On October 15, 2022, my dear friend Michelle Mather passed away. My world is a little more lonely without her. It was comforting to know that she was out there, living her life, and never more than a phone call away.
We met in the 1990’s in Athens, Georgia at the Pathfinder Bookstore. Pathfinder was a hub for new age activity in Athens and it was run by Gayle Clayton. I suppose new age isn’t the best term anymore, but in the 90s, that’s what it was. You could pick up a copy of a book on meditation or a book on earth changes or have a tarot reading.
There were classes, too, and that’s where where I met Michelle. We were both in Psychic Arts I and II, and then in workshops and more going forward. We were both in workshops with Ron Mangravite, and even now I can hear Michelle asking questions on the recordings of those workshops.
At the time Michelle was finishing up a master’s in social work at the University of Georgia and going through a divorce. We bonded over meditation and music and food and shopping.
Between the divorce and finishing the masters and moving on to her first social work job, she even lived on my couch for a time. We became very good friends. Heck, she and my sister shared the same birth date and year.
As I said, we both took several classes at the time that helped us explore and learn about “new age” stuff. In one of the classes that Gayle taught we learned about the major arcana of the tarot. Being a pack rat, I’ve kept notes from that class, so I know that Michelle had the High Priestess and the Hermit cards to explore and explain to the group.
The High Priestess represents intuition, mystery, and sensuality combined with common sense. Michelle was earthy and mysterious and had a load of common sense: she did the right thing even when it was the hardest choice.
The Hermit represents a period of soul searching, self-reflection, and spiritual enlightenment; it can mean seeking (or offering) the services of a counsellor or psychiatrist. Michelle was a social worker and she spent a lot of time alone searching for – well, searching.
Over the years we kept in touch on the phone and through visits. I visited her in Albany, Georgia, Huron and Lorain, Ohio, and finally in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I never did get to her home in Anderson, South Carolina.
At her apartment in Albany, Georgia, we hit the local thrift store. I found one of my most cherished vintage jackets that day.
Michelle came to my home here in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and visited when I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, too. She was at my wedding and was a friend through the subsequent divorce and bankruptcy. We met up one time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, too, and we ate and shopped our way around town.
On two occasions I visited with Michelle at her family’s home in Florida. I vaguely remember a holiday in a brown brick house and then another visit to a white house that had a sunken living room and a moon light. I really don’t remember the details of the whens or the whys and they truly don’t matter anymore.
On one of these occasions we stopped on the long drive from Athens to Orlando at the Spiritualist community at Casa Dega so Michelle could have a reading – she loved having readings.
Her family was warm and welcoming. I remember we had a delicious dinner at a Mexican restaurant one time. Another time we went to breakfast at the Old Sugar Mill Pancake House at the Ponce DeLeon Springs State Park.
I remember visiting Michelle in Ohio and a dinner with meditation friend Deb; there was another time when most of the Ohio meditation group drove to the college town of Oberlin for a dinner at a Japanese restaurant. One time Michelle and I went into Cleveland to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We always went shopping and out to eat.
Michelle loved clothes. She loved matching her nail polish to the color of her outfit. She took great care to be well presented at all times and she loved shopping…
No, It’s better to speak the truth and say that she was obsessed with shopping. I should know, I’m obsessed with shopping, too. And that’s another reason why we were good friends.
Luna’s Love Loaf
In the 90s we participated in sweat lodges and drumming circles near Athens. These were potlucks and I’d bring a casserole or a salad or some new recipe I’d learned. Michelle always brought beer bread.
Michelle loved food but confessed to being a poor cook. One thing she could whip up at the drop of a hat was a good batch of beer bread. Her nickname in Athens was Luna, so beer bread will forever be known as “Luna’s Love Loaf” to me.
Dessert and Mouth Orgasms
On the night Michelle passed away, I felt pulled to go out to dinner. Before the pandemic, I ate dinner out almost every Thursday. Since the pandemic and the arrival of HelloFresh in my life, I haven’t gone out to eat nearly as much. But that Saturday night, I was compelled to leave the house and drive to Stir – one of the best restaurants in town.
Uncharacteristically, I had steak with forest mushroom demi, Dauphinoise potato, with fresh vegetable. And then there was dessert.
I don’t believe Michelle ever missed a chance to have dessert. From the Chocolate Decadence at the Athens Coffee House (where the phrase “mouth orgasm” first showed up) to a lowly cookie, Michelle loved her sweets.
Mouth orgasm – do I have to explain? It’s when you take that first bite of a dessert and it just sends out of of this world…like an orgasm…except it’s dessert. (But don’t limit yourself to dessert – any food can cause a mouth orgasm.)
So the dessert for me on that Saturday night was one that Michelle would have loved. It’s was called a peanut butter honey tart, but that doesn’t suffice. Just imagine:
Peanut butter mixed with sour cream and sugar. Piped into a flaky pastry crust. Topped with whipped cream. Drizzled with caramel and chocolate and honey. Dusted with crushed peanuts.
Oh, just look at this—
It was remarkable and I’m sure my friend would have loved this dessert. Every bite sent me out of this world.
I’ll have to go back and enjoy the dessert all over again, just to be sure. And I’m sad that we’ll never share dessert again.
We both loved dancing to the legendary one-armed blues harmonica player Neal Patman in Athens. Patman routinely propositioned Michelle; she accepted his compliments and graciously turned him down every time. This video is from somewhere in Athens in the mid-1990s – right around the time Michelle and I would have gone to see him.
Another somewhat obscure band we both enjoyed was October Project. If I remember correctly, Michelle actually got to see the band live in Athens – sometime before we met.
Showing The Way
Because of Michelle’s passing and my subsequent illness, I had plenty of time to think about what I would leave behind. Because Michelle’s passing was unexpected, she’d didn’t have time to make a will or even attempt to give away cherished items.
Right now, I’d leave behind a mess of books, paperwork, clothes, and a whole lot of unfinished stuff. I’d leave behind those little secrets that we all hide in the junk drawers in our hearts. I’d leave behind books not written, excuses, hopes for the future, and the little bites that these things eat from our souls.
One time when Michelle and I were talking, she said that she was working her way through my poetry book by reading one poem at a time. That astonished me.
And now, it makes me want to write more. To stop the little bites from eating away the books I haven’t written and to actually get those books written. It makes me want to get my house (literally) more in order, but that may well be a future never written.
I’m happy to have someone on the other side looking out for me, sending me little whispers. I’m pretty sure Michelle’s job is to help me be sure to eat enough and to eat well. She’ll keep me writing and keep me seeking out new friendships. I’ll carry her memory with me on the best shopping trips.
Michelle wasn’t perfect; none of us are. She was a truly compassionate soul. She struggled with weight loss and gain, with money, and with other health issues, too. Mental health and especially depression followed her everywhere.
Despite these, Michelle was incredible at building community wherever she lived. Yes, she lived on her own, but she always found friends and lovers wherever she went. She’d share about road trips to the beach or a birthday celebration on Kelleys Island or meeting friends after work for dinner and a movie or brunch on Sunday. She’d often recount the annual trips to stay with her cousins in Pennsylvania.
Michelle is responsible for connecting the Athens meditation friends up with the folks in Ohio. She moved to Ohio and promptly found a community. Michelle had Gayle go to Ohio to teach and, from those teachings emerged a tightly knit group that later merged with the Athens group.
That blended group had only just begun meeting again on Zoom and, upon learning of Michelle’s passing, we gathered to celebrate her life. She will be missed, and I thank her for showing the way.
Please Remember Me
One night in the 90’s Michelle, Gayle, and I went to see singer-songwriter Loreena McKennitt in Atlanta. Here’s Dante’s Prayer with it’s haunting “please remember me” refrain. I will never forget my friend Michelle.