The Circle Becomes Smaller

No Longer Part of the Earthly Circle: Buddy, My Mother Jan, and Bobbie Hamming It Up Circa 1980

“The circle becomes smaller,” said Esty, a French nonagenarian who lives in New York. She and I were on the phone discussing the death of our friend Bobbie Carlin last week.

Bobbie’s death has been a shock to most of us who knew her. At 81 she wasn’t young. Nevertheless, she had such a tenacious hold on life that it is hard to believe she is gone.

I knew Bobbie for much of my life. Her daughter Susan and I became friends as teenagers. Soon my parents teamed up with Bobbie and her funny, darling husband Buddy for escapades and anniversary parties.

In February I wrote about visiting Bobbie in New York City. She was like a second mother to me … in good ways and bad.

I’ll never forget my frustration one day about ten years ago when she and my mother were chatting in our living room in Massachusetts. I peeked in to say goodbye since I was leaving for a friend’s wedding.

They shot identical looks at my sundress and uttered in unison three words every daughter dreads: “You’re wearing THAT?”

It took me some time to convince them that since the wedding was an informal garden party my attire was entirely appropriate. (The fact that I was wearing a hat apparently helped.) I was almost late for the wedding and wondered as I sped along the road whether I really needed one mother, let alone two. I was, after all, an adult.

Today, of course, I’d be happy to have either of them around to criticize my wardrobe. I’d still stand up for my goddess-given right to dress as I saw fit. But I’d try to be a little more patient with their perceived mandate to express their opinions.

In many ways my circle and my world will indeed be smaller and less rich without Bobbie. She was maddeningly opinionated, but she could laugh at just about anything. She was familiar with every inch of her beloved city. And she knew every Broadway song ever written.

She prided herself on being ageless. The only time she ever allowed a white hair on her head was when she and her hairdresser decided on a look they called “tortoiseshell,” a combination of red, black, and white tufts. It sounds weird, but it was hugely flattering—especially when the tortoise slipped on a pair of huge Audrey Hepburn sunglasses.

Bobbie knew how to dress better than anyone else I have ever known and was always perfectly turned out.

When I complained once at being caught by a camera in informal clothes and no makeup, she told me, “A person should never leave the house unless she is prepared to be network television.”

I laughed because I NEVER look prepared to be network television. She was deadly serious, however.

Bobbie pretended she wasn’t sentimental. When the smart, graceful, and remarkably un-neurotic Susan became pregnant for the first time, someone asked the grandmother-to-be what she wanted to be called by the newest generation. Grandma? Nana? Grand-mère?

“They may call me Mrs. Carlin,” she replied loftily.

In the end Ian, Gillian, and Danielle called her “Barbar,” a shortened version of her formal name, Barbara. And she loved them—as she loved New York, cheap theater tickets, stylish boots, her dancer daughter, Johnny Mercer, Stephen Sondheim, and makeup samples from Saks Fifth Avenue—extravagantly.

When I think about it, the truth is not that my circle and the world are smaller because Bobbie died but that they are larger because she lived.

I will never be able to emulate her sartorial style, which relied in large part on very slender legs. I hope, however, that I can match her passion for life.

For now, I’ll settle for singing a chorus of “My Funny Valentine” around the house in her honor. She loved that song. And she was indeed the funniest of valentines.

Bobbie in February

To hear me sing “My Funny Valentine” (pardon my recording technology–not to mention my piano playing!), click on the “Play” button below.


16 comments on “The Circle Becomes Smaller

  1. Cara Hochhalter says:

    What a wonderful tribute you have written for this dear friend! I am sorry.
    With love and peace…

  2. Jody says:

    This was so sweet to read, very Tinky! And so moving.

  3. Donna says:

    What a wonderful tribute, Tinky. I’m sorry for your loss, but what memories!

  4. Nancy Bischoff says:

    I met Bobbie Carlin years ago, thanks to Claire. Sorry to hear of her passing.

  5. Dottie says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this Tinky. I remember Bobbie and her husband well. You did a beautiful job writing about her, So meaningful….

  6. Doris Matthews says:

    Indeed they are larger because of her Tinky. Keep on keepin’ on!

  7. Molly says:

    Bobbie and Buddy were a big part of my teenage summers at the Farm. When my sister Liza and I were staying in Alice’s Cabin (we were 15-16 at the time), we had to walk past Pudding Hollow, where Buddy and Bobby lived, to get home. As I recall, they were often sitting out on the porch when we walked past after a full day of working on the farm and dinner at Gam’s house. They would call out to us as we went by, and invite us to sit with them for awhile, and ask us about BOYS and try to set one of us up with a nice boy they knew in New York… Loved them both! So sorry to hear of Bobbie’s passing; she is remembered fondly here.

  8. Grad says:

    Well done and well said, Tinky.

    • tinkyweisblat says:

      Thank you, Cara and Ann. Jody, you move me a lot so this is high praise. Great memories indeed, Donna. Nancy and Dottie, I am sure her family will be happy to her that you thought of her. Thanks as always for your encouragement, Doris. Molly, they were darlings, weren’t they? And Grad, short and sweet; thanks!

  9. Eileen Murray Lyon says:

    Thanks for another beautiful remembrance, Tinky! I always enjoy reading your thoughtful postings.

    • tinkyweisblat says:

      Thank you, Eileen. Writing about people’s deaths always helps reconcile me to them……

  10. Anne says:

    The first time I felt properly grown up was when my mother DIDN’T say – you can’t go out looking like that!! I am sorry that you have lost another link to your Mum – sadly we can’t live forever (although would we want to!)

  11. Susan says:

    Thank you Tinky for this wonderful blog!!! I laughed, I cried, and of course I ran to make sure as always to be network ready. Love…….

    • tinkyweisblat says:

      Thank you, dear Susan. Stay in touch, please. I’m thinking of you and your fun/glamorous/crazy mother.

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