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One last song
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“You want to know about Kitty Strozier?” said Elaine Longwater, Kitty’s childhood friend, mentor, running buddy, boss and long-term collaborator.

“Go to her house at Tybee. Sit on the upper deck. Look around.”

So I do. A week after Kitty’s death from cancer, I climb the stairs of her pale yellow house, built long before the condos, the villas, the reef clubs. I sit facing the ocean and I hear the rustle of palm trees, the chatter of shorebirds, the quiet of the island on a Saturday morning. I see a half-dozen of Kitty’s art projects, including a splendid window garnished in stained-glass style with shards of glass and marbles.

Then I think I hear Kitty’s infectious, staccato, animated voice - or was it Sigmund’s, her African gray parrot with the red collar that went everywhere with her, to the office at Longwater Advertising, to Mango’s outdoor restaurant at Key West, to the street scene of Provincetown.

“Hey, Boo-Boo,” said the bird also known as Siggy-Butt. “What’s going on?”

Except he - and she - would have said something a little more raucous, a little more raunchy.

I see Lizzie Jonell, the fetching, four-foot-long iguana draped around Kitty’s neck and in and out of her small, quick fingers, as the pair sat at the bar at Fannie’s on the Beach; then Dewberry, the charming, diminutive chihuahua tucked into her jacket, peeking out of her black Saab, as they pulled up to her office on Tattnall Street.

I spot her mahogany Boston Whaler in the yard and remember stories she’d tell about going into the Back River, throwing the anchor, tossing out chicken necks at the end of a homemade line fashioned from a boom handle, 25 feet of twine, bent wire, a sinker, a scoop net and catching three or four crab at a time.

I think about the crab soup that followed.

I remember the last time I saw Kitty. Her cousin Jimmy Maddox was singing at Fannie’s and legions of Kitty’s friends - including a longterm friend who came to visit, saw how ill she was and stayed the final six months with her in her home - were alerted to a rare public appearance.

Outfitted in wig and cap, wracked with pain and buoyed by morphine, Kitty roused herself for the night. She loved her cousin. Her eyes gleamed when he sang Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World’” and the tune he wrote for her, “Kitty’s Song, Following Your Smile.”

So though Kitty was not present the Saturday I stepped up to her house, she may have been there in another configuration because she was capable of taking many forms, of being many places at one time.

At 5, living with her family in Bloomingdale, she followed a whim to run away with a goatman who used to travel Highway 80 in his covered wagon filled with junk and treasure and promise. She got as far as Faukville.

When she told me that story I thought it charming but apocryphal. I listened because Kitty was a good storyteller and such good company that you didn’t care what she was talking about. But I had my doubts.

Then I heard from others who lived in the area that same time about the man with the three-legged goat and the covered wagon and I knew what she had told me was true.

At 6, she announced to her parents she wasn’t going to church. The woods, she said, would be her church, her religion.

She was a woman who knew her mind. Ten hours before she died at her home on Lovell Avenue - and against the wishes of the six friends who kept vigil around her bed for days - Kitty, weak, fragile, unstable, pulled herself up, headed for her bathroom and shut the door.

“She told us, ‘I can do this myself,’” said Jenny Orr, who owns Fannie’s. “And we had to let her go. Next thing we know, we hear her taking a shower, talking to someone, laughing. When she came out she had washed her hair, put on her perfume, Channel No. 22, and changed to her favorite pajamas, white with green frogs.

“She whispered, ‘I never thought I’d go out wearing something like this.’”

After that there was no drama, no struggle.

“Finally, she just didn’t exhale,” said Jenny. “She breathed in and then she went. She was taking a jump somewhere. But I made her swear when she came back she’d let me know who she was. And I believe she will.”

Still, letting go is hard.

“When you’ve known this long, it’s hard to define who they are because they’re woven into your life,” said Elaine Longwater. “As Yeats said, It’s hard to tell the dancer from the dance.”

The Kitty Strozier Foundation for Women in the Arts will hold a jazz celebration and benefit Sat., Jan. 28 from 2-to-6 p.m. at Fannie’s on the Beach. Huxsie Scott, Christy Alan, Jimmy Maddox and Claudia Nygaard will perform.