TRIBUTE TO SUSAN HATTIE

Susan Hattie Steinsapir


January 29, 1996

Dear Susan:

You celebrated life in a way I only vaguely understood. We met in 1979 when I started working at Thompson & Associates. I moved into your office, the upstairs room in an old Victorian house. You were working on some kind of health policy legislation. ( I never understood what that was, but it involved all kinds of hearings, advocacy and research.) I immediately liked your sense of humor and no-nonsense approach. You gave me the run-down on everybody in the office, all before lunch. We became good friends. We both had cats. We both enjoyed good cheap food and searching for the best "dives" to attain it. We went to the 524 club, El Charro. I remember a place in west Sac at the end of a dirt road and out on a pontoon that served great burgers and fries. You introduced me to Sal, who made and sold his tamales at the old farmer's market on Alhambra blvd. We hung out. We liked to go to Melarkey's or Club 400 or some other night spot and hear your favorite bands, like Little Charlie and the Nightcats, and Henry Robinette. We went to hear the Charlie Peacock band back when everybody thought he would be really big. Through all of this, we talked about meeting men, but generally thought of them as inferior beings. Because of your high energy and funny style, I started calling you "Crusin' Susan" It sort of stuck. You were there for me in the fall of 1980 when I had surgery to remove a tumor in my skull, luckily not cancerous. We had a big Halloween party a few weeks later and I wore a big old fashioned hat and matronly dress. Add to that a pair of elbow-length black gloves and a matching purse, and I was Eleanor Roosevelt. You came dressed as a clown, it a fabulous costume you sewed yourself.

Every year you had a big party in the spring. You called it your "anniversary". It was to celebrate another year of your remission from Hodgkin's disease. I think I met you about six months before your third anniversary. You liked my comic drawings and asked me to design your invitations for two of these parties. One year you had the party at your mother's house. This was not just a party - it was a blowout. People came in droves, from everywhere. You served a feast - a whole smoked salmon, roast beef, a million salads, cheese, beer, wine, fruit. People were dancing on the lawn, in the house, everywhere. You loved to dance.

I didn't think there was anything ordinary about you, and I liked that. You broke all the molds with such a classy sense of humor it was impossible not to admire you. I wondered many times what it was like, to have had cancer and known your days were so precious. To have suffered chemotherapy, radiation, extended hospitalization, the uncertainty of your survival. How you must have viewed your life in remission - five years of waiting; five years of not knowing if it would come back. In that context your inexhaustible sense of humor and joy for life was beyond my understanding, but not beyond my being incredibly inspired by you.

Even through this challenge, you went on to achieve so much more. You lived in San Francisco for a couple of years. You lived not far from me and we saw each other occasionally. We both worked in the Marina - you at the Exploratorium and I at Fort Mason. Of course we found some good cheap restaurants to go to, but here there was much more variety - Vietnamese, Cuban, Greek, all kinds. I couldn't believe it but you bought my old egg-colored Datsun for $100. I thought it was a great deal - that rusted heap was so beaten up it wouldn't go into second gear and had a patch of live grass growing in the carpet (owing to balmy moist SF weather and the greenhouse effect of permanently closed windows). But just to prove a point that damn car went on to give you several thousands of miles of dutiful service anyway - a fact that you loved, I suppose because it refused to give up even when others had given up on it. I know you identified with that car's will to survive. I learned a valuable lesson.

By the time we both moved back to Sacramento you were starting law school. Law school! Now your penchant for defying odds was taking on a whole new dimension. It wasn't enough that you held the world's record in terms of personal uniqueness. You had no money, and had to work while going to night school which would take four years. This schedule would challenge a Rhodes scholar. You had to pace yourself because the effects of the cancer treatments left you with only 50% of normal lung capacity. You would get exhausted, but somehow managed to keep up with your studies, yoga, and working part-time. Little did we know, but during that time your heart was becoming weak from the beginnings of disease. We saw each other less often, but when we did it was like no time was lost at all. You were always full of good gossip, great stories, and bitingly funny commentary on all the issues of the day. There were times when I thought you were too cynical, but then you had already lived twice the life I had, so I respected your attitude as the voice of unique experience. I came to your wedding - another bombshell on the landscape of convention. You were married at the same place I was, only the date was significantly different. You were married to Andreas on October 31 in a bold red dress, looking very very beautiful, and a lot like Morticia Adams. As one would have expected, the party was a big one and the food was superb.

Through all the changes in my life and yours, we always found it easy to connect. I think it was because you were always ready for action and interested in new stories, new information, people and conversation. The internet was made for you. You took to it like, well, shall we say a yenta to rugalach? You became a netmaster with your recipe page, and your global connection to the world's living room conversation. It is wonderful that that world has responded so lovingly to you and Andreas during your final struggle. The positive messages of hope and love have been a source of strength for you both, and I hope they will continue to help Andreas as he struggles on without you. I miss you very much Susan. I hope you know how much your life has meant to me, and how much you gave me. You taught me so much about how to live. Thank you.

With love, Mo Miller (and Lisa, Jay and the pets)


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