We met Wanda when we moved to Philadelphia so George could go to grad school at the University of Pennsylvania. We became RAs at Hill House, one of the “special” dorms on campus. Wanda was the other RA on our floor. We were the hicks from the West, and the others were all savvy Ivy League East Coasters. Wanda was the savviest of all–from New York, she was both of the black community and also at home with upscale preppie sorts, since her intellect had allowed her to attend Chapin, one of the snootiest of the uptown New York schools. Wanda taught me everything I know about being black in America. I had had a black boyfriend once, but that was all “oh baby, baby” stuff, and I really had never been around many black people in my life. Wanda and her friends liked us, because we were just so curious about everything, and wanted to hang around with them. I guess that’s why we hit it off so well. We had SUCH FUN! As Wanda told me later, she loved watching the snobs who ran Hill House be disarmed by our intellect, demolishing their preconceived ideas that we were “none too bright hippies,” as she said the Master of the House had called us.
Wanda is probably the most sensibly intelligent person I know–and a great dancer. She laughed so hard at how bad we were at dancing–just couldn’t believe how white we were in that respect! One time she and her friends Cora Lee and Linda Hilliard tried to corn row my hair–I just could NOT sit still, which they found quite amusing, and they found my hair to be absolutely baffling. We played the card games and drinking games that blacks like so much, and we recited all the verses to “The Revolution will Not Be Televised”. We stayed in touch after grad school, and she came to visit us in Fort Worth when I was pregnant with Max. She wanted to see me pregnant, and thought it would be good for me to have a kid, because it would teach me patience.
Once we went to Australia, we really lost touch, although we occasionally sent Christmas card messages. When I went back to Bryn Mawr to give a lecture, I contacted her again–and found out she had married David! I had heard about this guy before, so I knew he was someone special, if he had won Wanda’s hand. She waited so long, and had so many amorous adventures, before she got married to David at 40! She took on his children as well, at least part of the time. They were so good together, and David was such an ethical, interesting, interested man. He travelled the world, teaching people in other countries how to run ethical businesses. We became Facebook friends (Wanda is not into such things), where we talked about books (he read voraciously) and mutual interests. They had a lovely home in one of the first integrated neighborhoods in Philadelphia, and David sang in the choir at the White Rock Baptist Church–probably one of the only white faces in the bunch!
Wanda spent much time last year worrying about and praying for her friend Linda Frank, who had breast cancer. (We knew Linda at Penn, too, and we became FB friends–to play Scrabble and talk about baseball). That’s the kind of friend Wanda is. Linda has now recovered, but Wanda continued to send messages about her. It was so nice to be back in communication with her.
And then at the beginning of this year, Wanda sent an email saying David was having trouble with pain in his legs. The next note shared the terrible news that the doctors had found a rare spinal cancer, and he was paralyzed from the waist down. David was unbelievably brave and forthright about his situation, writing beautifully insightful ruminations on how he was going to fight this affliction.
But this was not going to have a happy ending, I knew it. Last week, at the age of 60, and with his entire family around him, he passed away in hospice. No words can describe how Wanda must be feeling, I know. One of the things that has always amazed me about her, however, is that she has rock solid faith in God. As a non-believer, I have always wanted to talk to her about how she has faith–I know she does, but I just don’t know how she does. But now I envy her this faith. It will sustain her through this terrible, terrible loss. I want to be there for her, and I hope I can go visit in a little while, when she will need some continuing comfort. But the incredible lesson now is that all of her friends–and especially Linda Frank, who has been with her every step of the way–are enveloping her with love and support. I got a call late last night from one of the Penn friends, who wanted to make sure I knew about the upcoming services. I haven’t heard from this man in over 30 years–and it was as if we had just spoken last week. The circle is unbroken. We will be there in spirit, and Michael will pass that message on to my beautiful friend Wanda, who does not deserve this loss, but who will endure and be sustained by love and light.