The Lady I Want to Be

IMG_4994Sam and I went to a funeral this week for one of my best yoga students.

She died on Tuesday at age 98. So Sam and I hopped in the truck at dawn and drove back to windy West Texas where the mesquite and post oaks grow.

I met Aline Garrett when she was 92, after I decided to offer a “chair yoga” class to the ladies who live in the local senior apartments. I wrote about it in 2011. 

I had no idea what I was doing teaching yoga to people who may have been alive during World War I, so at our first class, as six slow-moving, Texas farm-wives gathered around, ready to learn yoga, I said,

“Does anybody have medical issues I should know about?”

They looked at each other and immediately I thought: Oh man what did I just say, we only have an hour.

92-year-old Aline, with her grey hair wound into a tiny bun atop her head, thought on it a minute, then held up her right index finger and said,

“My finger is crooked.” Then she giggled.

With that one comment Aline Garrett set the tone for the class forever. We met twice a week and she never missed one. Soon, I started calling her Ms. G and decided, if I get to be 98, I want to be just like her.

In fact, I want to be like her at 43.

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At the funeral home on Thursday, her family sat behind one screened in area, as a Bluegrass trio sang hymns from behind another.

Old-fashioned decorum is alive and well in West Texas farm towns, and it pleased me to think Ms. G was probably bluegrass before bluegrass was cool. I found myself nodding again and again as her 34-year-old Church of Christ pastor shared, with deep knowing, all the things that were great about her.

Without hyperbole or preacher theatrics, he compared her to the Apostle Paul.

I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances. I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation—to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need, and I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13

Seriously, that is no small thing, but I think she would have just smiled and shook her head.

I remember sitting with Ms. G at her daughter Aletha’s house, which sat across a big coastal field from ours.

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This was probably a tornado, but that’s not the point.

We were shelling peas at the kitchen counter, when Ms. G began to talk about the Great Depression, and how for Christmas one year, she and her siblings each got an onion.

“Oh and we were happy to have it,” she said.

When she was in her 80’s she flew on an airplane for the first time. She said they gave her a bottle of champagne, announced it over the PA and let her see the cockpit. “Now that was high cotton,” she said clapping her hands and smiling.

Both events seemed to delight her equally.

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Norma (left) and Ms. G. in Warrior II.

In the few years I knew her, I never heard Ms. G say a negative thing about a person or event. Ever. If people were speaking negatively around her, she would look at her hands and sit quietly.

She also loved to read, but when we met she was going blind. Rather than mope and complain about that, she began to memorize long passages of scripture, so she would always have it, even if she couldn’t see it.

Some of her buddies, who were mine too from yoga class, came to the funeral. Although, I haven’t seen them in five years, they treated me like I’d only been on vacation. Bernice squeezed me for a very long time.

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Betty, me and Bernice

This is also how I want to be in the world. Because if you’ve ever mattered to me, you probably still do, despite space and time. Ms. G was like that. She never forgot anybody.

Later,  we gathered at Durwood and Aletha’s for coffee at 4 in the afternoon, just like we used to. There were a pile of new great-grandkids playing in the living room and people rocking in chairs.

Despite having lived in that old farmhouse across the field for only two years, I can think of few places where Sam and I are as woven into family and community as we are in Gorman, Texas. I didn’t realize how precious that is.

Aletha, who is her mother’s daughter to the bone, said to me through tears as we hugged goodbye, “Mother would have loved this, because this is the stuff that matters.”

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On Letting Things Go

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People keep asking me if we’re going to sell the ranch. My answer is always, “Yes, definitely, I mean I don’t know, probably maybe not, no, no way.”

This little ranch in Gorman Texas, is the dirt on which Sam and I landed after we took a flying leap out of our careers and lives in Colorado, minutes before the 2009 US recession and an historic Texas drought.

That ranch still mesmerizes me in the same way newborns mesmerize their sweaty, worn out mothers.

I forget, every time I come here, I have to scrub mouse poo out of my kitchen cabinets, and wash the silverware because – little known fact – mice don’t have bladders, so if you see mouse poo, guess what you don’t see? I know. Gross. You’re welcome.

I also forget that August in Gorman feels like July in Haiti, except Sam is there at six every morning, staring at me from the edge of our bed saying, “You ready?”

What he wants me ready for is the next nine hours during which I will scrape and paint the exterior of our 100-year old house, crawl around underneath it with the coon skeletons and snake skins or maybe just relax in the million-degree attic and watch for sparks among the old copper wires and cedar shakes.

Owning and restoring an historic home is so romantic when you’re married to an uber wealthy oil dude from Dallas – I assume.

But watching dusk fall last night, from two plastic chairs in the back of our old red barn, Sam said, “Are you sure you want to sell it?”

“No, are you.”

“Uh uh, ” he said kicking dirt that we’ve soaked with our own sweat.

This is the last place I saw my cousin Kelly. She galloped our grey mare Belle to the highest spot on the ranch with a morphine patch on her arm, one day after chemo. Six months later, she was gone.

This is the place with the oak trees, from which Sam hung a garden hose with a sprinkler head, so he can shower butt naked outside every day, like, you know, real men do.

This is the 60 year-old barn that held ten shivering horses during the hardest, coldest snowstorm we’d ever seen – not just in Texas, anywhere.

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I learned to farm and sweat and weep here, and how sometimes getting everything you say you want can be the best and worst thing that ever happened to you.

Right now, I’m sitting in the room where Jesus introduced himself to me as the rock in rock bottom. For months, I sat here with the Bible in my lap, watching the West Texas sun rise, alternately daring and begging God to show up and be real.

He did, just like he promises. He poured through those tall, old windows like the yellow prairie light, and spoke in whispers and explosions that went off in my head and settled into my heart, layer upon layer like red sandstone in the desert.

How else could I respond? I spent the next year in this room, this chair, writing a 60,000-word love letter to thank him.

I’m marked and worn and striated by this place, and it’s hard to put a price on that.

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