I Swear This is All True

My friend Pat called a week ago.  As usual, I showed up.

“Don’t you dare gush in my obituary,” she said.

“Have you ever known me to gush?” I snapped.

She said no, but fixed me with one of her legendary hard looks that could peel the scales off a fish.  People paid her big bucks to stare at their soon-to-be-ex-spouses just like that.  They probably squirmed the way I did, even though I’m a non-gusher by nature and my conscience was clear.

Late this morning, Pat summoned me once again.  She looked paler, weaker.  “What have you written?” she asked.

“I’ve written you a damned good obituary,” I said.  “And you know what?  I didn’t gush once.”

This time, her gaze was softer and unfocused, her voice hesitant.  “What does that mean — to gush?” she asked.


But I’d really rather focus on beginnings than endings.  Pat and I met in 1976, when we were both newly minted lawyers and younger than we appreciated.  We were the only two fulltime female attorneys at the firm, which was run by a bunch of rowdy, middleaged male trial lawyers who loved to drink, smoke, gamble, swear and win big cases.

Pat and I had the difficult job of trying to hogtie and haul these guys into the 20th century.  Right offhand, I wouldn’t have called them neanderthals, but they just weren’t ready for women as equals in the workplace.  So I fired off a memo demanding pay raises and well-hung male secretaries and signed Pat’s name to it, since she was more senior than I was.

After that, everything got a little out of hand, what with the dildo in my desk drawer and everybody stealing my low-rent bourbon, then complaining about how cheap and rock-gut it was and why couldn’t I pony up for George Dickel if I really wanted to drink?  It was that kind of wilder time and the city of Austin was smaller then.  A certain lieutenant governor could leave a bar and unload a pistol in the air and people might gossip about it a little, but it just wasn’t that big a deal.

Anyway, Pat and I went shopping at lunch, which is where we always got our best ideas.  We would try on clothes and insist the other buy whatever looked good on her.  Then, if we changed our minds, we’d get the law clerks to take back our purchases.  Life was good.  Pat had already introduced me to the concept of amortization, which meant that the more frequently I wore something, the cheaper it became.  It was a complicated mathematical formula and it helped enlighten me.

So, we talked about our current problems with the law firm.  My husband and I were moving away and I was about to leave.  The managing partner of the firm had told some of the other guys he now saw the wisdom of having smart female lawyers in the firm.  To replace me, he intended to find another smart woman — only, this time, one with big breasts.  (It was the 70s, I keep reminding you, the 70s.  Things were different then.)

Only someone like Pat, who was a little older than I was and more experienced in the ways of the world, could have understood how important it was to make a feminist statement at our law firm — and how that somehow involved hiring a hooker to interview with the good old boys at the law firm.  The logic was … well, I’m not sure what the logic was.  In a law firm that usually began drinking at 5 p.m. sharp, the off-hours logic could grow a bit hazy.

So, we hired a hooker, cooked up a resume for her, and advised her to wear understated clothes.  She came, she interviewed, but she didn’t get the job, since somebody had tipped off the managing partner.  But hey, our panache was duly appreciated.

That was more than 30 years ago.  We’ve all gotten more serious and sedate since then, and we make our feminist points in subtler ways.  But Pat and I have been friends ever since, talking and laughing and shopping together.  If anybody had my back, it was Pat.  She’s been the diehard kind of friend who would commit a felony for you, if necessary.

I told you I don’t gush — and I meant it.  But I can also tell you that sayings like being heavyhearted at a time like this are accurate.  A long friendship is ending.  Something has diminished in me, and I can see that nothing will ever quite be the same in my life.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite earlier posts about my friend Pat

26 comments… add one
  • Oh, Ruth. I’m so sad for you. I lost my two best friends within a few years of one another. It’s crushing. I know.  I wish there was something more I could say but you already said it so beautifully. Pat sounds like the kind of friend you are lucky to have; she’s lucky to have you, too.

  • Ruth,
    my good thoughts to you and Pat. I’ve been in the difficult circumstance you are facing. Friendships, long or short, are to be valued.

  • Oh Ruth. She sounds like just the kind of friend a gal could use – particularly in a law firm. I’m sorry she’s dying.

  • As I was reading this post, tears flooded my eyes although I do not know Pat at all.  You have a way of recounting these life episodes that we all live through with such gusto and straightforwardness, no beating around the bush, that it is impossible to not react with emotion.  You were fortunate to have this friendship for so many years.

  • It’s so rare to find a friend like that. I’m so sorry.
    Interesting to look at your tags–attorneys, austin, death, feminism, friendship, humor, lawyers, obituary, pranks, separation, Texas. It’s like an E. E. Cummings poem.

  • Man, I have to have a story one day that can include the line “we hired a hooker”. Hilarious, as always.

  • Ruth. You continually dredge up the emotional sediment that’s settled at the bottom of my prematurely embittered heart. I know I don’t say it here often, but really, yours is one of my favorite blogs.

  • Cindy A Link

    Wish I had someone like you to write my obituary, Ruth. Pat is blessed to have you as a true friend, especially here at the end when she really needs one.

  • Oh, I’m so sorry. Such a long friendship; how fortunate you and Pat have been. I can well imagine how you are feeling.

  • Precious few writers can be funny, heartrending and pointed within the same piece, as you are in this resonant tribute to your friend. I love Pat and I love the two of you together. Ruth, I’m so sorry.

  • Linda Link

    tragic and wonderful, just like life and friendship. Thanks for sharing these incredible memories of a unique bond. I’m so sorry to hear that you’re both losing something so precious.

  • You are right. You did write a damned good obit for her (this is it, right?) I’m sorry for the loss, though.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Oh, good lord, no, this isn’t the obit, Alisa. The obituary is much more circumspect; I make it a rule to avoid stories involving hookers in obituaries.

  • Sandy Earle Link

    I have shared some of these same types of situations being the new female employee in a large group of men at a big eight accounting firm in Houston. Being from a very small town in LA, I had a high GPA but no idea what I was getting myself into with a position as a new member of the tax staff. It was 1968 and to say that “I grew up quickly” was an understatement. You were lucky to have your friend. I was the only female in an accounting capacity and had no one to share my experiences. I like to think it all gave me character and a better sense of humor.

  • Dammit, now I need to find a way to get a story about a hooker in my obituary. Ruth, your writing – as always – is the perfect blend of snarkiness and sincerity. You and Pat were VERY lucky to have had each other.

  • Love these insights into your, ahem, colorful past. Pat sounds like just the pal you needed back in your hooker hiring days;).

    Here’s to friendships — and the wonderful memories they give us.

  • “But I’d really rather focus on beginnings than endings.”
    I understand this. It seems like at the end there is so much comfort at the beginning, too. It seems natural to go there, to keep it alive.

  • What friends you had in each other! The real obit was very fine, but I like this one better.

  • Wow, what a great tribute to Pat! She sounds like a wonderful friend and mentor. I agree with Casey – it’s that blend of sincerity and snarkiness that makes this poignant, but non-gushing. Well done! (And sorry to hear about her illness and your impending loss.)

  • Your friend has a good friend. I would have added “and an obituary to die for”, except it sounded flippant, and that is not how I meant it. She has you to tell stories about her, and you tell them well.

    When I was at university I was taught biology by a nobel prize winner. Every year he gave a famous, godless lecture about how the only real immortality was in our genes.

    He had forgotten about stories.

  • I compare losing friends to undecorating a Christmas tree. You take off each treasured ornament and think of how it got there and what it has meant to you as you carefully pack it away.

  • Steve Link

    Being a daily reader of the obits (my father taught me to do so, just as he taught me to always attend funerals), I look forward to reading this one. Knowing the backstory will make it even better, particularly knowing that the dildo wound up glued to a partner’s bumper.

  • Craig Link

    So sorry to hear about your good friend Ruth. It says much about your time together that she came to you for the final words. A little gushing might not hurt.

  • “A long friendship is ending. Something has diminished in me, and I can see that nothing will ever quite be the same in my life.”

    I’m so sad and sorry that you are losing this wonderful friend, Ruth. My heart aches for you. And for Pat.

  • Diane Reed Link


    Pat forwarded the link to your blog long ago so that I could laugh about the Southwest Airlines “skirt incident” and other adventures you have shared with her over the years. I’ve only had the privilege and pure pleasure (albeit with some yelling, kicking and screaming thrown in along the way) of knowing Pat for 13 years. And what a 13 years it has been! I’ve accused her of being my surrogate mother, to which she replied that if that were the case, she needed to beat me on occasion because I just wasn’t cutting the mustard. Or that I wasn’t standing up straight. Or that my “damned hair” was in my eyes again! I wear a green sweater, Pat comments: “Women over a certain age shouldn’t wear green.” Or, “Every woman should wear her hair in a bun.” (Notice I’m doing this without the expletives). I will miss my friend dearly. And I will miss the stories that would have been… thank you for sharing yourself with us.

  • Heavy hearted. Broken heart. Heartache.

    I have recently learned that these descriptions are disarmingly accurate. The loss of a loved one does in fact make the heart feel heavy. The heart does ache. Physically ache. The pain of the loss of such a good friend is real. Thoughts are with you.

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