Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Saturday, December 10, 2016

On New Year’s Eve in 2012, 80-year-old Joan McFarland Klein gathered the women in her life for her annual luncheon to usher in what God only knew was in store for us over the next 12 months.

We Irish are always bracing ourselves.

Joan had raised four daughters and two sons and had 16 grandchildren by the time we became friends. We met through her daughter Sue. We hit it off right away.

I love a good yarn, and Joan was the consummate Irish storyteller, armed with perfect punchlines and impeccable timing. Mischief waltzed in with her, but she was reluctant to fill the room. You had to ask Joan Klein to share the tale on the tip of her tongue.

My mother had been gone for several years by the time I met Joan, and she was ever mindful of a daughter’s grief that lessens but never leaves.

“I cannot replace your mother,” Joan once told me, “but I can tell you when you’ve made this mother proud.” She never missed an opportunity to do so. Like any good mother, she exaggerated my contribution to the world.

Last year’s luncheon was the first time I had been invited to attend. Finally, I was an honorary member of the Klein clan. Fourteen of us sat around a row of tables pushed together.

We raised a racket and elicited stares from strangers, which made us laugh even more. Yes, I know how obnoxious we were. I also have known the envy that drives such glares. No contest which diner I’d rather be.

As always, Joan sat at the head of the table, smiling as she quietly took in all the commotion and laughter.

Also, as always, Joan instructed the server to bring the bill to her. When it arrived, I reached for my purse.

It was the only time Joan ever snapped at me.

“Put that down,” she said, pointing to my purse.

“But I just…”

“Put. It. Down. I’m paying for this lunch. I always pay for this lunch.”

“But I…”