Lois Lowry's Blog
Someone has just told me that the Newbery-Caldecott Awards were announced this morning, though not what books won. They will no doubt be books I haven't read (though last year's Newbery book, Good Masters, Sweet Ladies, was one I had read and loved and recommended) since I rarely read kids' books and am very out of it in terms of what's hot and what's not.
But the timing of it---which I should remember, coming as it does right at Oscar Nomination and Superbowl time---made me remember my friend Carol Otis Hurst. At just this time two years ago, I wrote about her, something that remains in my computer, unpublished---at least I don't think I put it into my blog, which I suppose would constitute publication of a sort. So in her memory I am going to print it here:
My friend Carol and I played Canasta early every morning on the internet. Yeah, canasta: that game your grandmother played. Carol had to teach me how to play, actually, though I think I vaguely recall knowing back when I was a teenager. It’s been a lot of years since then.
We played as a team. She would usually e-mail me from her home, where she lived alone, 150 miles away, two words: Up yet?
I would reply, sometimes, Just got up. Wait. Getting coffee.
One time this past summer, after I had gotten a puppy, I replied testily, What do you mean, am I up. I’ve been up for two goddamn hours with this misbegotten dog.
But most often I sent back just one word. Up.
And she would respond: Game?
Then we would both go to Yahoo Games, to Canasta, set up a table, the two of us, forming a team, and wait for opponents to arrive.
Yahoo Games allows you to choose an icon to represent your player self. Carol and I played as identical gray-haired grannies. It’s what we were.
She seemed quite content with her granny icon but every now and then I would feel an urge to change mine. There was a balding, gray-bearded man available; when I used him, I felt as if we were an elderly couple, and that she would, after the game, serve pot roast and we would watch re-runs of Lawrence Welk together.
Once, though, when I was playing as the gray-bearded man, we lost badly, and she e-mailed me: You old coot. You should never have discarded that king. I’m confiscating your Viagra until you improve.
And when I chose to be the guy with the sleek, oily-looking, pompadoured black hair? We lost, that time, too, and Carol e-mailed me tersely afterward: Our score sucked. I was distracted by having to play with a tango instructor.
There are ways that a team of two players can cheat, of course. We could have sent instant messages to each other, with info about our cards. I suppose many players do that. But we never did. We kind of relished the challenge of it, and we were somewhat smug about our purity. They were probably cheating, we e-mailed each other when we got trounced. We lost as often as we won.
After the early morning game, we would each settle into a working day, still at our computers. We were both writers. Now and then, if there was anything of interest, we’d send a message.
Once, after a trip to the doctor, she wrote: I have shingles. God, I hate having a disease named for roofing material.
Most often, at midday, needing a break, one of us would e-mail the other: Game?
The last e-mail message I got from Carol was that one word—Game?—early last Friday morning. My Yahoo Games profile tells me that we played, and beat, a pair of players known as louise_loves_raymond_4_ever and wildfire_quencher_05. (Our own Yahoo names were pragmatic and un-cute. We were smug about that, too).
My list of “Sent messages” tells me that I sent the same one word to her at noon on Friday. Game? But there was no response. I figured she was off grocery shopping. My profile reminds me that I played alone, against a single opponent, at 12:04. Under the heading: Result? Yahoo has printed: Loss.
The next day, Saturday, my subscription copy of Publishers Weekly arrived in the mail, and I found in it a glowing review of Carol’s newest book. I e-mailed her, the record shows, at 11:51 AM with congratulations, a message that I concluded adolescently with a line of exclamation points.
There was no reply.
I played a game without her again, that day, and the Yahoo record says again: Loss.
Well, I thought, she must have gone away for the weekend. Me? I wouldn’t have dreamed of going away for the weekend, not during play-off games that included the Patriots.
Carol was not a football fan. Sometimes I had chided her about that. “As a friend,” I had told her once, “you are entirely satisfactory except that you don’t like football or chamber music.”
She had shrugged. Chacun á son gôut. Friendships can overlook such discrepancies in taste. And it was true that we did have many common passions: Henning Menkell. The New York Times crossword puzzle. The Daily Show. It was enough.
Sunday I watched the Bears beat the Saints and despaired as the Patriots lost to the Colts. I did not e-mail Carol, though I e-mailed my son and other high-testosterone people about the game. Carol would not have been appropriately sympathetic, and I needed a lot of sympathy, not the kind of rolled-eyes response I’d get from her.
On Monday morning I played once more without my granny partner and once more the record shows: Loss. But I e-mailed her, the records tell me, at 11:58 AM that day, after the American Library Association had announced their award winners for the year. Carol and I were both children’s book writers.
Are you around? I never heard of any of the winning Newbery books but isn’t it nice that new people are getting recognition.
I went off to a lunch date with a friend, came home, worked some more on a speech I was writing, cooked dinner, thought about an upcoming trip to Milwaukee I had planned, and—as is our unfortunate wont—ignored the uneasiness I was beginning to feel.
But by Monday evening I was truly concerned about the continuing silence.
Are you around?
I phoned her. No answer. So, three days after my first unanswered email, I began to make calls that would activate an investigation. They found Carol’s body on the floor. She had put toast in the toaster and there was un-poured coffee in her Cuisinart coffeemaker. Awaiting breakfast that morning, her granny’s heart, a big heart, a generous, gifted, irreverent heart, had exploded and she was gone.
She was not a religious person; just the opposite. One time, at brunch with a group of friends, the question had been casually raised: “If you could get rid of one thing in the history of the world, what would it be?” We sat around thinking, trying to be profound, murmuring “Holocaust?” “Hitler?” “Nuclear weapons?” but Carol didn’t waste time pondering. “Organized religion,” she said in a definitive voice, silencing everyone there, including the ordained clergyman who was on her left. “Would someone pass me a bagel?”
Still, I am fantasizing an afterlife for her. And in this particular sort of heaven, they would issue everyone a laptop. It would be a Mac. Carol was a Mac person.
So part of me keeps watching each morning for an email with some kind of celestial address. But its content would be familiar.
In the meantime, I played another game today. I was the little gray-haired granny once again, but I had no twin and played partnerless. My score sucked. If you check my Yahoo Games profile, it will say: Loss.