There is a woman who runs marathons and hikes fourteeners and lifts heavy weights, just because she likes it. She is a doe eyed vision of classic feminine beauty who clothes herself in artful tattoos and feasts on decadent food. She buys birthday cakes at grocery store bakeries for no reason, grows tulips by the hundreds, and plants native trees between boulders on purpose. She is devastatingly smart. Retired at a young age from the Air Force, she now works for a company that builds and maintains space stations. She raised her very own woman child who is blazing her own trails in life. This woman is a world traveler and book worm and a self taught carpenter. She is married to the love of her life and secretly has Frida Kahlo as the patron saint of her home office.
A man writes his musings and observations of life and family and community from his deep woods home. He is a hunter and musician and friend to everyone. He once had an almost human beagle whose death broke our hearts. After a decades-long career in the production and sale of electricity, he uses his unmatched gifts of storytelling and insight to lure his audience, connect them to broader scenes and overlapping ideas, and then drill them snugly to his own reality with details of his daily life. We all feel like we belong on his Arkansas mountaintop with him and his bride.
A younger man roams our small town, sometimes on foot and sometimes on his bicycle, occasionally with his aging service dog. She is plump and shimmery, with a silver-gold velveteen coat, cloudy eyes, and a pink harness. She is largely uninterested, or maybe too tired, to meet strangers. But her boy makes up for this. He knows everyone, and everyone knows him. He waves with his entire arm and shoulder, twisting at the waist as he does. He has huge blue eyes and an electrifying, joyful smile that is easily seen from a hundred yards away. He wanders and explores all year long regardless of how stifling hot or frigid cold the weather. His smile is unmistakable even from within his parka and insulated hunter’s cap. Seeing him sometimes puts me in the mood for a family reunion. Sometimes it makes me cry.
A woman floats gently in my imagination and lives concretely in my husband’s world. She is terrifyingly smart with a brilliant, crisp intellect, and she is an insightful writer and scrupulous editor. She is too accomplished for her young age and is ethereally beautiful. She proves, year after year, that motherhood can extend to our little brothers and our grown nephews and even, in the way that life is circular and treacherous, to our fathers. She could be my sister or my friend if we all had more time. She represents so many ways I once thought I could be or become. She has no idea how much I once feared her or how much I now admire and appreciate her.
Once upon a time there was a man who spent his youth enforcing the law, solving vice crimes, and running with a motorcycle gang in order to save young girls from being trafficked. He was an avid house remodeler, a craftsman and gardener long before everyone took those ideas from television. He raised a young family, lost his marriage, and spent that long middle chapter of life on a series of beautiful, tragic romances. He was a first responder at the Oklahoma City Bombing, a tragedy which fully altered the trajectory of his life and mental health. He retreated. Became almost a hermit. Healed a little, enough to reopen his life to old friends and new lovers. He immersed himself in Native American culture. In need of rescuing himself, he stayed in touch with two of the children he had pulled from the rubble of the Murrah building, now grown, perhaps more his than his own children. He bought a herd of bison and repaired fencing as a form of meditation. He applied his considerable talents to renovating his beautiful, private retreat. This man, having already lived twenty different lives of his own and filled with the wisdom from all those mistakes and experiences, showed us as newlyweds how life could be for us, too. After a long stretch, he died alone but within his paradise. He is forever in the fabric of our family’s collective memory, a much loved and unforgettable personality.