My Friend, Patricia

It is funny to me how the mind wanders freely and randomly while doing the most mundane activity. I suppose it is the brain’s way of entertaining itself to compensate for what is otherwise the most boring of tasks. What I find most interesting are those times when one simple gesture or movement can actually take the mind back to a time and place from the past with vivid clarity. A few months ago, I had one of those déjà vu moments.

Although I am usually a very tidy person, I do have the occasional habit of kicking off my shoes and tossing them in my closet rather than placing them neatly back on the shoe rack that is conveniently placed at its entrance. If left unchecked, I quickly find myself tripping over mismatched shoes while trying to get to my clothes. Since clutter is a distraction to me, I will dutifully police my mess and put the shoes neatly in their appropriated place.

On one such occasion, while placing a pair of shoes on the rack, I found myself transported back to the 1960s and watching Patricia Cartmell diligently taking all of her shoes out of her closet, wipe down the closet’s hardwood floor, and then purposely place each pair of shoes back in a perfect row. “How often do you clean like this?” I asked her. “My mother wants the house thoroughly cleaned once a week,” she replied. “We run a business from our home and she is always worried that someone will come in and find the house dirty. She gets upset when the house is messy, so I just do it.” From the closet she moved to her chest-of-drawers and began making sure that her clothes were folded and carefully lined up within each drawer. Since I had been invited as an overnight guest of Patricia, I quickly caught on to the idea that if Patricia and I were to have any play time together, I was going to need to pitch in and help her out. The two of us spent most of that Saturday going from room to room and meticulously cleaning in a manner that would have normally been reserved for spring cleaning in most households. Even after all of these monumental chores, Patricia still had the task of manning the answering service switchboard – the home based business – for a few hours while her mother ran errands. She never complained about all of this work and actually tried to make it fun for the two of us. I had a blast learning to run the answering service switchboard. I felt a little like Lily Tomlin from Laugh-In… “One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy.”

In many ways, I identified with Patricia. Her family dynamics were very similar to my own biological family. Patty Cartmell, Patricia’s mother, seemed to be the dominant and driving figure in the household. She was a high-strung extrovert and a demanding perfectionist. My mother was the dominant figure in my household as well. However, she was not the extreme of Patty’s perfectionism. Patricia’s older brother Michael, like my brother Phillip, was pretty much the “crown jewel” of the family. Michael was the bright and gifted one who was expected to take the highest leadership role one day. Patricia’s father, Walter, was always in the background. Much like my own father, Walter paled in comparison with his wife’s more outgoing and dynamic personality. It seemed that Patricia’s way of fitting into this dynamic was to provide her own unique brand of family glue by being the dutiful daughter and supportive provider to the needs of other family members.

Although Michael was better known for his academic prowess, Patricia was absolutely no slouch in the brains department. Because Patricia was so modest, though, you really had to get to know her to fully understand the depth of her thoughts and the resolve she had to accomplish her goals.

I believe that Carolyn Layton picked up on this when Patricia first took her French class. Patricia adored Carolyn as a teacher, and the fact that Carolyn had recently become a member of good standing within Peoples Temple fueled her admiration even more. Carolyn quickly realized that Patricia had the kind of dedication and steadfastness that would push her to complete any task that was placed before her. Carolyn and Patricia became close friends shortly after that first semester. Patricia seemed to blossom and become more visible as she took on more and more responsibility within the church. I remember being amazed to find out that she wrote over 100 letters a week as part of the writing committee. This, of course, was in addition to maintaining a high standard of academic studies while in school and continuing to fulfill all of her personal and familial tasks as well. I would like to think that Patricia found satisfaction and meaning in the midst of so many responsibilities. She certainly seemed to thrive and handle them with ease. I also imagine, however, that all of it came with a price. To be so young with so much placed on your shoulders had to have been a heavy burden at times.

Looking back, I was in awe of her. Patricia was diligent, considerate, and mature in a way that was beyond her tender years. It seemed to me that she always placed other people’s needs before her own. I don’t remember her ever being selfish or purposely inconsiderate, and she never shirked her responsibilities. Patricia lived the adage of letting actions speak louder than words. She was a dedicated worker bee, faithfully and selflessly giving her contributions to the hive. She wasn’t showy or gossipy, and she was as lovely to the eye as she was inside. I can still picture her with her long brown hair held back with a peasant scarf, a smile on her face, and those beautiful deep brown eyes with thick, full, black lashes that seemed to curl upward towards her eyebrows as if she had used an eyelash curler.

Patricia, if there is a heaven, or a higher plane, I am certain that you deserve to be there. You were the genuine article, and I miss you.

(Denise Davenport Fabrizio’s collected articles for the jonestown report are here. She can be reached at She would love to hear from her old friends in the Temple.)