She’s Got a New Life; But That’s Not All

When I first met Sue Economou – a pleasant, pretty retired school teacher – it was through her husband George Economou. I knew George as Mr. Economou, a Shasta High School teacher and coach.

I was a student in a few of Mr. Economou’s Shasta High P.E. classes. And he taught me to drive in the required Driver’s Education course, back when the school district offered students that kind of thing. Free driving lessons for everyone.

Mr. Economou was a gentle marshmallow bear of a man; gruff on the outside, tender on the inside. He was especially beloved by decades’ of Shasta High football players.

george-economou

I didn’t meet up with Mr. Economou again until years later.  I’d written a food story about a Redding Greek woman and her family recipe for spanakopita. My phone rang at work the morning the story appeared in the paper.

“Girl, I’m Greek and my spanakopita is better than hers,” Mr. Economou said. “You should write about my spanakopita.”

I told him I’d already written about spanakopita, so I couldn’t write about it again.

No pressure, but he reminded me that he was the reason I knew how to drive.

We settled on a compromise. I’d write about his baklava, which he made every December to give away as gifts.

A photographer came with me to Mr. and Mrs. Economou’s house in old Redding, just a few blocks from what was the original Shasta High School, which Mr. Economou was first a student, and then a teacher. doni and georgeHe made the baklava. I took notes, and wrote about Mr. Economou’s baklava, complete with his recipe.

That was that. Until the following December when my phone rang. It was Mr. Economou.

“Hey, girl, it’s time to make baklava again!”

I explained that I’d already written that story.

“So what!” he said. “You can still come over and make baklava with me.”

That’s how the tradition started where I’d go to Mr. and Mrs. Economou’s house each December. We’d make baklava, followed by a lunch of Avgolemo – a Greek lemon soup – and Greek salad, featuring Greek oregano from a plant in the back yard, smuggled from Greece into the United States by Mr. Economou’s mother in the early 1900s. I have cuttings of that plant in my herb garden.

I fell in love with the Economous. Eventually they sort of adopted me and my sister. I also fell in love with the old-fashioned nut grinder Mr. Economou used to make the nuts just the right size, and his beat up old pan with the handles, in which he baked the baklava. That pan must have been 100 years old.

In time, Mr. and Mrs. Economou insisted that my sister and I call them George and Sue. So we did. Soon we were regular visitors at George and Sue’s house, the old Redding home in which they’d lived since 1956.

The thing about visiting George and Sue was that George was the most outgoing of the two. He was just one of those people who could command a room and engage an audience. Everybody loved George. He was funny, he was playful, he was opinionated, he was kind, and most of all, he loved his Suzanne.

Suzanne was George’s sidekick; more in the shadows.

George died five years ago, and when he did, everyone’s minds turned to Sue. George was her everything. George was the love of her life, the rudder that kept her afloat.

Everyone was afraid that this would be one of those heartbreaking stories where one spouse dies, and the other quickly follows.

Sue had a steep learning curve to get up to speed with the things George had taken care of. But she did it. She continued her volunteer work at Mercy Medical Center, and because she was lonely, she added a stint at the Discovery Shop. She’d meet friends at the Elks Lodge for lunch or taco night. She went to movies with another friend every Sunday. She filled nearly every day with something. She hated being alone, and night time was the most difficult for her.

But despite her grief and sadness over losing George, Sue actually blossomed and came into her own. Her family and friends saw a new side of her, a little more irreverent, a bit more opinionated and outspoken, than the Sue we’d known before.

Even so, her age was catching up with her.

She went from walking on her own to needing a cane for support. Then she graduated from the cane to a walker. She had one of those electric chairs installed so she could ride it down to the basement to do laundry. She still drove her car. She still went to wine tasting at Holiday Market each Thursday.

Friends still came over, including my twin and myself, who never tired of Sue’s insights and stories, to the point where we’d play a game with her we called Ask Sue, where she would give her opinions about everything from dating (call him!) and manners (what’s wrong with people?) to cooking (go out to eat) and bratty kids (that’s awful!).

She loved thrift stores, and was an avid collector of candles, stuffed animals, vests and books. She also adored her solar bobble-head characters that lined her kitchen window sill, where the sun would bring them bobbing to life each morning. Her coffee table and fireplace mantel were always decorated for every holiday and season, and the candy dishes were filled with the matching treats, whether for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter or Fourth of July.

Halloween was among her favorite holidays, because she liked to see all the little kids’ costumes. She was vocal about her disapproval of teenager and adult trick-or-treaters. Sue Doni and Shelly

Sue turned 94 last year. When she had difficulty getting out of her chair, she bought a huge maroon beast of an upholstered chair that could tilt forward and ease her into a standing position. When she struggled to walk up even one porch step, her son built a front porch ramp. She often said she wasn’t hungry, that she was just too “lazy” to go get food out of the refrigerator. She hired a guy to tear out the old pink tub and install a walk-in shower. She bought a special gizmo with a higher seat and handles for the toilet. She took to wearing a medical alert necklace 24/7, just in case she fell and couldn’t get up.

Sue was changing, and she was doing her best to adapt, and stay in her home.

I’ll bet you think I’m going to break the sad news that Sue died.

Suzanne Economou

I won’t, because she’s very much alive. But she’s moved into an assisted living facility. It wasn’t an easy decision. It took about a year for Sue to warm up to the idea. And when she did talk about it, one of her biggest concerns was that she’d be with all “those boring old people” who talk about their aches and pains all the time; people who aren’t fun.

But as Sue told me on the day she moved into The Vistas, she knew it was time to leave her old house behind. As much as she loved her old home in old Redding — the one with the prolific dwarf lemon tree in the front yard, and her mother-in-law Economou’s oregano in the back — it was getting to be too much for her.

“I could tell,” she said. “And I wanted it to be my choice. I didn’t want my kids to tell me.”

Her name was put on the waiting list for an apartment to “come available” at The Vistas, and when the opening came, Sue’s son and daughter-in-law – Mark and Margaret – came to Redding to help Sue transition from the three-bedroom, spacious home she shared with George for 58 years, into a one-bedroom apartment at The Vistas.

George and Sue’s old home is now occupied by someone else. moving day for Sue

On moving day, Sue sat in a kitchen chair in her new apartment and watched as moving men came and went, and boxes arrived, and the handyman hung up her TV bracket.

She just shook her head. I told her how brave she was, how much courage it took for her to make such a huge life change.

“I know. I can’t believe it,” she said.

The day she moved into The Vistas she had an important announcement.

Her name would no longer be Sue. From now on, everyone could call her Suzanne. She would have plenty of adjustments, so everyone else could handle this one simple request.

“Why not?” she asked with a shrug and a smile. “It’s a new life, and I’d like a new name.”

You’ve got it, Suzanne.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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30 Responses

  1. Randall R. Smith Randall R. Smith says:

    If we stay long enough, we all face this change.  Hopefully, our stories will be as well told with courage and a smile.

  2. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    I’ll look for Sue next time I play there. I bet she’s on the front row, tapping her toes.

  3. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    Errrr . . . . . mmmmm . . . excuse me, SUZANNE!

  4. Avatar J Bunton says:

     

    Go Suzanne! Great story about a GREAT LADY.

  5. Avatar Ginny says:

    You have written a beautiful story of not one person, but two.  They were individuals, yet held together by a common bond: love and marriage.  And, then, the pair departed, both for different lives.

    Thank you…….

    • It’s true that George and Suzanne started as individuals, fused as a lifelong couple, and now Suzanne’s an individual again. It’s been interesting to see her develop and grow without George. She’s doing it beautifully.

  6. Avatar Kirsten says:

    I am thinking of my new name……….any ideas? Suzanne has it TOGETHER! Every day we have, should be lived to the fullest!

     

  7. Avatar Peggy Elwood says:

    Doni…thanks for sharing this inspiring story…aging is indeed a challenge and a privilege…looks like Suzanne is doing it gracefully which is what we all hope for. Thank you for the News Cafe and your many contributions to Redding and to us.

  8. Avatar Jim Brown says:

    Thanks for sharing this sweet, inspiring story. I made it through SHS without getting to know Mr. Economou, and now I know what I missed. Time to make baklava in honor of him and Suzanne.

  9. Avatar Elaine Pepper says:

    She was my PE teacher at Anderson Elementry around 1970 and I adored her!                                        

    When I was little my best friend was Greek and they would meet at Wonder World to have doughnuts and talk about Greek things.

    my parents were strict Baptist and they did not believe in drinking alcohol ever! One night we were watching something on T.V. And they were drinking ouzo. I smiled and told them that I love ouzo! They were very upset, they tried to explain to my friends Mother that we did not drink. She did not speak very much English and she did not understand? When I later told her that I could not drink alcohol she said it is not alcohol it is ouzo!

    I moved away from Redding for many years so I just assumed that she was gone. She still looks the same, Beautiful as ever with a great big smile on her face!

    • I love your story about your Greek friends. So funny. I will share your message with Sue (cannot get used to her new name!). It’s funny, whenever Shelly and I have asked her about her career teaching P.E., she always laughs and says she knew NOTHING about it, and sometimes made up her own rules. She loved her students, and they loved her.

  10. Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

    Love this story 🙂  Three cheers for Suzanne!

  11. Avatar Janell S Word says:

    Please tell Suzanne I said hello and am thinking of her.  It took a long time for me to be able to call her, my former teacher and later friend, Sue.  I’m looking forward to a visit with her soon and I will try to remember to call her Suzanne!

  12. By the way, I’ve seen a dozen or more posts  from other former students of Sue…. Suzanne… And please tell her that she beloved by so many.  🙂

  13. Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    I love this article.  Thank you Doni.

    I’m lucky that my mother told me that she was ready for  assisted living.  She was done with cooking, driving, and living in isolation in her home.  What seemed to me at first to be a “Hotel California” kind of living situation turned out to be a wonderful home for my mom.  She lived in comfort and made friends in a community of extraordinary people who found joy and purpose in each new day.

    Again, thank you Doni.  I will look for Suzanne the next time I’m at the Vistas.

    • Joanne, you and your mother are lucky she found a place she liked for her last years. (I’m intrigued by your Hotel California description.)

      And yes, when you’re at The Vistas, please do keep an eye open to say hi. You’ll love her!

  14. Avatar Diane Davis Lockwood says:

    I love Mrs. Economou,  she was one of my teachers. I have never forgotten her or her smile.

  15. Avatar Kim Shaw Eatmon says:

    Love this lady, she was my P.E. teacher in grade school. Stopped by the vistas last week to see my girlfriends parents and saw Mrs. Econamou. She was doing a little P.E. herself. God Bless her. Your article was a great look at a wonderful lady.