“She has the most sand of any girl I know…”


by cheri sabraw

In Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Huck says of Mary Jane Wilks, a 19-year-old girl he meets and admires and who, along with her sisters, is the object of a failed scam by the Duke and the Dauphin,  …She has the most sand of any girl I know…

My first question to my students after finishing that chapter was “What did Huck mean when he described Mary Jane as having sand?

Eventually, amid answers that ranged from the granular to the universal, someone would observe that Mary Jane had courage.

Ahhhh… I would nod,  You must mean ‘grit’, don’t you? and then I would insist they look up the word grit in the dictionary.

Most of us hope  we have such strength of character, courage, pluck, or grit when faced with life’s greatest challenge: that moment when we face our mortality.


I first met Susie in 1972.

I was a first-year teacher at the tender age of 21, hired as a Learning Consultant  and English teacher by Joe,  my former teacher and principal.

Susie, then 26, was a bouncy confident vivacious blond (those were the days when you could refer to a woman as a blond instead of a guidance counselor.)

We clicked like Dorothy’s shoes in The Wizard of Oz.

I found Susie–a native Arizonan married to Aldo, the basketball coach and business teacher at the high school I attended, to be energetic, fun, and full of life.

Before long, Susie and I were both pregnant and informed Joe, our Italian principal, that we would be taking a leave of absence.

Joe did not take this news well as two of his most popular blonds and brunettes had been compromised and he would need to replace us.

Damn it he said in his office when I told him the news before I almost threw up from morning sickness. Good God! What? First Susie and then you? What’s in the water here at this high school?”


Years passed. Susie and I had two kids each and became best friends. I say  Best Friends but the truth is, Susie was my best friend but she was a best friend to at least 50 other women. I accepted that fact, pleased to have a best friend from my standpoint.

Our families met many Friday nights to celebrate “Friday Night in America.” We would party, drink, watch TV, and entertain the neighbors, who eventually would stream into Susie and Aldo’s home.

If I had a secret that needed working out, I called Susie. Her common sense, willing ear, and sense of play made my secrets dissolve.

As life does, it moved on. Susie’s husband Aldo died too young. Susie soldiered on, eventually moving from counseling to the District Office at our local school district, in charge of the Gifted and Talented Education Department.

Our kids married and had their own kids. We were there together for all of those occasions.

Then, to my disappointment, Susie moved out of California and back to Arizona 14 years ago. Of course, I handled this with maturity. I only cried a bucket of tears.


Last April, a text arrived with an Emoji wearing a stern facial expression. Call me when you have a moment the text said. This cannot be good news, I thought.

And it wasn’t.

Susie told me that she had  early stage stomach cancer and  was headed to MD Anderson in Houston, Texas, for chemotherapy, radiation, more chemotherapy, and then, six months later, the removal of her stomach. In one of my more shallow moments, I asked her if we could still have a glass of wine together. She laughed and said, “maybe.”

In September, I visited Susie six weeks before her scheduled stomach removal. We ate out, drank some wine, laughed about old times, took some photos, watched British television, and talked about life, religion, and philosophy. When I got into my bed each night of my visit, I marveled at Susie’s strength and grit, her resolve and bravery.

Of all of the people I have met in my lifetime, with whom I have some intimacy, Susie is the person who has mastered the practice of staying in the present moment.


A human stomach holds between 4-6 cups of food.

Susie has a newly fashioned pouch made from her small intestine and attached to her esophagus, which will hold 1 cup of food at a time. She must eat every two hours to maintain weight. The miracles of modern medicine!

Ron and I drove up to see Susie on Friday.

There she was! Beautiful, smiling, laughing, greeting us at the door.

It would have been easy to pretend that nothing had changed.

When someone we love has survived an illness, a disease, or an accident, their essence seems  palpable and intense.

Their eyes seem wiser, deeper, and instinctive.

Susie radiates with purpose and grit.

Long live Susie, my dear friend.








About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Life, People and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to “She has the most sand of any girl I know…”

  1. Sara Marek says:


  2. Sharon says:

    You describe this beautiful woman and her spirit so well! Glad there was another time to visit. Hugs to Susie and you!❤️

  3. Chris says:

    What is Susie’s secret? What does she know that we don’t? In life, when we struggle, as one friend said, the lie that surfaces is “I can’t.” The lie says, I’m not good enough, strong enough, powerful enough, beautiful enough to overcome whatever obstacles lies in front of me. But, Susie did with all the beauty and courage a human soul could possible have. What is Susie’s secret?

    • Cheri says:

      Susie will have to answer this question herself but if I were to stumble out the front door and venture a guess, I would say that the love of her family, her “glass half-full ” philosophy, and her ability to stay in the present moment.

      • shoreacres says:

        This exchange reminds me of the life-changing exchange I had with my sailing instructor on my very first day of ‘class.’ Asked to remove a sail cover from a boom far above my head, I said, “I can’t.” At that point, Tom looked at me and said, “On this boat, you never again will say ‘I can’t.’ Instead, you’ll ask the question, ‘How can I?’ The answer may be that you ask for help from others, but beginning with the positive question rather than the negative assertion is going to be the key to success.”

        And so it has been. Whether your wonderful friend made a conscious decision to approach things that way, I can’t say, but the results certainly suggest it.

  4. Richard says:

    This deeply felt tribute flows with the love and admiration you hold for a dear friend.

    May I conduct myself with Susie’s dignity when my challenges come, as they inevitably will, some day or another, and may I learn to make the most of the present moment.

    The beautiful painting you created especially for her will provide the comfort and reassurance of your continuing loyalty and support.

  5. ines Mangiola says:

    Amazing woman! You did her justice!

    Sent from my iPhone

  6. Carol McCann says:

    Wow!!! Susie is a great person as I remember who does everything with dignity. What a great tribute to her, Talk about TRUE GRIT!!!

  7. Sharon Jones says:

    What a wonderful tribute to our best friend, Susie! She is so fortunate to have had you by her side as she faced the death of her beloved Aldo and her parents and the grueling journey through both Aldo’s illness and then her own. The October trio has plenty of sand, and when we have added the tears of both joy and grief, we have the concrete that is true grit! Love ❤️ to you, Cheri! 👏👏Sharon

    • Cheri says:

      Well! What a special surprise to find the comments of my friend and principal, muse and comedian on this humble blog. Not surprising, your language inspires and amuses. Only YOU would turn your comment into a lesson on metaphor. I would agree that the October Trio has grit but mine is more akin to hot cereal than to courage.

  8. Chris says:

    Thank you for giving me someone to strive to be like in 2019. Happy New year.

  9. Debbie Mews says:

    What a amazing gift to all of us who love Susie and read your blog today! You not only captured how brave and courageous she’s been throughout her battle with cancer, but also the very essence of who she is! Thank you for sharing some of the most beautiful memories of
    your friendship with Susie and Aldo over all these years. I think one of the reasons Susie has so much sand in her life is because of dear friends like you and Ron!

    Thanks for making the first day of 2019 so special!💕
    Love, Debbie (Susie’s favorite sister)😉

    • Cheri says:

      Another wonderful January 2 surprise to see your kind comment. You and your sister have incredible gritty DNA. I suspect part of that double helix came from your mother and grandmother. Long live Marge and GaGa! In all seriousness, you Debbie, could be the subject of a blog post. And you know why. Love to your family.

  10. Glenys says:

    You will be able to treasure the moment Ron took the photograph of you and Susie together. I can see you have put your heart and soul into the painting as you do everything.

    • Cheri says:

      To my dear friend Glenys from across the miles. You have made a real difference in my life. Please know that , Glenys. I treasure my English pen pal more than you will know. XXXOOO

  11. wkkortas says:

    Marvelous story, and even better writing.

    • Cheri says:

      Thank you wk. Your comments on my writing always make me feel like a good student again. I wish you only the very best in 2019. Here’s to more poetry!

  12. JUDY KELLER says:


  13. Roberta Moody says:

    Thank you so much for your wonderful blog about our dear Susie! She continues to amaze me as she cheerfully copes with what life gives her. I’ll always treasure the early morning “jogs” around the Mission Track with her, Judy and Sue. She was my sunshine even on days when she had reason to be down. Thank you too, for sharing yourself through your words, and art talent! Nice surprise, and the picture is beautiful! Have a wonderful year. ❤️Roberta

  14. Charlotte Grabill says:

    Thanks for sharing Cheri’s wonderfully written tribute to our friend, Susie. Over the years, she’s been a good friend, always willing to listen, offer advise car if asked, and no matter what, exhibits that absolutely wonderful zest for life! She is loved by all of us who are fortunate to call her our friend! Here’s to many more years of great times ahead. ❤️ Charlotte

  15. Sheri Hughes says:

    What wonderful words – what a perfect description of Susie. Aldo was my treasured uncle and I always thought that only the most spectacular person in the universe would be worthy of him. He stayed single for a long time before he met and married Susie, and when I met her I knew that he had indeed met his perfect match. I have always been blown away by her ability to make everyone around her feel special and loved, and by her ability to stay positive and rely on humor in every situation. EVERY situation! She has been through some horrendous times, but has faced them head on (a difficult task) and with humor (just about impossible for us mere mortals!). This latest challenge has simply been no match for her. She’s like a cork; you try to sink her and she just pops back up to the top! I can see why there are probably 50 people who can call her their best friend — she has enough love and caring and compassion that every one of them will get a full dose. ❤ ❤ ❤

    • Cheri says:

      Well put, Sheri. Funny how people named Cheri/Sheri seem to have a way with words.
      Susie’s ability to stay positive is one of the qualities I most admire and judging from the volume of comments about her coming into this heretofore lonely blog, I can see that she is universally revered by her thousands of best friends.

  16. Frances Hawley says:

    What a wonderful description of a cheerful happy, optimist, funny, loving and beautiful person. People who know and love Susie feel the same way but you have captured everyone’s thoughts in your words. Thank you for expressing so beautifully what we all feel.

    Frances, a new friend of only 6 years, but Susie includes you and makes you feel like you are a life long friend.

    • Cheri says:

      Excellent observation, Frances. Susie’s ability to include everyone and make all feel special and important in her world are two of her best qualities. New friend/old friend…we are all Susie’s friends.

  17. Judy Box says:

    You have encapsulated everything we all know and appreciate about Susie – how lucky I feel to have had her as a friend. And yes, she did job around the track, and when it rained, she jogged around the gym with the same group and Muggsy. Those times with Susie are so memorable – just thinking about her brings a smile to my face. Thanks, Cheri, for your wonderful words!

    • Cheri says:

      You gave me a big laugh when I read that sentence, Judy. I was just about to correct it for you when your own correction came in. Great to hear from you. I hope all is well on your end. We know it is on Susie’s. And thanks for reinforcing that Susie really jogged.

  18. Judy Box says:

    I made a terrible mistake of saying ” having had her as a friend.” Yes, Susie, as an answer to all our prayers you are still with us!

  19. Jason says:

    She has 50 best girlfriends but she only has one best nephew! Thanks for writing this it captured a lot of the emotions we’ve had since this adventure started. She plowed though cancer because she’s a super hero but I think she’d agree her power comes from the 100s of people who truly love her.

    • Cheri says:

      Greetings, Jason all the way to France. From what I have seen at Amy’s wedding, there are a number of McDonald nephews who might take up the Mantle of Disagreement. And yes, your last sentence says it so well. Is cancer an adventure? That is something to think about. Thank you for your delightful comment, one your Aunt Susie will thoroughly enjoy.

  20. Rita S. says:

    I have a friend just like Susie. We should all be so lucky to have “Susie’s” in our lives.

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