Carolyn White: Living the Good Life 9-3-12
Several months ago a computer-savvy friend showed me how to pull up old 60s and 70s shows on the Internet, which has been especially fun since I don’t own a television. I’ve been watching reruns of “The Monkees,” “Stingray,” “The Wild, Wild West” and most recently, “Starsky & Hutch,” which is about a couple of California cops on the beat. Watching the pair speeding around in their red and white-striped Grand Torino always brings a special smile, because it reminds me of a favorite game that I used to play with Karen, a lifelong friend and teenaged riding buddy.
One summer afternoon as we were travelling through our quiet neighborhood — she on her Pinto pony, Rascal, and me on my Appaloosa/ Thoroughbred mix, Tee — she spontaneously began pretending that we were mounted policeman. “Watch out, Hutch, there’s a situation,” she whispered mischievously, using one fist as a CB mike. Gesturing towards a housewife stooped in a garden, she continued, “I don’t like the looks of this. No telling what she’s hiding in her apron pockets.” We both cracked up, but the true beauty of that particular afternoon is that Karen, who was nicknamed “Face” because of her wide, toothy grin, never quite stopped being silly long after the rest of us had hit adulthood and started getting way too serious.
I can still see her completely covered with mud after a race across a country field, grinning from ear to ear as she slapped Rascal’s neck and said enthusiastically, “Good girl! We almost caught ’em that time didn’t we?” She gave me a teasing grin the morning after she’d swiped my brand new, white tennis shoes during a camping trip and used them to make a midnight dash to the outhouse from our tent … running straight through the smoldering fire pit along the way. “Sorry,” she shrugged, her bright blue eyes twinkling, “you knew they were bound to get dirty.” And she laughed uproariously at herself, doubled over at the waist, the evening that she dumped a partial can of soda into her lap after being asked what time it was. Without thinking, she’d merely flipped her wrist forward to take a look at her turquoise-inlayed watch.
That laugh — a “HAH” explosion followed by a series of smaller, throaty chuckles — is what made Karen most endearing, especially when she was directing them at herself, like the time she couldn’t find the lid to the gas tank on her newly-purchased, used Volkswagen. (Sitting inside, anxious to get to school, three of us watched her walk circles around it several times, scratching her head and snickering. It was better than “Candid Camera.”) “Karen could be a bit of a space cadet,” her closest buddy and neighbor, Jody, recalled fondly during a recent long-distance conversation. “She never took herself too seriously.” Tim, Karen’s husband of 27 years, says she made him laugh constantly and he loved that. In fact, the pair had their own, special language that was frequently punctuated with giggles, affectionate nudges and other expressions that only the two of them truly understood. And the lady veterinarian that she worked for admitted that Karen’s gentle, compassionate way of handling the animals “will never, ever be replaced.”
Of the many pictures from our own times together, a favorite is one taken while she was riding ahead of me in the rain, wearing an orange slicker and blue bandana and beaming backwards with a hand on Rascal’s rump. There’s a shot of her standing next to Jody by the concrete walls of a West Virginia mountain rest stop on a day that was so cold they both had the slick hoods of their “bubble coats” (Karen’s term for goose down jackets) fastened securely around their heads. “Look, we’re Oompa Loompas,” Karen joked as she and Jody began bobbing up and down. There’s Karen in her muddy caving gear trying to ream out a carbide light while chortling that it was “way too dark inside the cave to know what she was doing.” And there’s Karen cradling yet another rescued kitten that she’d brought home from the clinic, unable to bear leaving it behind.
In the end, it was lung cancer and congestive heart failure that got her this past July 12th and it’s been deeply moving to know that such words as “sweet, patient, kind-hearted, friendly and wonderful” were most often used to describe her at the southeastern Ohio funeral. Unable to attend, I listened tearfully as Missy, who loved her also, later described the gathering over the phone. “You should have seen the digital display, Carolinee. In EVERY photo, Face had that huge, beaming smile.” For those who knew her ‘way back when,’ it’s a perfect reminder of how we should strive to be remembered when we grow up. ❖
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