Apr 24, 2014

My Purple Alarm Clock

Just before trying out for The Price is Right

My sister changed her name to Just Gail sometime in the mid-late 1990s.  She reasoned that she didn’t want to have any man’s name, and yet she was not a big enough presence to have “just” one name.  The rest of us were glad both of our parents were dead before she did this, and we weren’t really surprised because Just Gail had always been just one of a kind.  Gail and I were half sisters but the half never got in the way of sisterhood.  She was seven years older than I, and we grew up together in the same homes in Evanston, Denver, Towson, Maryland and Riverside, Connecticut.  In Denver, she drove a white 54 Mercury and had boyfriends with t-shirts with rolled up sleeves.  She and my sister Sherry hosted a gang of kids in the basement of our home, which had a separate entrance so it was easy for my parents to ignore, and my younger brother and I were not allowed to go down the stairs.  Which of course we did.  It was there that I saw my first tatoo.

In Baltimore, Gail went to Towson High School and from there she went to Endicott Junior College in Massachusetts.  Mother always said that Gail was the smartest of the four of us.  She certainly was the most out-of-the-box.  One of a kind to be sure.

When we lived in Riverside she worked for MARS broadcasting, the home of the syndication of the Dick Clark radio show.  Even though it was a radio show, she was always telling me and my teenage friends that we should practice our dancing in case they needed some extra dancers.  I can’t remember whether we believed her.

Gail left home when she married a man with nine brothers and sisters from Beverly Farms, Massachusetts.  Before they divorced, she had three wonderful children, all of whom have grown up to be wonderful people. One is a comedian, one is a photographer and natural born artist, and one is a school administrator.   They have children of their own and after a brief stint living in Vilas, North Carolina (Gail’s maiden name, not coincidentally to this, was Vilas) Just Gail returned to New Hampshire to be near her children and grandchildren. She was proud to see her comedian son on Letterman earlier this year.   She had a big heart.

She loved to go to antique stores and thrift shops and she always came up with something thoughtful and perfect for the person she sent it to.  I have an old wooden flag that says “Old Glory” on it, and our store has several pineapples we use in our merchandising and a pair of dogs that keep our Island Mango Poi Dog company.

Gail believed that she had powers that allowed her to predict the future, even to will things into being.  She went to sweat lodges, became friends with Indian chiefs and had a Tee Pee in her backyard for some period of time (post-children and pre-grandchildren).  She loved poetry and would frequently breakout into recitations, unbidden. She tried out to be on The Price is Right, her favorite TV show.  She hand wrote a book about our family and mailed a copy to Maria Flook who wrote Invisible Eden:  A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod.   Ms. Flook never got back to her.

Towards the end of her life she subsisted on Coca Cola and cigarettes  and Filet O Fish sandwiches from McDonald’s.  Though we didn’t see each other often, she and I spoke on the phone three times a week.  She would talk about her children and her grandchildren effusively.

About a month ago, Gail had a stroke, was hospitalized, and sent to rehab.  At rehab, she became enraged that she had arrived there wholly by a series of accidents.  She did not believe she’d had a stroke and demanded to go home.  On the morning they let her out of rehab she had a remarkable showdown with the staff who would not let her go outside in 4 degree weather to wait for her daughter.  I heard a lot about this during the week after she got out of rehab.  So did her children.  Her dog Fancy had been given away when she was in rehab, and she got her back.  About a week later, her daughter dropped by her house and could tell Gail was in real trouble.  Gail died the next day.

Two years ago, Gail came to visit me in Hawaii.  When she left she gave me one of her purple alarm clocks.  She had two.  I have looked at that alarm clock every day since she gave it to me, and I look even harder at it now.  That was the last time I saw her.


Leave a comment

Gloria. Circa 1955.

Gloria. Circa 2012.

Other than working for the American Red Cross in Korea for two years, Gloria Garvey has lived in Hawai`i since 1971. Her opinion and other writing has appeared in: The American Philatelist. Honolulu Weekly, The Honolulu Advertiser, The Honolulu Star Bulletin, The Star Advertiser, Hawai`i Reporter, Pacific Business News, Island Scene, The Design Management Journal.

Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.