by Michael Lewis
We enjoy the patio of the Firehouse restaurant in Sacramento. The walled area with its cobblestones and arching trees give it an intimate and welcoming, almost European, aura. It’s a charming and elegant place. The food is good and the service professional and attentive.
The patio. That’s where we saw the ghost.
She sat at a table near ours dressed in a white pantsuit with a large white hat. She shimmered though that could have been a trick of the setting sun. She was tall and slender and her pale skin seemed to glow. She sat bolt upright on her chair like a Grande Dame with fan and lorgnette. As she leaned in to address her table companion her body swayed slightly moving to the music of her voice and conducted by her arms and hands and fingers. Though we could not hear her we knew her accent was English with cut-glass clarity and her smile came with a throaty chuckle. This apparition noted our arrival, nodded graciously in our direction then turned away.
It was our friend Meg, though in life Meg wore big hats and trouser-outfits in bright colors that rarely matched.
Meg (Margaret) Brimlow was our dear friend for over 30 years. She died in February this year at the age of 95. She would never ever admit her age but from her tales of WWII we knew she was at least a decade older than us.
Meg came from the English upper classes and had the accent and mannerisms of her birthright. I called her Lady Jane, initially as a spoof, but, as she never objected, that sobriquet became a mark of respect. She attended Roedean School, earned a degree from the London School of Economics and finished at Cambridge where she trained as a clinical psychologist.
As a Fulbright Scholar she globe-trotted in the antipodes. She often spoke of her time in New Zealand with particular passion and sometimes misty eyes. We wondered about paths not taken, as she never married. Meg eventually came to the USA on a green card and, true to upper-English form, never became a citizen. She brought with her from England a brand new MGB sports car under the impression, that many English have, that America is too backward to have nice things. The MG gave her a great deal of pleasure over many years but by the time we knew her it was rusting away under a tarpaulin in her back yard.
Meg eventually became the crisis counselor in the Davis school system. We first got to know her when David, our younger son and something of a scallywag, was marched into her office. They got along just fine and David always stayed in touch.
My best friend got to know Meg as a colleague in the school district and also as a friend. Later I needed some counseling and she gave me the family rate (free). I knew this would work well when I showed up at her private consulting rooms and saw a bottle of Laphroaig and two glasses on the table.
Meg taught me to enjoy a gin martini and all our meals together started that way. Mine still do.
We had a common interest in performing arts and that became the basis and reason for our long friendship. We went yearly to Ashland, had season tickets at ACT and STC and Music Circus, for shows at the Convention Center and the orchestral series at Mondavi. We saw G&S wherever it was playing and other performances that appealed to us. The pattern was inevitable. We picked her up from her cottage in the enclave behind Tower Theater, then we ate lunch together before a matinee or dinner before an evening event, often at the patio. After the show, I would drive her home. I didn’t mind being chauffeur and she didn’t mind being chauffeured.
Meg was a member of our family and joined us for all our major celebrations. She knew us all well.
Meg taught me to enjoy a gin martini and all our meals together started that way. Mine still do. Occasionally she wanted a glass of red wine to follow and the conversation could then turn quite contentious, mostly about politics; she would adopt the oddest points of view deliberately, I think, to be different even eccentric. As a non-citizen she could not vote and when I reminded her of that it did nothing to improve her mood.
Meg was a late child of a small family and by the time we knew her she had no family members remaining. I think she inherited the family fortune because few school employees own substantial estates overlooking the Pacific. Or maybe she was just lucky; she loved betting big on the classic horse races. She did not really approve of the twenty-first century. She had no credit cards so all debts were settled with pristine $100 bills.
Unfortunately, Meg’s body did not keep up with her mind; she had some difficulty walking and her sight, never good, surrendered to macular degeneration. A friend fixed up Alexa for her and that controlled everything in her home by voice command. At the theater she used Victorian lorgnette opera glasses and could make out parts of the stage. Though ill-sighted, she never refused an invitation to any adventure, never said no, just asked when. She loved going in my old Jaguar with the top down to Al the Wops bar in Locke. They had cheap martinis. We often ate lunch there of just steak and peanut butter. It was a special treat when the bikers, all bearded and tattooed, were passing through as Meg loved chatting them up and sitting side-saddle on their massive shining machines.
Meg was a remarkably private woman and we never truly knew her. Her poor eyesight, she said, was the reason she could not write a memoir of her fascinating life but when I offered to transcribe her dictation, she begged off. I knew she would leave no trace upon this earth and wanted it that way. We loved her; I know we shall meet her ghost often and everywhere.