May 31, 2016

Memories of Mim

By Phyllis Bonfield

Are there people in your life who make you feel good just to be around them? A person who lights up a room just by walking in. A person you admire because he or she is able to take whatever comes their way in stride.

I am fortunate to have had such a person in my life.  Her name is Mim. I had planned to write about my current topic, travel, but Mim kept coming into my thoughts. Join me as I take a detour from travel experiences.

Mim symbolized joie de vie. She had a way of attracting people with her warm smile and quick wit. But she wasn’t a Pollyanna. Her life was not easy as I found out when I got to know her better.

Marilyn was her given name, but friends in Texas called her Mim. She would laugh and say “My name has two syllables to you Texans – Mee  um

Great Depression hit in 1929

Great Depression hit in 1929

Born in Philadelphia in the 1920s, when the Great Depression struck in 1929 Mim’s family fortunes took a downward turn.  Her father lost his jewelry business to the Depression and committed suicide. Mim, her mother and sister had to go live with her grandmother. Whenever Mim spoke of her childhood she would say, “I was fortunate to be raised by strong women.” And she meant it.

When Mim graduated from high school, she went straight to work. I had the feeling her greatest regret was not going to college. She loved art, music, theater, was an avid reader and took an interest in world affairs. In her twenties, Mim married a talented, charismatic man and they had two daughters. In the 1950s, she and her family moved to San Antonio where her husband became manager of the local Bernhard Altmann factory, a famous maker of cashmere coats and sweaters.

The Alamo in San Antonio

The Alamo in San Antonio

I was a teenager in Texas when I met Mim and one experience stands out. She was at the house and I walked in the kitchen with a new black velvet scoop-neck dress. Mom said the dress was “too old” for me, but Mim piped up, “Bea, don’t be silly, Phyllis looks beautiful in it.”  Mom gave in and I felt terrific every time I wore that dress!

Philadelphia's Liberty Bell

Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell

Now fast forward to July of 1976. I had married in the mid-60s, and in ‘76 we moved to Philadelphia from Alabama. We had two young sons and I was pregnant with my daughter. While Mim had returned to Philadelphia in the 1960s, she and my mother kept in touch.

After we moved, Mim came over to the house while my parents were visiting. Her visit kindled a friendship I cherish. We didn’t have family close to us in the Northeast and Mim became my children’s “Philadelphia grandmother.” As I learned more about her life, my respect and admiration for her grew.

Mim and her husband declared bankruptcy after they moved back to the East Coast and in the 1970s financial difficulties led to divorce. She was grateful to her sister for providing her family a place to live. Mim worked a variety of administrative and sales jobs and didn’t let hard luck dent her bubbly personality or her joy of life. She would always say she was blessed with wonderful friends.

shadowMim would babysit with my children who adored her. She always acted like we were doing her a favor. She would walk in with funny kid gifts and get down on the floor to play Yahtzee and other games with the children. She was part of our family at family events including our daughter’s naming ceremony, the children’s bar and bat mitzvahs and my oldest son’s wedding.

Twenty years ago when my husband and I divorced, I complained to Mim that my ex took the china because I wanted the silver flatware, a present from my grandparents. “Don’t worry about it,” Mim wisely advised, “Go to IKEA and get a new set of dishes.” She was right.

Ceramic ware from Umbria

Ceramic ware from Umbria

Life can have a way of changing one’s outlook. In the early 2000’s, my partner and I were in Italy after we bought our house on the Chesapeake Bay. While in Umbria, we bought colorful ceramic dinnerware. It is fun and fits our casual lifestyle. By the way, the silver flatware that was so important to me is now with my daughter and it is seldom, if ever, used.

In January 2015, my daughter gave birth to a baby boy. I called Mim to share the happy news and was upset to learn she died at the end of December. She had been living at an independent housing community in Philadelphia. It hurts that I didn’t get to tell Mim goodbye. I think she knew how much my family and I cared for and admired her, but I wish I had told her.

The Takeaway: Have you had a special person who has enriched your life? Share your experience and let’s start a conversation. Please include your name, email or phone number. I may need to contact you for clarification or with a question. I won’t publish your name. Contact me at [email protected].

This entry was posted in Journey of Retirement on by .
Phyllis Bonfield

About Phyllis Bonfield

Phyllis has been writing for publication since she was an editor on her high school newspaper. After graduating with a degree in journalism, she worked for more than 30 years with educational and not for profit organizations in public relations, marketing, conference planning and development. Prior to her retirement in 2004, Phyllis was the marketing & development manager for a Philadelphia-based regional library resource network. She was in charge of web development, publications, membership recruitment and conference and event planning. Phyllis also served as vice president of public relations for an association serving the financial services industry. She directed an award-winning public awareness campaign in conjunction with the American Red Cross. She was also instrumental in developing a campaign to promote business ethics in America that received front page coverage in USA Today and recognition on CNN, ABC and other national news outlets. After she retired, Phyllis waged a personal PR campaign to curb shoreline erosion at her home on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The project included organizing other shoreline homeowners and Maryland’s elected officials to take on 17 federal, state and local agencies who opposed her property receiving a building permit for revetment. After a two-year effort, she received the first permit on Maryland’s western shore to build a continuous nearshore breakwater. This project paved the way for neighbors to receive similar permits for erosion control. Phyllis has a bachelor of journalism degree from The University of Texas-Austin where she majored in advertising and public relations.