So the thing of it is this: If you live long enough, you're going to lose people you love. It's as inevitable as a freak snowstorm during spring vacation in Utah. As Johnny Cash said, the man comes around. For all of us.
Because I now can order pancakes at IHOP from the +55 menu (thank you, IHOP) (but, seriously, red velvet pancakes are a bad idea), I've stood by plenty of gravesides in my lifetime to say goodbye.
But what I've come to realize is that these people are still with me because of the things I do and say as a result of having known them when they were alive.
Take my friend Marilyn, for example. Marilyn was one of those big personalities with a big heart (cliché, I know, but accurate) and big opinions about everything. She loved Barbra Streisand, romantic comedies, pieced quilts, poodles, Nalley chili from a can, limited-edition dipped Oreos, silver rings on every finger and her collectible teddy bears. She began most of her sentences in a husky smoker's voice with the phrase, "The thing of it is," which is a great way to start a column, too. Thanks for that, Marilyn.
Speaking of great phrases, my great-grandmother had a few of her own. I do have personal memories of her — I keep a picture of us eating Christmas dinner together by my bedside — but by then she was a frail, tamer version of her essential self. In her prime she'd been the game warden of Sublette County, Wyo., a force of nature big enough to intimidate my father, whom she attempted to teach how to fish. It didn't work. My dad stood on the banks of a glittering river, accidentally casting off in the shrubs behind him and getting his line tangled up everywhere. Domestic chaos was her preferred environment, but occasionally she attempted to impose order. "I'm going to get lined up today," she'd say. And although she's been gone for years, my mother and I say the same thing. "I'm going to get lined up today." Thanks for that, Grandma Pat.
When I was growing up, I was nuts about horses but didn't have the opportunity to ride much, so I read books by Marguerite Henry instead. When I married my husband, his father, who was nuts enough about horses to actually own them, took me for rides in the foothills above Provo. He also taught me how to drive a pony cart. So if you need someone to drive a pony cart to the grocery store for you, I'm your girl. Thanks for that, Kenneth.
And then there was my friend Becky. We discovered each other at church when we were 10 years old. I still remember the first time I saw her, standing there in the hallway with her yellow hair and her yellow dress, saying hello to me first because I was shy and she wasn't. We talked every day for years. She reminded me of C.S. Lewis' description of his mother, a woman who took to happiness like some people take to the best seat on a train. That is NOT my natural tendency. But I try to give it a decent shot. Thanks for that, Becky.
Last February descended heavy on me like a curtain of gloom. I didn't want to get out of bed. It was dark. And cold. And if there is anything I hate, hate, hate in this life, it's being cold. But then I remembered something my dad always used to say. "As long as my neck is warm, the rest of me stays warm."
So I crawled out of bed, wrapped a scarf around my neck and carried on.
Thanks for that, Dad.
Ann Cannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/anncannontrib.