November 2007

A farewell

By Gail Binkly

My mother died in September, in a freak accident at a rehab pool, and I still feel as though all the light and love has gone out of the world.

It would be impossible to describe how special she was or what she meant to my sister and me, but when someone so close to you dies, you feel compelled to try. Not everyone grows up with a good mother. We were very lucky in that regard.

Mother was brilliant, shy, generous, unselfish and kind — the kindest person I’ve ever known. And in this world where everyone wants to talk endlessly about himself and his opinions, she was that rarest of individuals: a good listener.

Most of her adult life she taught high school — math, science, biology, physics, German, and computer science in its infancy. She loved the subject matter, but she loved her students more. One of them wrote me shortly before she died that she was the only reason he finished high school, that in his geeky (and gay) adolescence he would look for her car in the school parking lot when he arrived, “and when I saw it, I’d know it was one more day I would make it, one more day when the other kids wouldn’t be able to pick on me.” He has gone on to live a happy and successful life.

If she had a flaw as a mother, it was that she was overprotective. I think I was probably 12 before she finally stopped grabbing my hand when we crossed a parking lot together. And she never totally lost the reflex, when driving, to reach out toward the passenger seat to “hold” me back if we made a sudden stop. (My sister and I grew up before seat belts were mandatory, you see.)

Mother and I e-mailed or talked on the phone nearly every day. We discussed Tony Hillerman books, the decline of American journalism, obscure grammar questions, George Bush’s malapropisms, and songs that got stuck in our heads. Everything under the sun, in other words.

Mother was intellectual, but she was strong and down-to-earth as well. When she was about 40 she asked my dad for a pair of roller-skates for her birthday. “You’re too old,” he told her. “If I’m too old now, I’ll always be too old,” she said. She got the skates, and went on outings with Rhonda and me.

She liked yard work, carpentry, painting. In happier times, when she came to visit in Cortez, she always demanded a project to work on – some chore to improve my home.

She read the Free Press cover to cover. She always thought my articles were interesting, even when I myself didn’t. She loved David’s “Crime Waves,” but then she loved everything he did. Her favorite columnists were Galen and Suzanne.

It was hard seeing her grow old. A bout with breast cancer and disastrous chemo eight years ago left her greatly weakened. With my father dead, she depended on my incredible sister, who lived in Colorado Springs too, to help her maintain her independence. But maintain it she did, living in our childhood home with her three cats. Until her back began hurting too much for travel a couple years ago, she came to Cortez about twice a year.

I would like to thank a few people who went out of their way to make her welcome here. Frankly, few younger folks will take the time or energy to pay attention to a shy older woman. In our fitness-, beauty- and youthobsessed society, old age is something to be shunned, feared, viewed with contempt. I vividly recall shepherding Mother through a crowded mall in Colorado Springs a few years back while frantic people filled with “Christmas spirit” jostled and shoved their way around her, nearly knocking her down, because she was slow walking along with her cane.

So my heartfelt thanks to Don and Judy Jolovich, who sent her flowers in the hospital long ago and asked her over; to Marcia Wilson, who invited her to play Scrabble; to our wonderful friend Grace; and to young Ian, who encouraged her up the steep stairs at the Wilson Building one night. May the world be as kind to you as you were to her.

Gail Binkly is editor of the Free Press.