This is one of my favorite photos of you. I wonder what you were thinking. Your gaze captured in this photo suggests perhaps you weren’t thinking at all; just absorbing the beauty of the New Mexico landscape on the Ranch of your namesake. You loved to share stories of your Uncle Lewis’ ranch; of your summers there; of the vast sea of stars in the night sky; of the jackrabbits you’d chase. My favorite part of the stories was always the part about Poppa pushing the gas pedal all the way down on the V-16 Cadillac, sticking the speedometer needle all the way over past the highest speed. Must’ve been some ride.
“I just don’t know how I’m going to go on without him.”
“I know Mama; but he’d want us to go on, not mope, not feel bad for ourselves.”
I often recall how your hand would envelope mine as we crossed the street; such a sense of security, safety, love. Your hand seemed so impossibly huge. I remember the tree house you built for us between the two fig trees that I swore was 20 feet off the ground. You know, the one my best friend Chris and I streaked to across the yard? That tree house stayed 20 feet off the ground….until I went back to see it; it was 5 feet at best.
“You’re right…he was a wonderful husband, a wonderful father, teacher and great man.”
You taught for just over 40 years, performed in and/or directed countless operas, musicals, recitals, and plays. When you retired you didn’t shrink from the spotlight or from helping people. From being a co-president of the local PFLAG chapter to establishing a branch of the Us Too Prostate Cancer support group in town, you thrived on enriching the lives of others. I can’t begin to wrap my head around the scope and reach of people you have influenced.
“Gosh. I’m really going to miss him. We had a wonderful marriage. I’m really blessed to have had him for as long as I did.”
It wasn’t until about ten years ago or so that you shared the story of helping integrate the first African American student into Tarleton State College. You were teaching there and along with another friend of yours had made the acquaintance of a cook at the local diner. Desegregation had become the law of the land, but you were teaching in Texas. The cooks daughter wanted to register for classes, but was afraid to step foot on campus. You and your friend walked her registration papers through for her, all she had to do was then show up in class.
You passed a week ago, though it feels like a lifetime. What remains are my memories of you. It doesn’t matter what I remember, or how I remember it; what matters is that I remember.
That tree house was 20 feet tall. Your hand was impossibly huge; that speedometer needle did get stuck all the way past the highest speed.
“It was a fifty year love affair.”
The wealth of memories I have of you will buoy me through this next chapter, and continue to serve as touchstones to guide me throughout my life.
But I’m still going to miss you.