Early in the morning on my birthday three Mondays ago, my friend Carolyn sang me the birthday song on my iPhone. I heard her warble the notes to “Happy Birthday to Yooooo” with heart and soul. As always, the notes struck a chord with me. We have exchanged the familiar tune—hers in February and mine in July over the phone for decades now. But this year her rendition was especially poignant. “Why?” you ask.
You see, the recording I heard was not a fresh one. It was not recent. Carolyn did not actually sing the song to me this year. What I heard on July 24, 2023 was her voice mail, recorded because I didn’t pick up the phone when she called last year (2022) on my special day. Regrettably, she passed away in April of this year, and so I plan to keep her song on my iPhone for a long, long time as a remembrance: “She being dead yet speaketh!”
Carolyn Phanstiel has always been a giver of gifts both tangible and intangible. Back in the 1980s, I valued her mentorship as a beginning college teacher. She opened her files to help me, a fledgling college prof, with syllabi and other handouts to adapt for my composition and literature courses. She had a wide range of abilities, both serious and humorous. Part of the unofficial “Birthday Club” among professors in our department, she told us all, “Never miss a party!”
At her funeral, a reed basket held seashells like the one above. She had hand-picked these as she strolled the sands of Fernandina Beach near her home early in the morning for years. The attendants at her celebration of life urged us to take more than one: there were dozens and dozens of shells to choose from, prickly and smooth.
The reverse side of this laminated photo holds the words to the oft-quoted Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, / Where there is hatred, let us sow love, / Where there is injury, pardon, / Where there is discord, union, / Where there is doubt, faith, where there is despair, hope, . . .
Late in July, Carolyn’s daughter Cheryl and her son Otto, Jr. held a reception for family and friends in her honor. The invitation opened the doors at the Phanstiel home for us to gather once more and to find a memento, a personal treasure, to take with us as a “Carolyn” keepsake.
Carolyn was an avid reader, as evidenced by a section of her bookshelf. She loved sunflowers, shown below in their golden glory.
Her children made posters of her special sayings, all with her smiling face. She was present everywhere at this party!
Cactus plants in my lanai, her living contribution
Her last words to me before the final “I Love you,” were these: “Marian, did you know that Hello and Goodbye are the same word in Hawaiian?”
Ever the teacher, she was still instructing me: “No, I didn’t, but I know now.”
Carolyn has been a feature of my blog before. Last January, I wrote about her annual gift of words at Christmastime. You can read it again here.
My friend and I had similar interests, the obvious one, a love of literature. And so I leave you with this quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley, one I shared with Cheryl and Otto just days after they lost their mother:
From the Greek of Plato
Thou wert the morning star among the living,
Ere thy fair light had fled;—
Now, having died, thou art as Hesperus, giving
New splendour to the dead.
Do you have a memento of a loved you have held onto, perhaps even a recorded message, like mine?
What special gift from a loved one have you kept?