Ces. Cecily Wade. Cecily Wade Steketee. Cecily who explored and played tough as a child in Depression era Grosse Pointe, Michigan, in vacant lots and tomboy bicycle adventures and long summers at a camp on Lake Huron. Cecily who did not live to see the adults her adolescent children would become. Cecily who did not live to meet her three grandchildren and two daughters in law and two sons in law. Cecily who did not live to meet her delightful grand-niece who bears her name and charms everyone she knows. Cecily who did live the last seven years of her short life with a disease provoked by a genetic component then little known and now commonly taught (emphysema and alpha-one antitrypsin deficiency). Cecily who managed in her short 47 years of life to share with her children — and friends and people who became family — humor and independence and passion and joy.
Cecily would have been 80 years ago today. I thought that I would share the text from a letter I wrote upon the occasion of her birthday a few years ago. Mom was on my mind. Mom is always on my mind. With joy. I wrote a letter to family dated April 17, 2002. Eight years ago.
“It’s now almost 25 years since our Mom passed away, and I just wanted to write a note to everyone and, well, talk about her. We all have our own individual memories of course. Some conflicting. Some that make us laugh in the telling and in the remembering. Some that make us feel individually sad or furious. Our Mom did not inspire a passive response. I just wanted to sing, talk, ruminate through a few of these memories with you all .. with others who care.”
“First, let me say that our parents really did at least one thing right. Each of us is in a wonderful, long-term relationship with a person we love and who loves us. O.K., that defines success as a human being. I’m done now. It took most of us a few running starts to get there, but we’re there. Amazing. Mom would be proud of the fact that she and Dad provided each of us with the foundation to be good and loving people on this planet.”
“But the gifts don’t stop there. Each of us has an outrageous sense of humor and a profound appreciation of the absurd. These did not drop out of the sky. And we absorbed a different array of her attributes, each of us, by genetic chance, by proclivity, by osmosis. John has her face more than any of us, and her natural athleticism. I got her height but not her great legs, damn it. However, I chose to absorb her passions for Barbra and Judy and movies and theatre –I think of Mom every single day for those reasons alone. Betsy has made beautiful children and carries on Mom’s tradition of teaching Character School and giving the next generation the gift of Fountain Street Church. Joe is her baby, hell he was everyone’s baby, and enjoyed for much of his early childhood the wonder of a world in which every face looked at him with adoration. Joe knew from infancy how to forge his own way. Much as Mom took her bike and “ran away from home” to downtown Detroit when she was about 10, Joe decided he’d roam our neighborhood — but the first time we knew about it he was about 2 and wearing yellow footie pajamas and we had to send out a search party for him! Joe had his own cocktail hour with the country club set across the street from the age of 3 or so. We have bits and pieces of Mom in our lives .. each of us, all of us. ”
“The day I began drafting some notes for this letter, a friend used the verb “bop” as in “I wanted to bop him one”, and I told her the story of Mom saying to healthy, rambunctious toddler Joe “no bopping”. In my life, as I bet in each of yours, I continually introduce Mom to my friends and loved ones — people who never met her but who eventually tell me they feel as though they know her.”
“And now, I come to the reason why I have enclosed here for each of you “Judy at Carnegie Hall.” This recording took me from Judy as Dorothy to Judy as the premier interpreter of the American standard songbook. The Carnegie Hall concert occurred on the evening of April 23, 1961, and was one of Judy’s several “comebacks” during her short lifetime. This was 22 years after “The Wizard of Oz”, and 7 years after her version (the best version) of “A Star is Born”. This was after her marriages to David Rose and Vincente Minnelli, and during her marriage to Sid Luft (and there were 2 more!). The concert was recorded, thank god, and was a bestseller as a double album release.”
“Mom had the recording and loved it, and some time when I was a child she introduced it to me. I remember her pulling out the double LP, popping the lid of the stereo console in the Pinecrest living room, and saying something like “Sit down, I think you’re old enough to enjoy this.” I wonder in retrospect if it was the 1969 summer I was 11, because Judy died June 22, 1969. I’d felt connected with Judy for some time: she was born on June 10 like me (but in 1922) and in Grand Rapids (but in Minnesota). But the connections forged through this concert were to the music and to the voice. And I was a sponge – always loved the belters; always loved the good telling of the story in a song. I can’t remember my precise reaction that day, but I know I spent many hours as an adolescent listening to the tracks on the two original LPs. I ended up with Mom’s copy of that album in later years, and just wore it out. Now that I no longer even own a turntable, I have replaced the recording several times, first as cassettes which mirrored the LP recording, then CDs which added additional between song “patter” that was on the original tape masters but didn’t “fit” on the original vinyl release. A new present to me a few years ago, and I now share that with you. Mom’s connection to Judy extended beyond the love for her music. Both Judy and Mom died much too young, both at age 47.”