Finalist: Elisabeth Sharp McKetta

Two days before she died at the age of a hundred-and-one, my friend Hope Davis lost her false teeth in a bowl of popcorn next to her hospital bed. I was the one who found them, and we laughed until our bellies hurt.

When we met in a memoir writing class, Hope was an outspoken 95-year old ex-communist who had outlived four husbands. I was a shy 19-year old Texan a long way from home. We began having tea and going for walks – monthly, weekly, and eventually every day.

Hope had something to say about everything, and today, five years after her death, I still hear her.

On selecting a mate: “Marry somebody whose genes you must have.”

(She had married four times. Her children (from the 2nd and 4th) inherited brilliant artistic talents.)

On daily life: “Make things festive!”

(Her life contained fresh flowers, treasured friends, hellos for all of her neighbors, and conversations over tea that delved into deep, good questions.)

On bodies: “Use them.”

(She did leg-lifts on elevator rides. We took slow walks around her block, admiring the daffodils.)

On making small-talk: “It’s something to talk about.”

(She read the New York Times everyday and wanted to talk about politics, love, betrayal – always the epic things.)

And remembering our great belly laugh after we found her false teeth grinning among the buttered popcorn: “Belly is not a word you would say in front of the Queen.”

During the six years we were friends, Hope and I served as reminders to each other: I reminded her that it was not over yet – there was still possibility for joy ahead. She reminded me that I already had experience behind me, that I was wiser than I thought, and that I could count on my wisdom to help me.

Elisabeth Sharp McKetta is a stay-at-home mom and writer in Boise, Idaho where she lives with her husband, her daughter Snowden, and their two dogs, Goblin and Woody. You can read more of Elisabeth’s writing on her website.

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