I picked up an oval-shaped, flat pair of earrings that looked just like tiny door-knockers and quipped,
"Here, Linda, don't you need a new pair of knockers?"
"Well, of course", she chortled, "seeing as how God didn't give me much of a pair in the first place !"
She bought the earrings amid gales of laughter and a slightly confused look from the kiosk clerk.
Shortly afterward, she greeted one of our friends with "So, how do you like my knockers?"
Our conservative, polite, soft-spoken Southern Baptist gentleman friend gave her a puzzled and slightly panicked look that defies description.
Linda and I howled.
Linda was like that -- always ready for some harmless mischief. She was not a drinker, so I can't blame any of our rowdiness on alcohol or any other mind-altering substance. Nevertheless we DID get rowdy. In fact, we had a habit of going places and getting silly enough to draw dirty looks from shopkeepers. My memory might be a little fuzzy on this, but it's possible that we might have gotten thrown out of Neiman-Marcus Last Call in Austin, and at least one fussy little handicraft boutique in Bellbuckle, Tennessee, for laughing too hard at the merchandise. And that was AFTER she bought (at a deep discount) the pillow that we dubbed, "Pee-Pee Kitty" because of the combination of decoration and desecration that it had already suffered before she bought it. A couple weeks ago, in one of our last conversations, Linda admitted that Pee-Pee Kitty still graces her livingroom decor. I neglected to ask about the knockers, darn it.
I met Linda more than 20 years ago at a graduate student fellowship event at University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. I was a 22-year-old, newly-transplanted New Englander, a stranger in a very strange land. I knew no one, but I'd stumbled into attending the church, and found my way to the grad student fellowship. Linda was 30-ish, and not a graduate student, but that did not seem to matter. She'd found friends and the group was home to her. Linda had the ability to make friends everywhere, and she had the most amazing knack for making sure that every friend she met, met every other friend she met. She was an expert at adopting "strays" and turning them into family. As I've been reading her Facebook page in the past couple weeks, I've noticed a number of people who referred to her as "Auntie Linda", as well as the names and photos of a number of people whom Linda frequently mentioned in conversation, as if I'd know them. After all, in Linda's world, all her friends were connected to all her other friends, right?
Also in my car on that long, hot drive from Austin to Nashville was Linda herself. You see, as soon as I announced that I'd landed a job and was moving out of state, Linda cleared her calendar, and announced that she would use her precious accrued vacation time to drive with me to Nashville and spend a week helping me get moved-in and set up. For anybody else, that trip would have been mostly work, but Linda was determined to find the fun. She took pictures of us at truck stops, where we stopped to pour water over our heads to beat the sweltering August heat in Memphis, after my air-conditioner quit. She hooted as she pointed out a truck for the South East Express fruit-shipping company, a truck painted with "SEX -- Eat More Bananas", and when we found that truck in the next gas-station stop, she had me pose for a photo in front of it. She navigated, and sang along to the radio, and scheduled stops for refilling the ever-present mug of ice and Diet Pepsi, and kept up a steady stream of funny stories about everybody she'd ever met. And she arranged our necessary overnight stop to be at the home of a cousin in Texarkana, saving me the cost of motel room overnight.
Another remarkable thing about Linda was her ability to manage a crisis when she needed to, and to turn it into a hilarious story for re-telling at parties years afterwards. Shortly after we arrived in Nashville and began unpacking my stuff, I suffered a bloody accident involving a frameless mirror that somehow dissolved into shards into the side of my hand. I looked at the blood, started to feel dizzy and sat down on the lid of the toilet in my tiny bathroom, calling out for Linda that we might need to find the local Emergency room. Linda called 911 for directions to the ER and was told that the operator could not give directions; she could only dispatch medical help or not. Within minutes, there were 2 large, muscle-bound firemen squeezing themselves into my bathroom which was no larger than the back seat of an average car, trying to figure out what damage I'd done to my hand and whether or not they'd need to perform life-saving maneuvers. It turned out to be a nasty cut to the side of my hand, needing stitches, but not life-threatening. Linda's friendly chatting-up of the firemen led to them offering to LEAD us to the emergency room, rather than transport me in the ambulance, saving me at least $500 in medical costs. There was a six-hour wait in the emergency room, due to the busy holiday weekend, and I ended up having my stitches done while sitting on a gurney in a corridor, with a policeman holding my uninjured hand as the doctor stitched my injured hand and I whimpered at the pain.
Linda's re-telling of the story starts with "Do you remember when you ended up with two hunky firemen all to yourself in the bathroom, and then got to hold hands with a cute cop? "
|Armed with maps and yellow pages (in those pre-internet days when information came from paper), Linda helped me find all the vital stuff in Nashville.|
|Linda spotted the odd moments with a smile|
|More oddness that day, with a smile.|
|Who else would capture normally dignified New Englanders getting down with their bad selfs? :-)|
|My students and colleagues not exactly posing for the camera|
|Only in Nashville: playing mini-golf amid wooden cut-outs of Biblical figures|
|Linda either created the silliness or just captured it.|
|Note that there are only 2 beers on that table, and neither are Linda's. Her brand of fun didn't need any accelerants :-)|
|These two shared a bond of an eye for beauty. Little flower-girl Nikki left this earth far too young a couple of years ago, but at least she's there to offer Linda a flower on her first day in Heaven.|
|Linda made her own bridesmaid's dress for the wedding, but saved the fun of hemming it until she had help.|
|These two who had never met before the wedding, serenaded me on the way to church with "Goin' to the Chapel..."|
|This hole was "The Fruit of the Spirit"... love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness and self-control... Well, we got most of them, right?|
Linda was one of those important "structural" friends for me -- I was a late-bloomer to life, and she taught me so much about navigating those young adult years, building networks of friends, reaching out to people on the edges, making sure that fun times were recorded. In my second chapter of life, finding myself again as a single adult, but this time with kids to raise, Linda's lessons of looking on the bright side even in dark moments, recording the fun, and being intentional about networking people together are priceless gifts that I try to use every day.
See you 'round the 18th hole of the Biblical Mini-Golf on the other side, Linda.