March 25, 2020

Sally dancing to the beat of a different drummer in a cemetery
Sally Hoover, my friend for more than 50 years, was in the hospital. She had fallen again and broken her arm. She also had pneumonia and the doctors suspected Covid-19 but test results take time. Her condition rapidly deteriorated and she was on oxygen. Palliative care aimed to make her comfortable.

How do you say goodbye during these times?

I called a nurse at the hospital so I could request my message be given to Sally. The nurse, however, told me, “Your timing is perfect. I’m in her room and she is awake. Let me put my phone on speaker so you can tell her yourself.”

“Sally, this is Bonnie. We’ve been friends for so long. I want you to know that I love you.”

I heard a cooing sound.

How do you have a phone conversation with someone on oxygen and drugged too much to speak clearly? It was enough though to say goodbye in the best way we could.

She died soon after.

In these days of Covid-19, how do you deal with her departure in a way that she deserves? How do family and friends get together for a memorial service, a celebration of who she was and your connection with her? How do you deal with such an important transition?


I met Sally (officially Sarah Avirett) at Frostburg where we were students in the 60’s. She wasn’t in any of my classes but she literally wandered into my life while I was working in the yearbook office where I was yearbook photography editor. I should say she “danced” into my life because my impression of our first encounter was of someone constantly moving.

We came from different backgrounds. Her Cumberland family lived in a huge house called Rose Hill, a place where the Cumberland Historical Society often gave tours. I grew up in a modest Baltimore City row house. There were some similarities though. We both had two siblings. Both of our mothers were stay-at-home moms. Her father was an attorney, a college graduate. My father was in banking after his service in the Navy but did not finish college because (he told me) “I didn’t want to miss my children growing up.”  Like our contemporaries at Frostburg, Sally and I were both struggling to discover who we were but I think her struggles may have been more challenging than mine.

We did not room together or share any classes but we continued to do things together. We walked about and explored, me with my camera. She introduced me to yummy rice pudding at the Princess Restaurant on Main Street. Although I did not have permission (female students needed parent signature in those days), I stayed several times at her family’s home. One of those times, in my quest to learn who I was, she fixed some alcoholic drinks for me and I spent most of the night hanging my head over a toilet. Her mother, unaware of the cause, was sympathetic and wondered where I picked up the bug.

I attended Frostburg tuition free. I signed a contract promising to teach after graduation for two years in Maryland because the state was experiencing a teacher shortage. I worked several jobs in college: typing dittos for professors and reading to a blind student who also became my friend and who passed away many years ago. Pay for these jobs was 75 cents to a dollar an hour.  I helped pay for my room and board also by working as a teller in Baltimore every summer and with $2,000 from my uncle. I think during some of Sally’s time in college she lived at home and another time she boarded in the old Gunter Hotel in town  that had reserved a floor for boarding college students.

Over the years, Sally was a model for some of my photos—with and without clothing. About a year ago, I gave her the nude photos I’d taken of her which made her chuckle. I told her, “It’s up to you what you do with them…throw them away or frame them." One of my favorite photos of her was taken in my film days of her spirited dancing in a cemetery.

Sally was generous. On one of my birthdays, she bought a flying lesson for me—extravagant by my standards. She gave me two volumes of H. L. Mencken’s The History of the English Language, an art book on family and The Art of Andrew Wyeth. The painting on the cover captured an ethereal ambiance I always felt about Sally. We both loved art and reading. In her last years in Baltimore, she liked to celebrate her birthday by buying symphony tickets for a group of her friends or taking them out to eat. 
The painting on this cover captures an ethereal
ambiance  I've always associated with Sally.

After I graduated from Frostburg (she dropped out), Sally temporarily lived in several places out of state. She sent postcards, letters and copies of poems she thought I’d like. (I recently returned her old post cards and letters.) For some time, she lived with my first husband Scott and me in our Charles Village apartment. (My current husband David was a downstairs neighbor and had met Sally briefly.) During that time, she met a man in the musical group we hung out with and wound up marrying Chester Hoover. He was low key and she was vivacious. I remember their wedding in her family’s home. After the ceremony, she took off her wedding gown, put on her swim suit and jumped exuberantly into the in-ground pool.

As often happens with friends, circumstances interrupt connections. I divorced, remarried and became a mother twice. I was teaching and going to school at night and didn’t have much time for socializing. When I wanted to reach out to her, I couldn’t find her contact information. She was a tech luddite and had no presence online.

In 2007, while my father was in his declining years with Parkinson’s and I was making frequent trips to Parkville, David saw a death notice for an Avirett. It was her brother. Before visiting my father, I went to the funeral where I saw Sally greeting people afterward. I recognized her even though it had been years.

I went up to hug her and said, “It’s Bonnie.”

“Yes, I know.” She was surprised to see me.

What do you say?

She said to me, “Thank you for coming. We’ll have to get together sometime.” I agreed but felt it wasn’t the right time to exchange contact information. So I left.

After some time passed, David found her address and one day when we were in the neighborhood, we knocked on her door unannounced. Through the glass, I watched her move to the door. It was obvious she was no longer capable of dancing. But her mind was good as we talked about books and politics.  She worked on NYT crossword puzzles. She was surrounded by photos of her family as we caught up that afternoon. She told us her husband had left her and remarried.

After that, we continued to visit her in her home near Wyman Park, in the hospital and in her new assisted living home. And we talked on the phone. She was always sympathetic to the physical problems David and I were experiencing too in our senior years

I’ll always remember the vivacious young woman I met in college—a free spirit dancing to the beat of a different drum. But I’ll also remember the recent conversations of the slower, quieter, older woman I just said goodbye to on the nurse’s speaker phone. By that time, I think she knew and liked the person she was. I do too.

Sarah Hoover 1944-2020 and Bonnie Schupp