Sunday in the Park
Most of all, she passed The Grateful Dead test. The eternal question that tosses politics and religion aside and gets to the heart of the matter.
But are you kind?
She was, without measure, kind. And bright. And funny. And loving. And inclusive. And a dear, dear friend to so many.
Growing up in New York in the ’30s and ’40s, Claire had a successful career in fashion. She was a buyer for a major department store, maybe Bloomingdale’s. She met and married Norm, a super agent before there was such word, who represented the top of the entertainment business then. Judy Garland, Harry Belafonte, Trini Lopez, Paul Anka and the boys from Liverpool he introduced to America, The Beatles. With their summer home on Long Island and their apartment in London and their two smart and talented children, Gary and Dori, they led a charmed, glamorous life.
By the late ’70s the children had grown up, the entertainment climate changed, and Norm and Claire ended up in Brentwood, Calif., buying a bookstore called the BookWorm. In the early ’80s Norm saw an ad in Publisher’s Weekly for a bookstore for sale in Park City. Without telling any of his family members, he came to town, met with owner Dolly Makoff and did the deal. Former daughter-in-law, Shelley Weiss remembers the Thanksgiving dinner where Norman announced the family would be moving to Utah. It came as a bit of shock to everyone. That was Norm.
Claire came kicking and screaming. After all, she was a city girl, used to city ways. She had no desire whatsoever to live in the country. But, in true Claire fashion, once she was here, she set about making this the core of her busy family. Her son Gary and his wife, Shelley, moved to town as well. Gary became involved in the bookstore, a county planning commissioner and columnist for this paper.
Recently, Shelley found a letter recently Claire wrote to her about that time, thanking her for loving Gary and "for marrying my boy."
Instead of complaining about what was missing from Park City, Claire just quietly set about to add to the fabric of the town. The modern day Jewish community can thank Claire for the first Seder suppers, held in art galleries and St. Mary’s church long before they moved to fancy hotel ballrooms. It was an introduction for many of us to another culture and I never missed a Seder that Claire invited me to.
Friends of the Animals started with Claire as well. There was her red Subaru wagon filled to overflowing with a gaggle of dogs with their heads sticking out the windows. Stray dogs and cats joined the mascot cat, Dolly, at the bookstore. Former bookseller and longtime friend, Lisa Dawson, remembers buying a red leather rhinestone collar for the cat and Dolly took right to the role. Shelley walked past one day and saw Miss Dolly sitting in the front window, looking like a still life, with a dead mouse in her mouth. Inside, the store morphed from having the occasional strays, to cages with the dog- and cat-of-the-week to be adopted. We started running their photos in this paper about the same time. It had been a gentle but firm suggestion from Claire.
Claire in fact, loved animals so much, that her dear friend, Dolly Makoff, remembers a night during the Olympics, Claire performed an act of mercy and asked Dolly to be her accomplice. Her beloved giant Pyrenees dog, Pearl, hated the nightly fireworks. Drove the dog crazy. Which seemed unnecessarily cruel to Claire. Dolly was staying at the house recovering from hip surgery and Claire was battling with her diabetes. The ladies, in their nighties, decided to drive the dog to Kamas so she wouldn’t suffer the noise. They grabbed their full-length fur coats, it was the dead of winter after all, and they piled in the Subaru and drove out into the county. Dolly giggles still when she recalls that night.
The "aqua babes" were Claire’s favorite way to start the day. No longer in her previous Marilyn Monroe look-alike shape, she nonetheless enthusiastically donned a suit and jumped in the pool for water aerobatics most mornings. On those weekends when I worked part-time in the bookstore, Claire would often arrive with wet hair and great enthusiasm for the day. She tried to get me to join her in the pool but I never did.
She thought, too, I would enjoy her mahjong group. I told her I didn’t have patience to learn, she laughed and said it would be good for me. These women meet each week, sometimes more than once, and play a rousing ancient game for a quarter a game. Their winning bags were carefully crafted years ago. Velvet on the outside and lined with the material from Susie Rauser’s nightgown from her wedding night. They’d play and talk and talk and play and Claire considered her winnings bag one of her great treasures. In a house of great treasures.
Claire had a flair for decorating and her lifetime of travels with her cousins and her husband had allowed her the chance to pick up fabulous accents to go with her brilliant colored walls the pink in the bathroom made us all look rosy. After her husband Norm died and after her son Gary died, she decided her home was too much to keep up and she sold it and most of the contents. Many of her friends were only too happy to own the pieces they had long admired.
Claire loved children. Her own, and especially her grandchildren, Tucker and Gus, whose accomplishments she rattled off with great pride. And just about every child who ever came into the store with sticky little hands wanting to read a book. She was always snipping off stickers from the long rolls in the store, when Norm wasn’t looking, and sneaking them to her favorite kids. I know — my children were often the lucky recipients. They called her The Sticker Lady.
The last time I saw Claire, she was getting ready to leave town. I had stopped by the house for tea. She told me to wait in the living room and she went downstairs and came back with a tiny, tiny china cottage that was also a music box. "Last year, when I went to Ireland with my sister I picked this up. I know how much you want to go to Ireland and one day you will, but for now this will remind you to keep that dream." It plays, of course, "When Irish Eyes are Smiling."
Right now my Irish eyes are full and sad. Claire left us last week. Down in Florida, where she had moved to be with her cousins. She was happiest here in Park City, her family always said. And we were happiest when she was starting new projects here and encouraging us to do the same. Park City is richer for her days here. Her legacy of good deeds and generosity and most importantly, kindness, are something to hold dear, this sad Sunday in the Park
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