#50) Judith Black’s memories of Sarah Wernick

Five years ago, at my mom’s memorial service, her good friend Judith Black gave a moving, entertaining and heart-felt talk.  In honor of Sarah Wernick’s 70th birthday, here’s what she said, pieced together from her notes and edited for this format.  Happy birthday Mom! 

When you looked at Sarah Wernick what you saw was a 4 door ’62 Dodge Dart in basic brown, built for comfort.  But If you took the time to check you’d notice the 12 cylinder engine and six speed automatic transmission.  As the world’s leading pragmatist she was prepared to negotiate any terrain.

She had adaptive shock absorbers, and self leveling air springs.  Little surprised or repelled her and she could adjust her thinking to most topics.

She had killer anti-fog lights, and was able to perceive the reality and detail of the most mucked up terrain.

Audio Connectivity Module for iPod or an mp3 player?  Ha, there were 4 computers in her home when the rest of us were still listening to 8-tracks and schlepping to the library daily.

And of course a One-touch Power Moon Roof , because she had an eye always on the big picture.

Sarah threw open her car door to me in 1981, when she penned an article on our fledgling storytelling collective, and helped turn ‘Storytellers in Concert’ into a healthy Boston area performing arts institution for the next decade.

“That was wonderfully kind of you,” I said.

“Oh darling, I’m not kind, I enjoy this, and the storytelling is wonderful.”

For the next 26 years I rode with her: soup in the kitchen and holidays in their Lancaster Terrace dining room; over nights and gossip about our professional worlds; an expectation that said “you’re always welcomed” that was also extended from David, Benjamin and Willie.

In ’83, unmarried and solo, I gave birth to Solomon.

“Darling you can’t go home with a new born to an empty apartment.  Why don’t you come and stay with us for a few days?’

“That is so kind of you.”

“I am not kind.  I think it would be great opportunity for David and Benjamin.’

She taught me the absolute necessity of choosing the right number and sizes of pillows for nursing.  As a pragmatist she designated one bathroom for the boys and one for the girls, and David and Benjamin did indeed cull great knowledge from our stay.  They developed ‘The Solomon po po pee pee game’ and their profound observations have led to life time of scatological humor.

In time–“The Emotional Problems of Normal Children” not withstanding–she shared with me the most successful of parenting techniques.  “Bribery, darling.  There are few things, at this age, that an extra quarter can’t solve.”

Throughout the years, when asked, she’d turn those anti-fog lights my way, and was the best story making coach I ever had.  “Darling,  this experience, about sitting in the deli with your mother-in-law,  it conveys the transition you want but it’s too much.  It takes us out of the story.  You need to create a more tailored way of giving us that information.”  Her advice that helped my work win awards was: “just because it happened doesn’t mean it belongs in the story.”  Sarah taught me the difference between truth, which is essential and fact, which, in story, is variable.

“This is so kind of you.”

“Trust me, I’m not kind.  I enjoy this.”

During these last eight years or so we would go with the needle nosed, long legged blondes of my gym to Canyon Ranch.  We got a great group rate and Sarah, as in everything, would have researched her options and come fully equipped with her agenda of events including swim classes, chair pilates, and lectures on health and fitness.  We’d meet daily for the brilliant low fat, high fiber, limitless serving meals.  One year the group leader was cornered by a number of the women, who insisted she come to me and make a suggestion to Sarah.  “We’ve been talking about it,” she said, “And we’ve all decided that Sarah’s figure would be so much better if she wore a brassiere.”

All they saw was the chaise of the of 62 Dodge Dart!  We laughed and got doubles on dessert ….they are very small at health spas!

If we receive any collective gift from Sarah Wernick, it is to keep our engines tuned, fog lights on high and car doors open, always open, always open.

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