This week I assigned the Writers Workshop a task: write a love poem to be presented at the next meeting, which just happens to be Valentine’s Day. And before I even got home I had the start of mine. I fiddled with it last night. It will no doubt require some more tinkering but I thought I’d share it here.
February – and Valentine’s Day – took on a deeper resonance for me six years ago when one of my dearest friends was preparing for her final journey.
Cathy Mock was an extraordinary woman on so many levels. I met her in the ’90s when we worked for the same plant care company. I came to believe there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do. She was practical, fearless, down-to-earth, funny, tough, and caring. She had such a varied and crazy life that I encouraged her to write a memoir but I don’t think she ever did.
Two of her accomplishments: She owned an alligator farm in Texas – was ever after known as Gator Lady to her friends – also worked as a cook on a cannery ship in Alaska – now that’s tough! She married four times. Cathy often said that she kept picking clowns but it was only when she fell in love with a real clown that her personal life got on track. Anden Mock was a professional clown and one of the sweetest guys on the planet. Together they made a great life. She was a community activist, instrumental in getting her neighborhood to form a block watch and the local police to set up a “cop shop” in the ‘hood to stem a growing crime problem. She was always the go-to gal if things needed setting right. But it wasn’t all work. Together Cathy and Anden often presented marionette shows for community children.
Animals always played an important part in her life. When she and Anden moved to Rochester, Washington she finally was able to indulge her passion for them – especially horses. She had a small herd of miniature horses and two Arabians. But no alligators! Shortly before she died she adopted a dog – a blue heeler sheepdog – which she felt would be company for Anden when she was gone.
That was one thing about Cathy: She had a rare common sense combined with a loving heart. By the time the day came for her to leave this earth she had her funeral planned all the way down to what would be served at the wake. She had also made sure Anden had “bachelor lessons” so that he could manage the household on his own – and arranged for a relative to move in with him for awhile so that he wouldn’t have to cope alone.
But this isn’t an obituary, it’s a Valentine. So this poem is for you, Cathy. I miss you always – but especially in February.
A VALENTINE FOR CATHY
to Cathy Mock d. 6/6/2006
I drove two hours down the coast that cold, clear February day,
a heart-shaped birthday cake in a cardboard box
strapped in the passenger seat, a bouquet of red balloons
bouncing like basketballs against the Supra’s roof.
Her husband, Anden, met me at the front door – wordless –
and motioned me down the dark passage to his wife’s room.
“I won’t stay long,” I said. He shrugged. “It’s okay. She just had a nap.”
Cathy was propped against the headboard on a bank of pillows.
Her hair was a post-chemo halo of bushy blond grow-out,
her face thinner than I remembered, not the expected pasty
chemical bloating of prolonged therapy – a resigned grace.
She had applied a smear of coral lipstick and some powder blush.
“Hey, girlfriend,” she whispered. “It’s not my birthday yet.”
“Well, I thought why wait?” The prognosis hanging between us,
unfinished business. She patted the wide bed. I climbed in beside her,
taking her dry hand in mine. “What kind of cake is it?” she asked.
“Carrot with butter cream icing,” I answered as Anden opened the box.
“My favorite. I’m supposed to eat my vegetables,” she chuckled.
“Can’t light candles though.” She pointed to the oxygen clip
clamped to her nose like a plastic piercing. “I’ll combust.”
Her husband went to the kitchen for plates and forks.
Cathy reached a remote on the bedside table. “Want to see a film?
Anden moved the TV in last week. I’ve been re-watching old tapes since.
Ever see The Notebook? Kind of sappy for your taste but sweet.”
The next two hours we ate carrot cake, held hands, and sniffled
through the story line. As closing credits rolled she kissed my cheek.
“Thanks, girlfriend,” she said. As fragile as it was, I was afraid
to squeeze her hand. She said, “Don’t worry, everything is fine.”
Before I left, Anden helped her to the bathroom, then tucked her
back in bed. She closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. “Really, it’s just fine.
Everything is planned and written out. You’ll all be fine.” I wished
her happy birthday as I left. “Yep. See you on the other side,” she said.
(Post script: Though the doctors estimated she wouldn’t live to see her birthday at the end of February she survived until 6 June. 666! It was typical of Cathy to hold off until she had a memorable date in which to check out.)