My neighbor Natalie
In the Christmas of ’95, Santa brought 3-year-old me my first pair of boots and bindings. That winter I met Natalie Leduc at Pisgah, who taught me to “make pizza and French fries” with my skis down the Buttermilk trail. Every year after, Nat and I entered the Top of the Mountain Ski Race in the friend-friend combined racing category. And every year we came in last. And every year we had more fun than anyone else on the slopes.
In the years after Nat hung up her skis, I joined the high school ski team and Nat never missed a Pisgah race, but I made sure to keep up our losing tradition! Afterward, teammates and I would walk over to Nat’s for hot chocolate. Nat would pull out dusty artifacts from her life to share with us, each with a wildly eccentric story behind it. Natalie passed on a few of these items to me, mostly pieces of Americana that held no real value without the priceless tales that came with them. I often wondered how much truth there was behind some of Nat’s most fantastical stories. I usually passed these thoughts over quickly, though, thinking about how much joy she got out of sharing them. Once, Nat gave me a blue glass heart and told me to always know its whereabouts. Someday, she said, I might receive a call that it was needed in a far-off land. Three years later, my mother received a call from the Georgia State Museum of Art, which wanted me to loan them the heart for an exhibit. Twelve-year-old me was quite delighted to hear that the piece would be displayed with a plaque reading, “On loan from Natalie Leduc and Molly Rose Burgess.” Nat taught me to listen intently and trust in the things that the people we love say.
In 2011, I moved away to DC for college. Nat and I each made a point of calling each other a couple times per year. When I was home on school break, I would search the grocery store if I saw her “NATSKI” license plates in the parking lot. Sadly, distance caused Natalie and me to grow apart. Luckily, she and I were reunited in 2018 through a project at her beloved Pine Ridge Cemetery. We spent hours wandering around together. Nat narrated facts about the souls at rest there, and she always made a point of boasting about the quality work done by the inmates who helped keep up the grounds. Natalie taught me to honor the value of every person, including those who have gone before us and those who are alive and struggling now.
While Nat lived at Saranac Village at Will Rogers, I came to see her from time to time. At the end of one visit in 2019, as I started to make my exit, Nat threw her hands up in the air and exclaimed, “I almost forgot — I have something I think you could really use!” She shuffled piles around and pulled out an old pair of socks. Though slightly confused, I wasn’t surprised. Nat explained that they were lucky socks, and I should hold onto them in case I ever needed them. So I did. In late January 2020, I decided to apply for a position in the activities department at Will Rogers. Though the white tube socks were a bit of an eyesore and clashed with my professional attire, I wore them to my interview. Nat was right. They WERE lucky! Natalie taught me that life finds a way to bring friends back together.
Nat was now a part of my daily life, in good days and bad. Through the trials of 2020, Nat and I kept a close eye on one another. During this time Nat pointed out when I was pushing myself too hard for things that didn’t really matter and not pushing hard enough for things that did. She scolded me for working too much and encouraged me to go back to school and become a teacher. Natalie taught me how to take a step back to assess what was important in my life and how to focus my time, energy and talents accordingly.
In September of this year, after a particularly trying day for both of us, Nat and I sat together and reflected on our friendship, and enjoyed a smile and a laugh. We shared with each other our story from our own points of view and decided to start working on an article to submit to the paper. We both wanted to stress the importance of intergenerational relationships. We brainstormed COVID-safe activities readers could get involved with to seek such friendships in these isolating times. Regrettably, today you just hear my side. As I sit and write with a heavy heart, I remember that Natalie taught me not to fear death, telling me often, “Mol, death is a beautiful relief at the end of a crazy life.”
Last week I lost a fun-loving, feisty and fiercely loyal friend. My neighbor Natalie taught me so many other things about life, but the most important thing she taught me is that friendship knows no bounds.
I encourage you to consider trying one of the following ways to connect in the coming weeks:
¯ Make a card for a neighbor.
¯ Volunteer for Meals on Wheels.
¯ Dance outside your neighbor’s window.
¯ Call someone to tell them an eccentric story or a funny joke.
¯ Offer to run errands for a senior or “quarantiner” in your life.
¯ Carol in your neighborhood in a safe and socially distant manner.
¯ Find a safe way to teach seniors how to use video conferencing technology.
¯ When you are having a bad day, call someone else and ask how they are doing.
Molly Rose Burgess lives in Saranac Lake.