Through War, Movies and Baseball, We Remember Suzi Best
When we still can, we always remember in the days of our lives. People come and go, sleep next to us. They change our diapers and love us and leave us, too. People come and go, out there in the world, making history of note. We hear about their feats and their departures and we remember them as we remember those near to us, but not in the same way. We are all, in this time, making history, remembering it, forgetting it, too.
We are always reminded of this every day of the year. Yet for a time over a weekend, we saw how things work: for those left behind in history’s backwash, barefoot in the tide, death is always about remembering, long ago, and a day ago too. We remember the lives led, and in doing so, add up a life and count our losses.
Everywhere on television and in newspapers, and in those with memories going back far enough, we remembered the events, the heroes, the history and the survivors of what is remembered as D-Day, the storming of the beaches and assault of Fortress Europe on June 6, 1944, 70 years ago. We watched as veterans of that battle, frail, thin, weighty in medals, still in uniforms. Some, we saw, be interviewed, talk the memories, watched as Herman Zeitchik who was there lay a wreath at the World War II Memorial, a bus ride away, decades gone. We talked with him last year on Memorial Day, and shared his memories, and watched him talk with another veteran who was in Egypt doing different duties.
The remaining veterans—and there are fewer still every day—remember what actually happened, and still grieve over friends and comrades who lie in the fields of Normandy under rows of white crosses. We ourselves remember the events as history, trying at the same time to imagine who they were then.
It is one way of remembering. Another is when we note the passing of people whom we did not know, but remember nonetheless as being a curious imbedded part of our lives, singers, athletes, young movie stars in their prime. We count them as losses, and remember who we were, when they cast a kind of spell of memory on us. They are people like Don Zimmer, the inveterate, almost ideal ball player, as opposed to baseball star, a man who played for almost every Major League team, plus some in Japan and South America, who carried nicknames like "Zim," “Gerbil” and Popeye” as player, coach or manager for the Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees. When he played he was a utility infielder, which is to say that he played shortstop, and all the three bases which is only fitting. By the time, he passed away, he looked like baseball itself and was 83 years old, and we remember him and his teams when we spent our time trading baseball cards.
Mona Freeman was an actress in the movies, on television, and on stage, but mostly she was the petite All-American blonde girl in movies during the 1940s and 1950s. She charmed teenage boys who may have not ever dated not only a starlet, but the cheerleaders in their high schools. It irked her some, this wholesome image, those same parts opposite everyone from Tab Hunter to Jerry Lewis, because she had talent, but it’s a hard game to beat. You may note that she played a young woman having an affair with Edward G. Robinson in the theater, but it’s all those pictures with the curly blond hair, the modest two-piece swim suits, the optimistic energy of her films and face in films when we too were young, and so in noting the deaths of Freeman and Zimmer, we remember ourselves as well as them.
More immediately for those of us on the newspaper and in the neighborhood was a June 7 gathering at F. Scott’s on 36th Street. It was a “Memory-All” in celebration of the life of Suzanne Johnston Causey Dwyer Gookin, a Georgetown luminary and vivid presence in Washington, D.C., a woman who, when she wasn’t being called mom or grandma by her daughters and their offspring, was still called Suzi by just about everyone else she knew.
At the Georgetowner, we certainly never called her Suzanne—we called her friend, respected her talents as a reporter, a gadfly, a talker and conversationalist, a bright star shining, and perhaps less kind names when she irritated, which as her daughters agreed, she also had a gift for. Suzi wrote the Georgetowner social scene column, "EEN&T," as in "Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat," a play off another popular column in the Washington Star, "The Ear."
The gathering included the family, daughters Liza Lowndes Gookin Hodskins of Arlington, Va., and Allison Dwyer Utsch of New York City, as well as grandsons Philip and Adrian Utsch, and great-grandsons Josiah, Lucas and Phoenix, and friends, people she knew, who knew her, who got a.m. phone calls from her, who worked with her, and traveled with her and had adventures with her.
When we heard that she had passed away, it was kind of a shock—not matter what the age. It was hard to imagine that Suzi would deign to die. She knew everybody and was not afraid to use bluster, charm, bullishness, her considerable intelligence to get to do what she wanted—crash a party, get back stage, start an argument, rally for a cause, meet the most handsome man, or make you, if you were a grandson, a little dizzy on an outing.
She liked beautiful things, smart people, and convertibles and in Georgetown, maybe most of all—she was one of the people that deserve a hall of fame for most memorable. She had a challenging and consistent kind of courage which when encountered was often a little fearsome. Columnist and pundit Eleanor Clift was here, remembering getting early morning phone calls from her. Reportedly, Lyndon Johnson, having read her writings, said, “Suzi writes with more perception than the other reporters.”
At the restaurant, a grandson read parts of a short story she had written—“The Rumble Seat”—and its description of time and longing, and material and what an old car looked and felt like and what it meant. It had the after glow of champagne from a Fitzgerald story.
So, when we know and care, as family, as friends, we don’t think of history or old movies, we think squarely and sweetly of them—and that’s what everyone did at the “Memory-All” for “Suzi.”