As I have done since, oh, probably high school, I make lists of things that need to be done. Last week I had drafted this list
It included the things I planned to “get to” over the weekend; reminding me to order some recently uploaded pictures to be used in a scrapbook layout, make a card that I had promised for a friend at work, and to send a note with some recent pictures to my step-sister, Diane.
My step-sister lives on the East Coast. She and I were not born to the same parents and never lived in the same household; she was sixteen, I was eight, when our parents married and our paths entertwined. However, she has been a mentor to me in ways she’ll never know, could never possibly realize.
I remember how she was more excited for ME then I was for ME when I finally mastered the art of water skiing. I was ten or so and was attempting to learn on the rough waters of Mission Bay in San Diego. I’ll never forget the first time I made it “all the way around” without a dunking; when I threw the rope and “landed” on the beach, she rushed up to me and exclaimed, “Your HAIR isn’t even wet!” I couldn’t have asked for a more enthusiastic coach!
Her husband, Earl, who was TRULY the love of her life, was an officer in the Navy. Diane met Earl when she was a student at CSU San Diego. I don’t believe that the proximity of CSUSD to the SeaBee Naval Base in San Diego was totally lost on Diane when she chose to go to CSUSD, but I could be wrong. In any event, Diane “went away to college” when I was about eleven. I “wrote” letters to her while she was “away at college”; you know, the old fashioned kind; on “stationery” with a “postage stamp.” And, during the summer between my sixth and seventh grade, my younger sister and I took our first plane ride; all the way from LAX to San Diego, to spend a few days with our “college” sister and her roomate at their “totally groovy” (c’mon, it was the late 60’s after all) apartment.
Fast forward about seven years and, after a stint on the east coast and in Guam, my sister and brother-in-law were stationed on the west coast. Diane was so excited about my own “going away to college” that she volunteered to be the “stand in parent” at my orientation at CSU Chico. She was so funny! About half-way through the day, she caught up with the “student group.” She introduced herself and asked if she could join the “student group” for the rest of the orientation; she just didn’t think she fit in with the parent group! I could see her re-living her college days as she followed us along on our campus tour. She and I had a great time over the course of the weekend; as I recall, over a nice steak dinner, she even attempted the “sex talk” with me; good for her!
Diane and Earl continued to be a part of my life; they hosted a great weekend on the Monterey coast for my college roomates and I. We were in heaven as we oooh’ed and aah’ed at the central California coastline (and the male students at the Naval Post Graduate Academy) and dined on fresh crab and good wine. Diane was an events coordinator at one of the local prestigious hotels, putting her culinary skills and outstanding hostessing abilities to work, it was so fun to be with her. As always, she was kind, generous and always, always, gracious.
When I announced my own engagement to the love of MY life, Diane could not have been happier for me. She and Earl arranged for the Officer’s Club at Port Hueneme to be the venue for our wedding reception. This is a picture from that day, oh so many years ago, and is also how I picture both of them today:
Through the years, our paths criss crossed but not as tightly; she and Earl were stationed on the East Coast for many years and, it is there that they retired. During their time back east, Mr. Fannie and I had the opportunity to visit them. I recall, amused, when their, then seven/eight year old, son wandered off with the dog. When we realized the two were missing, Earl hopped in the family car to drive off to find them. Diane turned to me and said, “Mark my words, when they return, it will be the dog who is in trouble, not our son.” Sure enough, the mini van pulled into the driveway, the boy bounced out and skipped off towards the house while the dog, shamefully dragged herself towards the front door. Ahhh…my sister; she had her finger on the pulse of her household.
Even with the distance between us, west coast to east coast, Diane continued to be a mentor, a cheerleader, for me. When I decided to do the 3 Day Breast Cancer Walk (60 miles!), one of the first responses I received to my fundraising letter was from her. She told me how proud she was of me. I was so happy to share with her, a couple of years later, my scrapbook (containing her letter, along with others) of that amazing event. Yep, she was my cheerleader.
Well, when Mr. Fannie and I announced the engagement of OUR own daughter to 2nd Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Benjamin Culver, you could hear the the cheers from the other side of the country. In spite of the long-standing rivalry between soldiers and sailors, no one could have been happier then Diane and Earl! They came out west for the wedding and their presence was a blessing to us all! It was so fun to witness the Commander and the Lieutenant sharing a beer and talking military shop talk in our backyard during the family BBQ before the official wedding festivities got underway.
After all of the falderallandfiddledeedee of the wedding, I hugged Diane one more time, in the parking lot of Kaleidescope pizza, where we had chosen to have our “the wedding is over, the mother of the bride is wiped out, let’s just go out for pizza” send off dinner. I knew I would see her again, I just wasn’t sure when; but our relationship was such that we just picked up wherever it was we had left off. She always welcomed me with a greeting that was part big-sister, part mother figure; “Hi Honey! It’s so good to hear from you! How are you? How are the kids?”
Sadly, the love of HER life passed away a couple of years ago, following a courageous battle with cancer. During his battle, you could not point out to me ANYONE who was more gracious, compassionate and brave then my step sister. She would provide me with updates on his health; she was clear, concise and articulate, positive but realistic. When he died, a piece of her died as well.
I talked to her frequently in the months that followed Earl’s passing. She was so saddened to be without the one she loved but she continued to find good in the day to day. I remember talking to her one Sunday shortly after she had returned from church; she shared with me how much she loved Baptism Sunday, seeing the little ones being baptized made her smile. When my daughter was expecting the birth of my first grandchild, Diane sent the most special gift to Baby Bump Culver, a military pin worn by Earl.
Sadly, Diane was diagnosed with brain cancer about twelve months after Earl passed away. Again, she and I talked often during her illness.
Diane moved to Florida to live with her son and daughter-in-law. The last time I had spoken to her she was confused about who I was. I decided then that I’d correspond mostly by letters; perhaps it would be easier for her.
Here is the letter I had planned to send last weekend:
I know it’s been a long time! I have been meaning to send you these recent pictures of Parker. These were taken this fall when we visited him and his mommy and daddy in Oklahoma.
Can you believe how big he is? Mandy is the best mommy you could possibly imagine!
You would be so proud of Mandy and Ben; Mandy has immersed herself in the military community, teaching classes and volunteering. I know you said that she would find strength and fellowship in the military community and she has! She told me the other day that EVERY SINGLE TIME she teaches a class on military etiquette, she tells the story of the silver platter you gave to them as a wedding gift. As I recall it, the story goes that, “back in the day”, all officer’s wives had a silver platter placed in the entryway; the purpose of which was for other officer’s who were “calling” on the host officer’s home to leave their calling card. Again, as I recall, when you received YOUR silver platter, you thought it was for serving hors d’oeuvres and wanted to spare Mandy the embarrassment! Whether you know it or not, you became a mentor to her, just as you have to me.
Jim is also doing well; he’s following his passion of coaching football. You’d never believe he was the same tiny baby that I introduced you to up in Tahoe all those years ago. He’s such a wonderful coach and leader of young people. I know Earl would be proud of him as well.
Larry and I are also doing well. I LOVE working part-time now and the flexibility and freedom that this offers me; not just to jet off to see Parker, but also to indulge myself in other pursuits. I’ve really developed a love for “gourmet-ish” cooking and baking, even yeast breads! It makes me think of you and what a great cook you’ve always been.
I hope you’re doing well and know how often we think of you. Mandy and Ben may be re-locating to the east coast; we’ll most certainly need to bring Parker down to Disney World and to visit you in Florida.
All My Love.
However, before I could write that letter and send those pictures, I found out that my step-sister, Diane had passed away.
Sadly, for reasons and family dynamics over which I have no control, there was no memorial service for this beautiful, kind and always gracious person who enriched the lives of all who knew her. And so, tonight, this is my memorial to her. The world has lost one of the nicest people I will ever have been blessed to know. However, Heaven has recently added another angel to the roster and my grief is lightened by knowing that she is, once again, with the Love of Her Life and they are sitting by the seashore (because that’s what they call it on the east coast), sipping fine wine and smiling down on those they love. Oh, and she’s also probably conducting cooking and etiquette classes. When I get there, I want to sit in the front row.