Saturday, June 21, 2014

laying down the flowers

I had been expecting the news all week. 

My friend, Leo Bauman, emailed me earlier in the week that his wife, Theresa, was in the final stages of life.  She had been fighting cancer for a long time.  And, as it will happen to all of us, her life ran out on Thursday.

I have known Leo since the late 1960s when we were both working our way through college by sorting and mailing checks for a bank in Portland.  It was one of those late night jobs perfectly suited for young men looking forward to their futures.

After graduating, I headed off to the Air Force, but I kept in contact with Leo.  When I came home on leave during the summer of 1972, he told me had a surprise for me.  He had met the perfect girl.

I had never seen anyone before or since who was so "in love."  And I doubted that anyone could possibly be as perfect as he claimed she was.

I was wrong.  Theresa was beautiful.  And she had the bearing of a princess.  Better still, she was as "in love" with Leo as he was with her.

The three of us spent my month-long leave together.  Playing tennis.  Swimming.  Going to the beach.  Attending the theater.  Cooking.  That last activity was to raise its head later in our relationship.

The next summer, Leo asked me if I would be the best man in their wedding.  Of course, I said "yes."  And it was quite a wedding.  Theresa insisted that the groom's men had to wear white gloves.  I felt like Al Jolson.  But I did it for her.

Timing was not our friend.  I was scheduled to drive to the east coast that afternoon on my way to my next assignment.  So I ducked out of the reception line -- never fulfilling my duty of starting the toasts.

We all eventually ended up living in the same suburb of Portland after I graduated from law school.  My wedding gift to the Baumans was the two-volume Gourmet Cookbook -- quite popular amongst foodies (though we had not yet invented that abomination) of the time.

Theresa put the gift to good use by forming a gourmet club -- made up of a banker and his wife, a doctor and his wife, a local business owner and his wife, a young bank executive.  And me. 

Food and friendship cemented our relationship.  For years, we would meet monthly to enjoy each others' company.

Theresa kept the group going until the Baumans decided to move to Arizona -- where construction prospects were far better in the early 1980s.  I was very sorry to see them go.

Even though technology kept us in contact, I only saw them in person now and then.  But friendship burns on no matter the circumstances.

When Leo informed me that Theresa had been diagnosed with breast cancer, I was crushed for both of them.  But their Christian faith kept both of them enjoying every moment of each day -- because they knew that every second together was being spent.  And they chose to spend them wisely.

Leo's email evoked a response that surprised me.  I told him I would drop everything and head north to spend time with them.  Leo declined the offer.  He knew how brief the remaining time was, and he wanted to spend it with his best girl.

In that email, he included one sentence that truly sums up the relationship that the two of them have.  "She is my Bride of 41 years, and each day when I ask her if she will marry me, she gives me a little smile and a nod.  I am so good with that."

I never gave my toast at their wedding.  I don't even remember what I was going to say.  But it would pale compared with the love that Leo and Theresa have for one another.  And, in our faith we believe love that strong can never die.

Even so, I am going to miss you, Theresa.

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