The final memory I now have of Judy Dees is of stopping by her home on the eve of New Year’s Eve to drop off some thank you gifts from her little buddies, my buddy Tom’s three grandkids.
See, Mrs. Dees (as they and I called her), had given them envelopes for Christmas. Mind you, Mrs. Dees met Lily for the first time this past March and met Lily’s two brothers in May 2021.
Lily’s first visit was for part of my birthday gift to Lily when she turned seven. A stop at the local zoo to see the new baby goats, shopping at Kohl’s where Lily picked out her own presents and then hitting Mrs. Dees’ house rounded out the afternoon.
The two became fast friends, making sandwiches together, working on crafts, then trying on some clothes Mrs. Dees’ granddaughter Tiffany, has passed along for Lily.
Mrs. Dees was famous to the boys already per their first visit. It was a very warm late spring Saturday, and I was watching the two of them for what turned out to be most of the weekend.
I needed help keeping them amused. Mrs. Dees and I wound up playing with the two tykes on the backyard deck, with water balloons and the garden house.
When you are under the age of 5 could there be a more glorious way to spend a warm day than running around in your underwear or diaper, getting drenched and spraying everyone around you so they are soaked, too? With adult approval, no less!
The above fun made Mrs. Dees a legend to these siblings. A visit over the summer when a good portion of the Dees clan was also visiting Mrs. Dees just sealed the deal. Mrs. Dees’ home became a top rated stop on their Tripadvisor for Toddlers and Yelp for Kids.
That’s to say, the trio quickly figured out what the rest of us already knew. Mrs. Dees was the best.
See, Mrs. Dees made kids – and grown-up kids – feel important and at ease. Me too.
You knew you were in her good graces by catching a glimpse of the computer kept in the corner of the dining room. Her screensaver scrolls family photos. I am included. So are my three little amigos.
Having known her most of my life, I call her Mrs. Dees instead of Judy out of love and respect. She was like another mother to me, and I am a guy who often needs more than one mom. To that point, you should see me eat. I need reminders to wipe food off my chin. Or so Best Fest Buddy Tom tells me all the time.
Speaking of eating, pretty much any stop at Mrs. Dees’ house involved a feast. If you went over there for lunch, you most likely didn’t need to eat for the rest of the week – or in my case, at least until 6:30 p.m. instead of 5:30 p.m.
It was never just a homemade sandwich or an Italian beef from Luke’s nearby. There were salads. Soups. Maybe a vegetable thrown in for good measure. Beverages refilled. Bowls of candy. Boxes of Fannie May Pixies. Then ice cream. Or shakes. Or pie with ice cream. Or smoothies, just to be healthy.
Mrs. Dees loved to feed people. In a cruel twist of fate, she wound up with cancer that spread to her stomach.
But she was not one to complain. She fought in her way, which is to say with the grace and kindness for which I have always known her still intact.
Despite her illness, Mrs. Dees kept her chin up. When I would visit her during the last two years or so – after she lost her colorful husband, Ed, to cancer, then was diagnosed with cancer herself – while we talked about the disease, it was never in woe-is-me terms.
It was about staying positive and the steps she was taking. Mostly, the conversations wound up being the kind you have with old friends – the nuts-and-bolts stuff of day-to-day life, the triumphs, the tribulations, the melodrama.
And Mrs. Dees always asked about the three kids.
She and I also became text buddies. Via SMS she told me I was part of Team Judy. We shared family-type photos, stories I wrote, funny tidbits of information and the mundane minutiae of our times.
She told me it was always enjoyable to see me, that lunch is anytime!
Speaking of time, Mrs. Dees had two old clocks I dropped off at her house a few years ago. She, Ed and I were going to try to find a clocksmith to take a look at them to see if he could get them running again. We never did.
The clocks are still in the Dees’ family basement, which is fitting. Because I see the Dees’ home as being like Doctor Who’s TARDIS. If you aren’t familiar, the TARDIS looks like a 1960s English police box, but Doctor Who uses it to travel through time and space. The TARDIS is bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.
With all the memories it holds, not to mention the stuff accumulated over six decades, the same could be said of the Dees’ modest house at the end of Hoover Drive.
Mrs. Dees passed away in that humble home on New Year’s Eve, surrounded by family.
I was glad I was able to see Mrs. Dees and a good slice of that extended family on Christmas Eve at her daughter Suzanne’s home.
Mrs. Dees and Ed usually hosted Christmas Eve. Their home that night was always a place filled with people, presents, pizza and french fries. I had an open invitation to stop by – and usually a mailed card to remind me.
For this past Christmas Eve, I wore a holiday onesie, to be a clown for the occasion. If need be, I will do just about anything for a laugh.
That afternoon, Mrs. Dees handed me an envelope for myself and three for the kids.
She had also given me cards for them on Halloween, too, which the kids asked me to keep safe for them, along with the envelopes.
Which brings us back to the stop on New Year’s Eve Eve. I gave Mrs. Dees the early Valentine/thank you card and the other items from the kids as she sat in her recliner in a living room filled with family.
I made sure it was okay to bring the two who were with me and waiting in the car into the house.
The kids were shy at first, but once past the front door they watched as Mrs. Dees looked intently at the drawings they colored, the crafts they made and the card they signed.
They waved at her from a distance, giggling a bit and smiling. She waved back, then we made our way out with a modified Irish goodbye.
Lily, Izzy and I walked back to the car. I thanked the kids for their good behavior and good deeds. I assured them Mrs. Dees was glad to see them.
That was our fond farewell to our fine friend, Mrs. Dees.
May she live on, not only in the memories of those who loved her and she loved, but in the kind deeds they do for others.