Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Remembering Margot Lucoff

The New Year Brings Thoughts of Old Friends

There are those who shine
and diffract life
to enlighten others,
like brilliant colors
from white light

through a glass prism.

Image: Glass prism

While attending Portola Junior High School in El Cerrito, California, I had a good friend by the name of Margot Beth Lucoff. Her friendship was special to me in many ways and it came at a formative time of my life, which ended up changing me, forever.

Margot and I lost touch after our junior high years, but in the early 1980s I sent a letter to her mother at the family's old address in El Cerrito. She happily forwarded it to Margot, who wrote back to me, and we renewed our friendship through letters. By 1982, I had been living in the Seattle area for several years, but I had a chance to visit her for one day during a trip to the Bay Area. If you have ever experienced the strange familiarity of meeting an old friend after the passage of many years, then you know about that peculiar mix of joy, expectation, and confusion involved.

In the early 1990s, things happened separately in both of our lives, and our letter writing dwindled and stopped. In 2005, I found out through the internet that Margot had died the year before. I was devastated that I hadn't had the chance to say goodbye, knowing it was my fault for not keeping in touch.

At the time, I wanted to remember her somehow, but couldn't find a way other than to donate to the foundation of her bequest. We no longer had any mutual acquaintances that I could contact and share memories with. That's why I'm writing this blog post now. Friends are family invited in by the heart. They enlighten and inspire us, and the distance of years does not change the special interaction that once occurred, nor does it lessen the pain of their loss.

An obituary was printed in the Sept./Oct. 2004 issue of "The Reel & Strathspeyper," a publication of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, San Francisco branch.
Friends of Margot Lucoff are sad to inform you of her death. She died on Thursday, July 22, at home, in her sleep, of natural causes. She was 51 years old.

Margot was introduced to Scottish Country dancing by her fiance,Mark De Lemos, in the mid-1980s, and danced primarily in the Berkeley Class.

Margot was at Mark's side when he died, in 1989, at the cancer research center in Seattle while awaiting a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. Later, in his memory, she attempted to become a bone marrow donor but did not make it past the first two screenings.

Margot worked for many years in the Berkeley Public Library's Cataloging Department and was active in the Jewish community.

Margot was born with neurofibromatosis (NF). She asked that the National Neurofibromatosis Foundation (NNFF), a non-profit medical foundation, be considered by anyone wishing to make a donation in her name. The website for donations, contact information, and information about NF is http://www.nf.org.

Margot and I had no classes together during junior high; we met because we hung out in the same area of the school yard during lunch break. At first glance, it probably seemed that we had nothing in common. Our personalities were different: she was outgoing and brash; I was quiet and shy. Our cultural backgrounds were different: she said that her Jewish ancestors were "White Russians,"or emigres from the Russian Civil War in the early 20th century; mine were midwestern Norwegian-American homesteaders of Lutheran faith. She had an opinion about nearly everything; I struggled with the barest confidence needed to even form an opinion. She guffawed openly and heartily; I hid my giggles behind my hand.

Margot Lucoff (left) at Portola Junior High School, with Adrienne Carlson, 1966, El Cerrito, California.

Being a young teen is hard enough, but Margot had particular challenges to face. I had only to deal with shyness, but she had to deal with the very real conditions of chronic disease. In her younger years, Margot spent many, many months in complete traction to help severe scoliosis caused by neurofibromatosis. She had to wear a spine and neck brace for years afterwards. The only outerwear that fit over it easily was a poncho. Whenever I remember Margot, I picture that ever-present red plaid poncho with the neck support sticking out of the top, her intense dark eyes and bravely open and smiling face above it.

We both had the utmost enthusiasm for the future, for all things cultural, and for Star Trek. Yes: Star Trek. Even a TV program (though an exceptional one for its time), can inspire bonds lasting beyond lifetimes.

A small group of us always stood around at lunch and discussed the latest episodes, trying our best to make clever "Trekky" jokes. Margot claimed the Captain Kirk role, probably because of her boisterous and adventuresome spirit; another friend, Robin, was Spock, I suppose because she admired his logic, and I was "Bones" McCoy, if for no other reason than it completed the trio. Other students must have thought we were crazy because we didn't spend our time complaining about boys and teachers, but the play-acting and musings filled many otherwise dull noon hours, and urged us on to related topics about life, the universe, and everything.

Our stage was the wide, terraced patios of Portola Junior High, which looked down the El Cerrito Hills toward San Pablo Avenue and beyond, to the San Francisco Bay. A kiosk supplied a daily ice cream and treats, at least until our pocket money ran out. Each day we ate our lunches on the terrace, and Robin bought her usual Hostess Suzy-Q's. We talked and joked inbetween glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge--its vibrant orange color barely visible--and of its neighbor to the north, the sleeping lady form of Mt. Tamalpais. On misty days, the fog horn on Alcatraz Island in the bay punctuated our conversation. It was a time for dreaming...

But, dreams are often shattered by those who do not have equal vision and optimism, and by those whose minds are clouded by ignorance and hatred.

As Margot was leaving school on or near the last day of the ninth grade, she was accosted in a hallway by a group of troublemakers who taunted her and threatened bodily harm if she attended El Cerrito High School the next autumn. Though she was courageous in many ways, this very personal attack frightened Margot deeply, and she decided to alter her path and attend a different high school. A young person's universe revolves around those physically close by, and so, a special time came to a close and we each went our separate ways. But, fortunately, it was not for good.

(To be continued in Part II)

Note: This tribute is based upon personal memories and conversations with Margot. If her family or friends should find any errors or inconsistencies with what they know to be true, please notify me at ckinnick@gmail.com, and I will be happy to make corrections.

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