I lost a friend this week.
She was a friend I had never met, and in fact I didn’t even know what she looked like – until I got the letter announcing her death.
But nevertheless, Patt Griffin was a friend — a kind and generous friend, and it feels strange to be saying goodbye. I suppose that as the age of the Internet, World Wide Web, and social networks advances, this sort of thing will happen more often to all of us. Somehow it seems appropriate, then, that I offer up my tribute to her on the Internet.
I can’t quite remember exactly when it was that I got to know Patt Griffin, but I do remember the how. It was sometime not too long after our move to Portland, when I had rekindled my interest in sumo wrestling. I wrote to the Sumo Mailing List that I wanted to see the basho, but I couldn’t get Dish Network at our apartment – at least, we couldn’t get two Dish dishes, which is what you needed to get TV Japan. (There was no such thing as streaming video in those days.) I got an email from Patt, who said that she would make copies of the basho and send them along, and all I needed was to reimburse the cost of tapes and postage. A generous offer, given that a sumo basho is 15 days, at 90 minutes to two hours of coverage a day! So six times a year, a package of five VHS came to our mailbox from Florida. That lasted a couple of years, and was renewed — in the form of a package of DVD+R discs — when we had to move back to an apartment and lost the ability to have that second dish. (Today, we have TV via fiberoptic cable, and one of the big reasons we switched was the ability to get TVJapan again.)
We also shared a love of animals — while Joe and I just had the cats, she also had dogs, and quite a few birds. When she and her husband Michael moved to California from Florida, they traveled cross country in an RV, so they could bring all the animals along. I got to share in the adventure via her emails — I always knew it was from Patt if it came with a subject line that was nothing but the day of the week it was sent.
Just a couple of years ago Patt’s husband died, and her own health, never of the best to begin with, began to take a serious downward turn. She mentioned to me that she had some sumo memorabilia and a pair of Japanese kokeshi dolls that she wanted me to have when she passed on. I said I’d be honored, that she didn’t need to do that. What else could I say? Privately I hoped that was a long time away. Sadly, it wasn’t. In July, I got several boxes from her: books, calendars, tegata (a handprint with the rikishi’s autograph) and more. I thanked her; I told her how astonished I was. I still am! Joe and I both worried for her. What else could we do?
The last email I got from Patt was in October, expressing her sympathy for us in the news we had received that the eldest of our cats was suffering from kidney failure and we didn’t know how long she might live. (Mina is still very much with us, I’m glad to say.)
Around the 14th of last month, I got a small box containing two kokeshi — antiques, I’m sure — which Patt had told me she’d had since she was a kid, when she got them from a Japanese pen-pal. There was a note inside from Patt’s friend Jacquie, which said that Patt wanted me to have these. And that she was very ill, needed round-the-clock care, and that I should pray for her. I sent notes to both of them … but a few days ago, I got another letter from Jacquie, the death announcement. Patt won’t ever read that last letter I sent. She was gone before it reached her.
As I told her in that letter, I put the kokeshi on top of our computer desk in the bedroom, so that every time I go in or out of that room, I see them and think of her and her amazing kindness and generosity. We’ve kept all the other treasures too — the model rikishi on one of the bookshelves, the calendars carefully stored. Maybe there’s room on the walls for a banzuke and a tegata or two. I still wonder what I did to deserve all this. Maybe it was enough that I was a fellow sumo fan; at least she could know that if she gave me these things, they would be appreciated for the treasures they were.
I try to comfort myself with the thought that wherever she’s gone, she’s better off. She is reunited with Michael and all her pets. She doesn’t have to worry about evil bankers trying to take her home away. And … she can enjoy all the sumo she could ever want.