I have a watch with no hands. Accompanying it are beautifully handwritten lyrics to the Jimmy Buffett song, Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On:
I bought a cheap watch from the crazy man floating down Canal.
It doesn’t use numbers or moving hands. It always just says “now.”
Now you may be thinking that I was had, but this watch is never wrong.
And if I had trouble the warranty said: Breathe in, breathe out, move on…
I have a small plaque with suggestions that embody every letter in the alphabet. A: Abandon doubt. K: Kiss like you mean it. P: Pretend it’s prom night. S: Share your toys. W: Write love letters.
I have a red-handled shovel with a shiny black face; a large, bright green bow is still attached. Like the watch and plaque, it was a gift from Patti Jo Gossett. The blade will never touch soil. For five years, it’s hung in my home, attesting to certain unfortunate experiences she and I had in common—and to our less-than-honorable responses. Patti Jo’s hilarious confession gave me a deeper appreciation for the compact woman who has been my friend for more than 13 years; it also continues to make me laugh out loud.
Patti Jo made her first gift to RMHC in 1988. For the past 21 years, she’s made a donation every month. She’s been a volunteer since 1999—helping at events, answering phones, filing correspondence, writing letters to in-kind donors, and gracefully welcoming and comforting guests.
While Patti Jo’s contributions to RMHC have been considerable, they tell but the partial story of a woman who spent decades as a nurse, was vitally engaged in many organizations, and who couldn’t go anywhere in Portland without being recognized by at least half a dozen people. Which is why her death on Monday, August 27—one week after she suffered a brain bleed—has been a shock to many.
My first contact with Patti Jo occurred in April, 1999, when I called to thank her for one of those monthly gifts. We met shortly thereafter—and she became the “real person” to whom I addressed each new monthly thank you letter. Her file holds more than 170 such acknowledgments—including recognitions of additional contributions she made on special occasions (such as her wedding anniversary). This month’s version is still addressed to her.
I could go on and on–without beginning to capture the impact of this inimitable woman. Every quality evident in her relationship with me would be repeated, reinforced, and extended by dozens if not hundreds of others for whom she has been equally prominent. And of the many treasures she presented us all, the most endearing by far was the ever-luminous gift of herself.
I continue to receive condolence notes from board members, volunteers, and past and current guests. This came from Lindsay Dance, an East House resident manager:
What a HUGE loss. She has been such an enormous part of our evening shifts and our time here. She reminded me so much of my grandmother. She came to my graduation. She would call in the evening to check on us or tell us about something that made her think of us. She would sometimes sit with us for an entire shift just talking and telling us stories from her wealth of history…
Patti Jo was truly one of a kind. Her tenderness and humor have had an enduring impact, and her unmistakable twinkle will never be diminished.
Despite the loss of a dear friend, I remain deeply grateful for the memorable times we’ve shared. And when her absence is especially painful, I’ll have the solace of my watch without hands—and the handwritten version of a song that inspired her:
According to my watch, the time is now. The past is dead and gone.
Don’t try to shake it, just nod your head. Breathe in, breathe out, move on.
Don’t try to explain it, just bow your head. Breathe in, breathe out, move on….
Tom Soma, Executive Director
PS. Patti Jo’s family invites you to participate in a celebration of her life on Sunday, September 16 at 2 pm in the Agnes Flanagan Chapel at Lewis & Clark College.