I called Lois this morning. She’s a woman I’ve known my whole life. She’s a fabulous gardener, a wonderful cook, a humble woman with a soft sense of humor and a farmer’s wife in rural North Dakota. That farmer, her husband, passed away on Sunday. She said, “You know, Brenda, he was born in the same house he died in. And he was named after the doctor who attended the birth.” Which was Clinton. Even my folks didn’t know how he got his name. He was always called Kinky, for the kinky hair he had as a child.
My dad turns 84 tomorrow, the day of the funeral of his friend and classmate. Our farms were only about 3 miles from each other. Dad and Kinky had gone to school together and been friends their whole life. Lois I and talked about lots of things this morning. She spoke tearfully about the letter she’d received yesterday from Mom. “She knows how to put words together . . . that letter will have a very special place, always,” she told me.
I so remember driving to their farm, turning off one dirt road onto another and then into their driveway where you were met by her splendid and grand flower gardens. As a child, I couldn’t wait to walk through her gardens admiring closely all the colors, shapes, and the magic of it all.
When my first book came out, my publishers asked me where I wanted to go first to start my book tour. I said, “Fargo!” And they complied. I flew to Fargo on April 19th, 2000 and they were in the middle of a blizzard. Roads were closed, icy conditions made driving dangerous, yet Lois and a few other ladies from that farm area drove 1 1/2 hours to Barnes and Noble that night in Fargo for my booksigning for 40 Over 40. “We wouldn’t have missed it for anything!” they said.
That’s the kind of people they are in that small community in southeast North Dakota. I know the church will be standing room only tomorrow. In fact, it’s supposed to be -10 degrees and I worry about where they’ll put the overflow. I can see the familiar faces in the pews especially the women I remember from Ladies Aid meetings in the church basement. They were always so beautifully dressed and accessorized, especially my mother and Lois, the youngest mothers in the church group.
When I was back there for Lois’ 80th birthday party, I had a great conversation with her sister-in-law, Ruthie, who is in her late 80s. Ruthie, one of the most beautiful women I know, told me a story I’d never heard before about how she worked in San Francisco for a year or two right down by Union Square where I take my clients shopping today. That’s where she was the day WWII ended. “People just ran into the streets kissing everybody. We were so happy!” she said. She drew in close to me and nearly whispered, “I don’t tell people this around here, but San Francisco really is the most beautiful city. You’re in the right spot.” I felt like we shared a secret.
I talked to Mom and Dad before they left today for the funeral. I told them about my conversation with Lois. “Well, you’re really her daughter too,” Dad said. Lois had three sons and she always wanted me to marry one of them. That didn’t work out, but I know I’ve been shaped by her and others from that community. I might be in the right spot, here in the Bay Area, but there’s a part of me that will be there always.