Friday, September 3, 2010

My best for Polly...

(This is the closest version to what I ACTUALLY said at the memorial service... Changes were made right up to show time!)

In her final days, Polly was tired and weary. Surrounded by loved ones, she didn’t have the energy to open her eyes but occasionally she did have the strength to utter 2 phrases: “shut up” and “this sucks”. Yeah… this does suck.

But, we gather here today to honor Polly and it’s important to ask ourselves, as Heather Gullo puts it, What Would Polly Do? So, WWPD? Polly would want us, I think, to treat this like a bitter sweet cast party after an exceptional run of sold out performances. While although the performance is over, we are left with the gift of blissful memories that will last a lifetime.

For now, the best I can do is share what she meant to me and hope that I see some heads nodding in recognition of the woman I knew and loved my whole life.

Of course, I don't have a clever "the first time I met Polly" story because to me, she always just "was". From my first consciousness of who's who in my world, she was the first 2 syllables of the entity "PollySarahandJames". (I think "BeckyHeatherBillJonHeidiandPhoebeKwasiandYaw"
will all agree to that.)

But here's what I do remember:

I remember she always smelled good. Like, compared to other little kids, Polly always smelled good. I think it was Aunt Bec's fabric softener.... but I'll give Polly some credit, too.

I remember Sarah’s and her matching corduroy cowgirl outfits… Ooohhhh, the envy we VanScoy girls felt when we saw her and Sarah that Christmas! And don’t get me started on the moon boots she had… So cool!

I remember her handwriting. I love her but that handwriting is FREAKISH! I still say there are millions of dollars to be made with commercialization of the Polly Font.

I remember her on the volleyball and basketball courts and on the softball field. She was tall and skinny and I was always afraid she would shatter when things got physical… (Sarah Dibble, anyone?) But I was always wrong. She was a smart and strong athlete
who helped add many white banners to the gym wall. Little did we know that this lanky champion was showing us a glimpse of the toughness we would come to know so well these last few years.

I remember her singing and her presence right here on this stage, especially when she played Wendy. She sewed my shadow back on and I got to steal her away to Neverland where she made us pockets and sang to us and told us stories…. Her gorgeous voice and sweet disposition in that character were crystal clear and genuine. Even the most
idiotic of lines (“Pooor Wendy, poooor Wendy!”) she managed to deliver with sincerity. And of COURSE those blasted Lost Boys ditched me and went back to London with her! “She’ll be our mother, at last we have a mother!”

Don’t get me wrong… the Wendy-thing was acting. I remember her “dark” side, too. Polly has this image of being all sweetness and light… and she was… mostly. But did you ever see her mad!? She had a strong sense of right and wrong and a fierce loyalty to those she loved. If someone got on her, let’s say “Polly Poop” list, her vocabulary could be… well, let’s say you wouldn’t find some of those words on one of Ms. Tompkins’ First Grade spelling tests!

I remember her special relationship with Grandma Barden. Those two Pollys were something else. Among other things, Polly inherited Grandma’s love of the Dallas Cowboys, country music, Varsity hand wringing, and boxed wine. When things were tough for Polly, she knew Grandma was on her side and understood her better than anyone else. There are many who loved and knew Polly that went before her, but I don’t think anyone would argue that Grandma Barden was the first one to meet her, glass of wine in hand and Dallas Cowboys game on the TV, when she arrived in heaven.

I remember she loved pickles.

I remember the most elaborate thing she could bring to a Dish to Pass was.... pickles…. Maybe ice.

I remember that the biggest compliments on my appearance have always gone something like this: "Wow, you look great... you look just like Polly!"

I remember the Yankees. Those Boys from the Bronx knew a true fan when they saw her. Nick Swisher, Derek Jeter, ARod and all her other "boyfriends" came alive the day they met Polly and their bats kept a-swingin' for the entire season. Swisher spoke to Polly on the phone on Tuesday night before their game and then went on to hit a home run after which he said “that was for Polly.” If they put that in a movie, we wouldn’t believe it! Many of us in recent days have watched and re-watched the piece the YES Network put together after
Pollypallooza. What a tribute to her: they knew her for about 2 seconds before realizing what we knew… She’s just amazing from start to finish, head to toe…..

I remember her as the maid of honor for Heather's wedding. The stress was high and the temperature even higher. She was worrying about getting everything done and hoping everyone would be happy and in the right place. She was pacing and wringing her hands and saying "oh, jeeze" a lot.... and doing absolutely NOTHING helpful! Well, that's
not true... she knew her real job was to let Heather know when she was becoming a bitc.... Bridezilla.... And she did it well! Heather, I believe this was the sign: ?

I remember her love and dedication to all the children in her life – her hundreds of student but especially her nieces and nephews. Zach, Zeb, James, Siarahjo, Gracie, Barden, and HattieSue: the love you got and gave to your Aunt Polly is a wonderful gift. I know you treasure it. But don't hold onto it or onto all your memories of her... Because holding onto it implies you will not share it. Of course you must share it. You must because there's another Polly Ann who was deeply loved by this woman. This brand new Polly Ann, whose Godmother is in heaven, will have photos to look at in the future, but it will
be your job to tell her the stories and the memories of Aunt Polly so that in a small way, she, too, will experience and remember your Aunt Polly's love.

I remember that the best - and most hilarious - times with Polly were the spontaneous ones. Like Heather's accidental bachelorette party. We were in Syracuse for the bridal shower thrown by Mrs. Gullo. It was lovely but, umm, well, let’s just say there was lot of Italian spoken and we all got tired of smiling and nodding and having no idea what was being said. That night, fairly spur of the moment, we decided to go out. Well, one bar led to another. And, one dare led to another. We settled on trying to figure out who could go home with the most interesting find. All of us began by taking lame things like paper coasters that, honestly, the pub owners were going to throw away anyway. Eventually, though, after a couple of glasses of courage, all of us --- EVEN POLLY –- exercised our social skills in order to one up each other. Hotel keys, exchanges of, ummm, clothing, “employees must wash hands” signs, and… wait for it… a pack of hamburger and hot dog buns from a hot dog cart. Along the way, we found ourselves in a club with a live band performing. We asked ourselves, should we? And answered, of course we should! We joined the band, playing tambourines and singing like fools. I can only imagine what the other patrons thought of us. Oh, and when we hit one, let's say, colorful establishment, we discovered an empty bar with no line for the ladies room. Great! After using the bathroom and asking ourselves “Why aren't any of these men offering to buy us a drink??" we took note of the life size posters of Judy Garland on the wall and Cher music blaring from the stereo... Do you believe in life after love!?? Well.... DUH!

And after ALL that craziness, after the bride-to- be went to bed, after Heidi, who “had such a migraine” and was “just so tired” went to bed… I remember sitting in Heather’s kitchen with Polly and my sister, Rebecca, and talking God. We discussed the likelihood and the possibilities of the ever after. I was searching and playing the Devout and Devoted Agnostic… but not Polly. At that deeply philosophical and honest hour, I remember she Believed. She certainly had no idea at that time what a comfort that belief and faith would become to her just a handful of years later…. Your prayers, said silently or right out loud – truly “raised her up” and she was - she is – so grateful for them.

I remember countless sleepovers, many at Grandma and Grandpa Barden's farm with hide and seek and “who’s ringing the bell?” and pitch black Halloween walks to the cemetery down the road… But most especially I recall one fateful night on Kinney Street. Bunking in the camper and clearly very well supervised by grown ups, we went into the house for
something to eat. The Tompkins had a tricky refrigerator that could give you a zap if you weren’t careful. So… of COURSE Polly organized us into a human chain from the "safety first" refrigerator. When one of us touched a fork to the door of the fridge, a not-so-subtle
electric shock was released and it carried through all of us.... And of course we didn't stop with one zap! EVERYONE had to have a chance with the fork. Polly Tompkins: future science teacher.

And I remember, of course, more recent events. The initial diagnosis and worry. The triumph of her cure. The devastation of the disease's return.

I remember her fighting like a girl. Later this month, I’ll be running my 4th marathon. I consult with Polly during my training runs. She gives me permission to stop and walk when I need to and she kicks me in the butt when I need that, too. When I race, I carry this
pink boxing glove on my racing bibs. I could run a thousand marathons or complete a race a thousand miles long, though, and I'd never be able to claim that I have as much fight in me as Polly.

I remember her comforting others who were in sorrow and grief, even as she dealt with her own disease.

I remember you, the people she held the most dear and who were closest to her.

I remember Aunt Bec and Uncle John. On the endless drive to Candor from New Hampshire last night, my husband and I were listening to a podcast and a linguist was talking about gaps in our lexicon… basically, places where we need a word to fit a situation or thing but that word does not exist. Her example was this: we have a word for children who lose their parents – orphans. But there is not a word for parents who lose their children. I was thinking about that on my run this morning and I realized there’s a good reason for it. It’s a loss so deep and so utterly against the natural order of the universe…. No word could encompass such a thing. Aunt Bec and Uncle John, SarahJo and James, there are simply no words. I’m just so, so, so sorry.

I remember Jenny, who has been there for every minute and in her sometimes quiet and understated way, has done everything and been everything that Polly needed. People say that Polly is their angel, but Jenny, there is no doubt in my mind that you are hers.

I remember Polly's 39th birthday... The luminaries and the hundred and hundreds of birthday cards. Thank you, Gregg Houck, for spear heading that incredible tribute.

I remember the throngs of friends and family who have rallied for her. The Ya-Yas: Polly, Jenny, Beth King Cox and Gail Belakur. I remember Kate Handy and Katie Jackson and Debbie Kasson and Cyndi Hines and Kelly Starkweather and Peggy Ellinwood and Wendy Watkins and Joy Joyce and Heather Gullo and so many other strong and determined women who have been there for Polly with a box of wine or small joke or... ya know, a major bus trip for a couple hundred people to Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch and be the Bat Girl and get a private tour and be interviewed by media from around the globe..... Yeah, small stuff like that.

I remember and honor each of you for being here and for being a part of her extraordinary life. She was your daughter, your sister, your niece, your cousin, your aunt, your Godmother, your teammate, your friend, your teacher, your co-worker, your co-star, your patient, your fellow-patient, your coach.... Remember the parts of her that made you laugh. The parts of her that made you feel loved. The parts of her that made you remember to (pardon me but I have to use Rebecca’s expression) "fight like a Goddamn girl....". Cherish it. Be those things to yourself and the people you care about. Be those things to the world.

Be a little more country.
Be a little more funny.
Be a little more inspiring.
Be a little more box-o-wine.
Be a little more Ya-Ya.
Be a little more Cowboys and a little moreYankees.
Be a little more teacher.

She made you a better person.
Be a little more... Polly.


  1. This is beautiful, Phoebe.... I am positive Polly would love it. She picked a great person to speak about her life. You capture her well.

    Take care. Hugs to you and your family. I am thinking of you all!

  2. I'll second that, Hope. (So, if we're keeping score: that's a second 'second' on my 'second' from before.) Po--I mean, 'Pho'ebe--this was very beautifully voiced and I'm saddened that I couldn't be there to hear you present it. Big hugs and much love, my thoughts are with you and all of your family.

  3. Phoebe,
    Didn't know Polly but I know you and this is beautiful. It really paints a picture of love and life!


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  5. Phoebe- Your words yesterday helped us to begin the healing process- we are still chuckling about the refrigerator story! As long as we have our memories, Polly is with us. We promise to do what we can to keep her memory strong! Thanks so much for your bravery and eloquence!