A legacy of friendship
A group of women gathered at the bottom of the Eagle Bahn Saturday, tying pink ribbons to their poles while exchanging warm embraces and friendly words. They prepared for a day of “hard skiing” followed by a champagne lunch at Larkspur.
An engagement party? A birthday?
No, this is an annual memorial for Sheridan Alonzo, a former ski instructor and Eagle-Vail mother who died of a rare respiratory infection in 2001. What sets her friends apart is their insistence that remembrances of Alonzo are always a celebration.
“Really what it’s about is us getting together to remember Sheridan and the role she played in our lives,” said Kathleen Cope, Alonzo’s longtime friend.
“We’ve become much closer to each other, much more appreciative of our friendships,” said Cope. “It’s a fun day – we really have such a good time. It’s not a somber day, it’s a celebration. She’d be honored to see how much we miss her, how we still think of her.”
And think of her they do, fondly reminiscing about her accomplishments as a friend and a mother.
“Our husbands were friends initially, and we hit it off right from the start,” said Cope. “We had so much in common, we even looked alike. Pretty soon we moved into houses nearby, and it all just grew from there. She’s the godmother of my daughter, and I’m the godmother of her son.”
A decision, Cope said, which was easy to make.
“She was a really good listener, she could quietly listen and really hear what you had to say. But she was certainly opinionated, just not in your face about it. She could sit and listen for hours, and then say one thing that was so well thought out and really made sense.”
Beth Debord, who taught ski school with Alonzo from 1991-98, even returned from Boston to attend the event.
“I came back for this, I wanted to be here,” Debord said. “Sheridan meant a lot to all of us.”
According to her friends, Alonzo was also a wonderful mother to her children, Harrison, 7, and Katie, 4.
“She was such a wonderful mother,” Cope said. “She was patient and understanding, but also fun. She had just the right balance, she really got it right as a mother. I can remember so many times when I had parenting questions, I would be on the phone with her, panicking, saying “Oh my God Sheridan, what do I do?'”
“I was the first to have a baby, and Sheridan had one right after me,” said friend Nanami Scott. “We really bonded on that, on talking about babies and being first-time mothers.”
And the friendships Alonzo fostered were much more than that. Many of her friends insist that there was a familial bond to what they shared with Alonzo.
“Not many of us have families out here, we’d spend Thanksgivings together, celebrate birthdays together,” said Cope. “Friends play a really important role to all of us out here, and I think that Sheridan really taught us how to value that role, how to understand its importance.”
One way that these women value Alonzo every year is by remembering the small things that she loved, and working it into their celebration.
“When we go to Larkspur, we drink champagne, which was her favorite,” said Cope. “This year we’ve also put together these gift bags with tea, chocolate and her sweet potato casserole recipe. And also hand cream. She’d always have hand cream for me, my hands are all gnarly and dry, and she’d always be there with hand cream.”
Losing Alonzo, they all agreed, brought a new awareness of the importance of friendship into their lives.
“It’s all made me realize how important my girlfriends are to me,” said Cope. “We’re all so busy being moms, Sheridan really knew how to bring women together as friends.”
“If good can come out of bad, it’s that friendships have solidified, and strengthened,” said Annie Breckheimer. “We all understand now that things can change so quickly, it’s so important to value these friendships. I think Sheridan’s legacy is the solidification of the friendships that were established through her.”
Alonzo was known by all her friends to be the advocate of women spending quality time together as friends, and leaving the harrying role of mother at home for one night.
“Sheridan knew I was a knitter, and she announced one day that she was going to start a club called Stitch and Bitch once a week at my house,” said Breckheimer with a grin. “It was her idea, a way to get us all out of our houses, to leave the kids at home and have a time to be with our friends.”
“I met Sheridan at Nanami’s bridal shower on the mountain, which Sheridan organized,” said Sharon Jones, who still has shredded ribbon from the event attached to her ski pole. “She loved to organize things for girls to do together. And she was good at it.”
Apparently the “bridal shower” also had characteristics of a bachelorette party, and is remembered fondly by all who attended it.
“We had four brides-to-be, and we all met up on the mountain,” said Cope. “I think all the stars were lined up, because the whole thing was perfect. It was a gorgeous day, and we caused such a scene. We had veils and bouquets on the ski poles and ribbons tied to the bottom of the poles. We ended up on Mini’s Deck having a few drinks, and then we went on down to Garfinkle’s, and eventually made it into the Village after that.”
Many laughs follow, as the women reminisce about a wild time and a wild friend.
“Somehow Sheridan and I ended up in a booth at the Sundance after this big long day of drinking,” said Cope. “We had one of those conversations, those heart-to-hearts where you just pour everything out, and it changes your life. I keep thinking since then”
There was a pause and the group seems prepared for a heartfelt conclusion, a misty-eyed, eloquent confession. Instead, a peal of laughter comes from Cope’s small frame, and she manages between giggles to finish the story.
“I just wish the whole thing wasn’t such a blur!”
And such is the tone of the event, with laughter ruling the day.
As they prepare to head up the mountain, the group of women – many with more than a decade as ski school instructors – seem to be taking the task at hand seriously.
“We’re good skiers, we ski hard,” said Cope.
What about the 1:30 reservation at Larkspur?
“I said we ski hard, not all day,” corrects Cope. “We still know how to have a little fun too!”