To top
4 Oct

You Do The Hokey Pokey And You Write An Elegy

I was mid-way through a rant about Malcolm Gladwell when I saw this tweet from my friend Jenny. “Rest in peace, Nancy W. Kappes,” it said. My heart dropped.

You probably didn’t know Nancy W. Kappes, Paralegal, but your life would have been richer if you did. Nancy was a self-professed ‘bad mom,’ an impious Catholic, a lover of bad jokes and “Judy Garland trail mix” and one of the sweetest and most supportive and laugh-out-loud funny blog readers one could ever hope to have. We met when she sent Jenny and I an email about a post that I’d written at Jenny’s blog, an email in which she shared her own strategies for coping with family politics (“sit back with a trashy book, a tumbler of Grey Goose (when I’m flush-Seagram’s when I’m not) and my huge bottle of assorted pharmaceuticals. (My “Judy Garland Trail Mix.”)“) and colorfully described her ex-husband (“he made the baby Jesus cry.”) I laughed out loud, and saved her message. If emails were made of paper, hers – the hundreds sent over the two years that followed, and the hundreds read and reread and reread again – would have been dog-eared and creased and stained with tears of laughter. I might just have to print them all out, so that they can become exactly that.

She called me Mama Cat, and she had a knack for knowing exactly when I needed to laugh or be flattered or be sternly admonished for being too hard on myself. She rarely commented on the blog itself. She preferred to send long, funny discursions on whatever I had written about. Or, sometimes, on what she hoped I’d write about. Or on the Pope, and goats.

Nancy died this weekend. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the heart, and not by her awesome goat.

Dearest Mama Cat,

Haven’t had time to read your blog today—I hope I click on you and there’s a picture of you with smiling cherubs, little woodland creatures, unicorns and rainbows coming out of your ass.  Oh, and a king-size Sealy posture-pedic bed with 650 thread count sheets that have been broken in by a wonderful Swedish family and are now soft as down.

You’re in my thoughts and prayers, kid. I lit every damn candle at Our Lady of the Perpetual Mink, prayed towards Mecca, did some chanting, burned incense in front of a photo of my ancestors, talked to the Pope (Benjy’s okay, but he’s no J2P2) and there is a goat tethered in my backyard.

She liked to remark on how amazing it was, this medium of communication that we were playing with, and how much she loved being able to reach out and talk and respond and share jokes. How much she loved being moved to laughter or tears by the words of someone she’d never met.

I didn’t tell her enough how much I was moved by her words. By her.

Dearest Mama Cat…

I wanted to say with all the sadness and trauma going on in the world at the moment, it is worth reflecting on the death of a very important person, which almost went unnoticed last week.

Larry LaPrise, the man who wrote ‘The Hokey Pokey’ died peacefully at the age of 93. The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in. And then the trouble started.



I’m going to miss her.

Dearest Nancy,

I didn’t get a chance to respond to your last email. I went to Africa, and I got behind on my email, which is no excuse, because you know that I can get behind on my email even when I don’t go to Africa, which is most of the time. Anyway. You knew all of that already. Still, I’m sorry. I wish that I’d had that chance to thank you, and to tell you, again, how much you make me laugh, and to agree with you that Benedict is looking a little shadier these days. Also, to ask after your goat – I trust that he’s not yet been sacrificed? – and to let you know that if – when – your emails stop coming, I will miss them. I will miss you.

I will miss you, Nancy W. Kappes. I hope that you know that.

And I hope that you the do the Hokey Pokey all the way through the pearly gates. And that cherubs and unicorns and buckets of Judy Garland’s trail mix are waiting for you when you get there.

Requiescat in pace, Nancy W. Kappes. Requiescat in pace.


Mama Cat