of nowhere and was wicked. And she was proud that she’d lost some weight and had achieved more flexibility than most her friends close to her age through yoga. She’d tell me how she’d show off her progress in flexibility down in North Carolina. She did like to brag! But it came with the territory. She told it like it was- good or bad. I tried not to let on exactly how great it was to be in her presence as I hadn’t had a mother in years.
One day she stopped asking (or telling me) exactly when I was coming next and I knew something had changed.
She had spent months packing, giving and throwing things away. She gave me one of a few beautiful heavy little beaded purses she had which I reluctantly accepted. She’d said, “Now where am I going to carry that thing?” Now I’m so glad I did accept it. I think of her any time I have the occasion to carry it. The packing worried me. Soon she wasn’t even doing that and became less herself even waving me away time to time. She was in and out of hospitals for a week. Then on April 16th, she was gone.
I miss Sallye’s powerful warmth, humor and quirkiness. The world feels very different without her. I’m grateful to have gotten to know her. Rest in Peace, Sallye~