From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Every Woman Needs a Champion

Every child needs a champion—a person who cherishes her and supports her every step of the way. My champion was Lillian, a woman my mother’s age, but a close friend of my grandmother’s.

My earliest memory of Lillian occurred when I was three. Her only daughter and my eldest sister, both tyrannical six-year-olds, refused to let me climb her apple tree. They called me a big baby—a crushing insult to one so recently out of diapers. Lillian strode over, scooped me off the ground and plunked me down on the lowest branch of the tree, soothing me by crooning to me, “Ca-Coo,” a pet name she had given me before my first birthday. Then she brought me a cookie—a Viennese crescent she got from the best bakery in New York—and initiated the first of a lifetime of serious talks.

“Come, sit down, Ca-Coo,” she would say. “Tell me about yourself.” Although busy with her own friends and work, Lillian took the time to listen to the trials of a not-so-eager kindergartner, a defiant tomboy, an awkward adolescent and a rebellious college student. While my own parents were practically pulling out their hair, Lillian never criticized. She never stopped calling me Ca-Coo, and she never stopped offering Viennese crescent cookies from the best bakery in New York.

Lillian took an interest in my dating life. As I paraded a stream of boyfriends through her door, she always served my favorite cookies and made my suitors feel welcome. When the inevitable break-ups occurred, Lillian helped pick up the shattered pieces, and never said, “I thought he was a louse to begin with.” When I finally settled down with the man who eventually became my husband, Lillian prepared a five-course dinner for just the three of us. She called me Ca-Coo and for dessert served Viennese crescent cookies from the best bakery in New York.

I married my husband while he was in graduate school, and the only work I could find was as a part-time teacher in a private school. My meager salary didn’t stretch far and I felt poverty-stricken. Lillian called one day and said, “Ca-Coo, just listen and don’t say anything. I have five-hundred dollars for you sitting in my bank account. If you need money for any reason, just call and I’ll send it to you. No questions asked.” Then she hung up.

Suddenly, I felt rich. I had a buffer. I never used it. My husband finished school, got a good-paying job, and we started a family. Lillian oohed and ahhed over our children. After the birth of each, she remindedme of the emergency fund she still held forme. I was touched. Hard times had fallen on Lillian—her husband had died. She was short on cash, but always long on love. But I knew that if I ever called, the five-hundred dollars would be mine.

I did call Lillian—lots of times over the years. The conversations always started the same way.

“Hi, Lillian? This is Carole.”


I knew she knew who I was, but I played along. “Lillian, it’s me, Ca-Coo.”

“Ca-Coo, darling!” she responded with joy. “Tell me how you’re doing.”

I would smile. She would never let me grow up.

When I was in my late twenties, I told Lillian I wanted to become a writer. She responded enthusiastically and became my greatest cheerleader. When my books were published, she’d buy them in bulk and mail them to me to autograph. She’d then dispatch them to her friends and relatives. It didn’t matter to her that I wrote children’s books and that the recipients were full-grown.

When I was thirty-three, I injured my back and could not leave my bed for seven months. Throughout this ordeal, Lillian called me weekly to give me pep talks. I had little new to say. Our relationship gradually changed. Lillian opened up to me, and I became her confidante. Finally, I felt I was able to give back some of the support she had given me.

When I recovered, I brought my children to visit her. Time had not robbed her of her good looks and ability to dress meticulously. She still called me Ca-Coo and served my children Viennese crescent cookies from the best bakery in New York.

A couple of years passed, and I decided to surprise Lillian by dedicating a new book to her. The inscription read, “To Lillian, for always being there.”

In January, I visited Lillian for a weekend. She didn’t look good. She hadn’t been eating right. She yelled atme for growing up. Everything I did or said displeased her, and I left depressed. I called her a few weeks later. She had company and could not talk. She said she’d call back but never did.

I came down with mononucleosis and pneumonia. It had nothing to do with Lillian. I was so busy with my family, my writing and my friends that I neglected myself. Now I had to spend two months regaining my health. I’d think about Lillian but didn’t have the energy to call.

Finally I was well again, and scurried about trying to catch up on all the things I couldn’t do while ill. I called Lillian’s number, but no one answered. For several weeks I tried without success, finally deciding she was probably out of town visiting her daughter. Then in June, my grandmother took me aside.

“Lillian has metastasized breast cancer,” she told me. “She is dying. You weren’t told sooner because we feared you would have a mono relapse.”

I rushed to see Lillian. Walking into the hospital room, I instantly realized I was in the wrong place. Huddled in a wheelchair was an old, balding, emaciated woman. As I was about to apologize for disturbing her, the woman began to speak in a weak, cracking voice.

“Ca-Coo!” she said. “I’m so glad you came. Sit down and tell me about yourself.”

We talked for an hour. She told me that soon she would no longer be. I told her that I knew—and that I would miss her. I promised never to forget her.

Three weeks later, my champion was dead. After her funeral, I returned to her apartment with family and friends. My favorite Viennese crescent cookies were set out, but I couldn’t eat one. I felt destitute. My buffer was gone. There was no one left to call me Ca-Coo.

Another year passed, and the pain of Lillian’s death lost its raw edge. One summer morning, my doorbell rang. Standing by the front door was Laura, the three-year-old daughter of a friend.

“Come sit down, Munchkin,” I said. “Tell me all about yourself.”

Laura dashed to the couch and plopped herself down. And she waited impatiently while I opened a box of Viennese crescent cookies from the best bakery in town.

Carole Garbuny Vogel

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