Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Goodbye, Norma Fox Mazer

Key West -- So sad that my old friend and colleague Norma Fox Mazer has died. I can't remember the first time I met Norma -- probably in the early '70s. I do remember bringing home her first book, I Trissy, for Randy to read. And every book after that for a long time. She was an amazing writer. An honest writer. The story she contributed to Places I Never Meant to Be, Original Stories by Censored Writers, still haunts me. It was the story of a mother and a daughter. Norma had three daughters and a son of her own, and she was an expert at capturing those sometimes difficult relationships in her work.

Norma was a natural beauty with a smile that made everyone else smile. The last time I saw her, at a Newbery dinner a year or two ago, she looked exactly the same to me -- an ageless pixie with Pippi Longstocking braids. I think of her in jeans and hiking boots - that was her look no matter where she went. We had a conversation once, about aging, and she wondered how girls who grow up knowing they are cute handle it. She didn't think she was handling it all that well.

We saw each other a couple of times a year in those days. When I moved to New Mexico we corresponded. (Remember snail mail?) When I was going through a particularly rough time in my personal life, Norma wrote and said she would never stay in a marriage where she wasn't treated right. She and Harry were together for close to 60 years. Just a girl when they met, post WWII, they had grown together, had four children together, become writers together, met with success together.

Yet Norma loved the simple life -- gardening, writing, family. She once told me she was giving her grandchildren old fashioned packages of clay for the holidays. She bemoaned the fact that modern children didn't know the joys of making things on their own, of creating from very little. I'd forgotten until then how much I'd enjoyed using clay of different colors as a child. How I would play for hours, pretending to be a butcher, lining up chickens and briskets and hot dogs all made from clay. Norma never forgot.

When she and Harry decided to come south for the winter, George and I were thrilled. South meant an apartment in New York. We thought we'd get to spend more time with them. But then we moved to Key West and eventually Norma and Harry moved to Vermont.

Norma was a no bullshit person. She was herself - always. When I heard over the summer that she was gravely ill, I didn't want to believe it. I wanted her to stay the same so that next time our paths crossed we'd wave to each other and she would smile that smile and we'd make a plan to spend time together yakking about everything. How sad that the chance for catching up is gone.

Those of us who started writing in the 70's have lost a brave, talented, original friend. Her family has lost a loving wife, mother, grandmother, sister. But her books will live on and let's hope future generations will get to read them.

Goodbye, old friend.

Read the obituary below.

And visit Norma's website. It's like spending time with her in person.