Some men were just born beside a river of melancholy. Some men live a lifetime there – Rick Bragg/The Speckled Beauty
It’s her birthday today. We used to celebrate with vines of red licorice. She introduced me to the treat while we were in college at Oregon State. I had a car and would pick her up at the corner, outside the elementary school where she was doing one of her teaching practicums. She would often hand me a vine as a thank you, then I would drive her to the Kappa house and drop her off.
We would talk the entire way.
We never ran out of things to talk about.
She was the first friend I made when I left Georgia and moved to the Pacific Northwest.
We met at church, introduced by our Sunday School teacher, Miz Gerry. I think she felt a particular kinship with Connie because of her brilliant fluff of curly red hair. Miz Gerry had red hair, too, but she got hers at the salon.
Ours was not an instant friendship, and might never had happened had Connie not been persistent in her many kindnesses toward me. Besides our faith, we had very little in common. Her father was in the banking business. Her mom, a homemaker. Connie was the oldest of the four children – three girls and a boy. She took her role as eldest sibling seriously, accepting that she was the one they all looked up to, so she needed to set a good example.
She lived a lifetime of setting good examples.
The daffodils she planted emerge each Spring, weaving a yellow-ribbon pathway to the lake house where she raised up her own four children, three boys and a girl.
She has five grandchildren now, who will only ever know her by the stories told and retold, and the photos of her framed and unframed. The few times I’ve held her grandbabies, I think of how wrong it is that she’s not here to pull them close to her own heart. How she would have longed to sit with them and read them the story of Miss Rumphius or Because of Winn Dixie. Stories that reflected her own life’s journey: The Lupine Lady lives in a small house overlooking the sea … I have to do something to make the world more beautiful.
The other day, while cleaning my office, I happened upon the file that holds the program from her funeral. Inside was a small packet of lupine seed and a note encouraging all of the over 600 people who turned out for the service to do their part to make the world more beautiful.
Beauty is God’s most overlooked character trait. I’ve heard a gazillion sermons on the vengeance of God, but I can’t recall a single sermon on God’s beauty. Yet, it was that trait – the beauty of God – that shone through Connie every single day, and it’s her beauty that I think upon most often. It was evident in the way she set her table, wrapped her gifts, decorated her home, planted her garden, poured a cup of tea, or wrote a note of encouragement.
Every October, when I call and schedule my annual mammogram, I think of her. And every Spring when daffodils bloom and the lupine turns the hillsides pink and purple, I think of her.
She loved all the beauty of this world and she loved the God who created it all, as if solely for her delight.
We had some great adventures, she reminded me in the last hours of her life. Months earlier, when she called to tell me the cancer had returned, I sat on the floor of my closet and wept with her, for her, for her children and the grandchildren to come. Sometimes I weep for her still.
We aren’t meant to get over missing those who loved us so well and whom we loved so wholeheartedly. We should speak their names, retell their stories, recall the way their eyes sparked whenever they laughed, and, if possible, hold close the grandchildren they couldn’t.
Enjoy a red vine.
Plant a lupine.
A ribbon of daffodils.
Do something to make the world more beautiful.
Whatever that thing may be.
Karen Spears Zacharias is an author & journalist whose yard in Deschutes County is overgrown with lupine.