Memories of people who are gone, and lessons I learned from them

I hear dead people.

And when I hear them, I am reminded of the lessons I learned, and the settings where I learned them.

Miss Olga Bibza, for example, taught dance at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

She had pioneered modern dance classes at the university in the 1950s and 60s. But by the time I arrived on campus in 1973, her idea of modern dance was, well, not very modern.

She was a has-been. A younger dance instructor had taken her place. 

But Miss Bibza still taught beginning ballet and social dance, where she instructed the guys to be gentlemen and the gals to be ladies on the dance floor.

I visited her home in Oxford a couple of times, and I loved to listen to her wisdom.

One day, she said, “Don’t ever let anyone else determine your happiness.”

I could tell that she had followed this advice for herself, and had likely given it out to many other students over the years. 

I needed to hear it that day, and sometimes I still do. When I’m letting someone else make my day miserable, it’s the voice of Miss Bibza, gone since 1998, that redirects me and gives me strength.

In different times, I hear my mother’s voice.

Widowed at age 40, she spent five years as a single mom before remarrying.

When she was single, she depended on a community of support to help her raise four children.

Friends would volunteer to take us kids to evening events at school, which was in another town than the one where we lived – as long as she could drop us off at a meeting point about halfway.

We always arrived early at the rendezvous point, and would sit waiting in the car for 15 minutes.  

“Why are we always so early?” we asked.

“Because  it’s rude and inconsiderate to make people wait for you,” she said, “especially when they are offering to help you.”

Mom has been gone two years now, but I have my hat and coat on, keys in my hand, 15 minutes before I leave for my appointments.  

I can’t be alone in this. Dead folks come through for us all the time.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” I hear as Jesus’ words come through my Sunday school teacher’s voice. “It’s ‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’,” from my third-grade teacher. “Watch out where the huskies go and don’t you eat that yellow snow,” from Frank Zappa.

But those are words for mass consumption, not just for me.

Whenever I see a Tootsie Roll Pop, I hear my older sister, Linda, who died in November 2020 at the age of 68.

When she was a teen-ager, she noticed that the sticky, chocolate, fudgy part of the pop seemed to be getting smaller and smaller.  

It’s the last part of the treat that you eat, and it gets stuck in your teeth which makes for an even longer snack.

But there was less and less of it.

So, she wrote a letter to the company, asking them to put more “tootsie” in their pops.  She didn’t expect to get an answer.

About three weeks later, a package arrived in the mail. It was addressed to Linda, and it contained an entire bag of the middle part – the ooey, gooey Tootsie Rolls.  

It also contained a letter thanking her for her missive, and assuring that they would try to do better.

The lesson from Linda was this: “If you’re disappointed or dissatisfied, DO SOMETHING about it. Don’t just sit on your butt complaining.”

I wish I could say I make a suggestion whenever I see something that’s not up to snuff. Sometimes I let things go — because I can, and because pointing out a problem might not be worth all the energy and time.

I know Linda’s right.

I hear her voice, but I don’t always follow through.  And, some things truly are beyond our control, but at least I feel I’ve done something if I’ve written my congressman, or carried a sign in a protest, or backed the candidate of my choice for office.

I just wish it was as easy as licking a Tootsie Roll Pop.