Two days after Christmas, one of my dear friends was killed by a drunk driver. This post is about her.
Born in Boston in 1941, the oldest of four children, Sarah (Smith) Nason grew up in Westwood, Massachusetts. A Boston native, Sarah was not the kind of person who stood out in a crowd. I never saw her name in a newspaper story. By worldly standards, she was an ordinary person. To her loved-ones she was a gem: reliable, diligent and a hardworking perfectionist who walked to the laundry mat weekly and picked up garbage and broken glass in her urban neighborhood.
In 1993, I took an entry level position in the admissions department at Northeastern University in Boston. On my first day of work, I met the backbone of the admissions department: Erma Shaw, Fran McElligot, and Sarah Nason. They weren’t admissions counselors or administrators. They were the ground troops that manually entered every inquiry and college application into the university’s computer system. I was only 23 at the time and felt like a baby compared to these women. Gray-haired and slow-moving, either Erma or Fran could have been my grandmother. Sarah, on the other hand, was in her early fifties.
As I learned the ropes from these veterans, I quickly became friends with each of them, but particularly Sarah. She was quick to offer help when I got stuck on an application. NU received a lot of international applicants, many of which were Asian. Sarah seemed to know how to pronounce names that I’d never even heard of. Moreover, she was relentless in pursuing missing information and documents, reaching out to students with personal phone calls to track down transcripts, letters of recommendation and a host of other required application materials. I often heard Sarah on the other side of the cubicle talking to some applicant in Thailand or another distant country.
In between our data entry duties, I got to know Sarah. She was always quick to laugh—even at herself. She joked that she always wore a trench coat because it was the only thing large enough to “tarp” her stout figure. And she chuckled that we were likely the only two individuals in Boston who left home each day with wet hair. We agreed that it was a bother to use a blow-dryer and in winter we’d both arrive at work, our wet heads crispy from the freezing temperatures. (Even today, I don’t own a hair dryer!)
Sarah was married, but had no children. She didn’t talk much about her married life, though I knew she and her husband, Waldon, lived on Pleasant Street in Everett, Massachusetts.
Sometimes her husband picked her up from work, but he never came inside. Perhaps it was due to the meter maid and avoiding parking tickets. In any event, I never met him.
Most of the time—in rain, snow or sun—Sarah took public transportation or the “T” as it is called in Boston. I can still picture her walking across Huntington Avenue, wearing her long green trench coat, to catch the train on a cold winter evening.
After a year in admissions, I made an internal move up as the administrative assistant in the Dean’s Office of the College of Engineering. I was happy for the move due to the tedium of data entry. Still, I took every opportunity to see Sarah. I would stop by her cubicle regularly. Sometimes we’d go together to get a warm chocolate chip cookie from a nearby vendor.
When I was on maternity leave with my first child, Sarah took the “T” to visit me and bring a baby gift. She often sent me hand written letters and cards on special occasions and sometime for no occasion at all. Her handwriting was meticulously neat and her words articulate. No matter the task, Sarah approached it slowly and precisely.
Eventually, Jeff and I moved back to Connecticut. But whenever we made weekend trips back to Boston, I would try to connect with Sarah. Several years later, we moved to Virginia. It got harder to stay in touch with Sarah. (Not only did she not use email, but she didn’t even have an answering machine.) A few years back, we made the long drive to Boston. We’d always been die-hard attendees of the Revolutionary War reenactments performed there each spring. We decided it was time for the kids to experience this living history for themselves.
When I reached Sarah and told her we’d be at the Old North Church for the first leg of our history tour, she assured me she’d meet up with us.
Sure enough, as we filed out of the church that night into the cold spring air, there was Sarah wearing her trusty trench coat and her indefatigable smile. We walked through the streets of the North End, stopping for pastries at an Italian bakery. She spoke of her nearing retirement from Northeastern (she’d been there for over 28 years), and her husband’s failing health. We reminisced about the good old days at NU. And I told her all about the farm in Virginia. She liked to call it, “The Ponderosa Ranch.”
Over the past few years, Sarah and I talked by phone occasionally. One time I called her and learned that her husband had passed away. Another time she surprised me by not only calling me on my birthday, but also remembering what number it was. Her memory was impeccable. I invited her to join us for Thanksgiving, telling her that there was a room here at the Ponderosa with her name on it. She laughed, but insisted that she had a lot of work as the result of her husband’s death. I even looked up train fare online for her. Still, she declined for the time being.
This December, I sent her my Christmas letter as usual with a picture of the family and told myself that I’d catch up with her by phone as soon as I got past the holidays. Then I received a phone call from Sarah’s sister.
On December 27, 2014, Sarah had been walking down her street. At 73, she was still active and independent, walking to the laundry mat as she always had or getting coffee and bagels at the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. That evening as she walked home from Dunkin’ Donuts just before 5 p.m., she was struck by a drunk driver. (See article in The Boston Globe). She died instantly.
I wished I had called her back in December. I’m glad she would have received my Christmas letter earlier that month, but I would have liked to talk to her one last time. When I think of Sarah, I think of her bright smile, her infectious laugh, her buoyant personality, and her independent spirit. And I remember that spring night in Boston when I last saw her walk away in the dark to the subway station by herself—her green trench coat flapping in the cold April wind.