Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Long Road Home

I took the whole day today to drive I-20 East and back again to Columbia, SC, for the funeral of one of the most lovely and memorable and inspiring person I ever knew, and likely ever will -- Mrs. Elizabeth Carrison Waite Manning.

Mrs. Manning, or Betty as she was fondly called, died a terrible, lingering death from Alzheimer's. To witness such a vibrant, original life utterly crippled by such an awful disease is another blog altogether.

What was beautiful and forceful and fascinating was the life Betty Manning lived with zeal and wit and fascinating aplomb, and so was the immeasurable influence she had on the host of people who trooped in and out of her divinely welcoming life and home.

I was the beneficiary of Mrs. Manning's wordly presence and grace due to my friendship with her only child, Elizabeth Carrison Manning Dorn. Here is Elizabeth with her mother, just as the Alzheimer's was setting in for Betty. I wish I had a picture from long ago, with a display of the fiery red hair Mrs. Manning always had set to perfection.

I met Elizabeth on the day my family moved from Charleston to Columbia, to the apartment near USC on Green Street. Upon arrival at Green Street, mid-sixties or so, I promptly set off down the new street to make a new friend, where I ran promptly right in to Elizabeth. We were five or six-years old. We've been friends ever since.

Elizabeth cared for her mother ceaselessly and with complete compassion until the moment she died, all the while being a devoted wife and mother herself to three young children. She was never far from her mother's side most of the time, so it seemed. We can only wish for our own daughters to grow up to be just a tiny bit like Elizabeth. Chances are they will, as long as we make certain they have her kind and always on the sunny-side perspective in their young lives as they grow and learn.

Elizabeth's loyalty and devotion to her many friends, weird ones or not, is legendary. She learned from a master, after all. Her mother immediately welcomed me and all of my rather freakish family into her grand home at 1828 Green Street. Mrs. Manning was a bona fide Grande Dame, and that's just what Grande Dames do. Elizabeth's father, Bernard, was much more imposing, but welcoming too in his own glaring, towering way. I doubt he muttered "dirty hippies" more than four or five times, although he was surrounded by a university full of them at the time.

Another childhood friend, whom I was delightfully reunited with after a nineteen-year absence today at the funeral, Dorothy Fowles Kendall, happens to be a fellow blogger -- a wonderful writer with almost perfect recall of every event and and every absurdity and every person from our childhood in downtown Columbia during the turbulent sixties.

Dorothy blogs today's funeral, cherished tidbits and many dusty memories of our shared history with the Mannings here. But don't believe everything she says! Particularly the bit about how I started the infamous birthday Barbie incident. (She started it.)

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