Dean died. She was my friend. And what a life she had. She loved “outrageous”. I mentioned her here before. She did one-liners that she never knew were funny. She started a chapter of the “Red Hat Society” in the Trussville/Clay area and it grew to about 20+ members. Dean enjoyed being the Queen Bee. We had a ball. We went places we would never have thought to go on our own.
(In the picture with the Red Hatters that’s me in the dark glasses and Dean beside me to your right. We were at Skyline, AL).
That was Dean. Bigger than life and unintimidated by people who didn’t understand her. She wore her colorful bangles and bling, and was often awash in ruffles and ribbons and bows when she came to Sunday school.
I met Dean at church. I had been trying many churches, hoping for one that felt like home. The church I went to as a child was a long way from where we lived. About 30 miles, I think. But I decided to go. It had been many many years. I was by myself. Mike and I were caregivers for both my mom and dad, then, so Mike stayed with them while I was gone.
I selected an empty pew on the right side and sat waiting for the service to begin. Within a couple of minutes, a lady came up beside me, leaned over, and asked if I would like to sit with them. “Them” were three ladies sitting on the left side of the sanctuary. Afterward, the ladies asked if I would join them for lunch somewhere. And I did. Dean was one of these ladies and this set off a friendship that still remains, in spite of the fact that Dean left for Heaven ahead of some of us.
It was a 60-mile round trip on Sunday, but worth it. Mike and I had found a church home among friends. And they understood if at times we couldn’t make it due to responsibilities. But they did us one better, THEY made the long trip to OUR house for a monthly Bible study, everyone bringing food and desserts and Mike and I usually providing the entre. We all loved it.
Through the years, Dean and I grew ever closer. Sometimes when I was in the area, she and several of us would meet for lunch or breakfast at Waffle House in Trussville (AL). Or browse Books A Million or the Christian Book Store.
I knew Dean didn’t have life easy. She talked about the little baby she lost years before and we often talked of going to see his grave, which was a few counties eastward. Her husband Pat was killed two months before retirement in a train collision. She often talked of the plans they had made to travel. The heart ache was always there, but she was determined to get all the gusto out of life that she could get.
Dean was diabetic, bad enough that she had to have insulin shots. Sometimes when I was in the area, I would stop by to have coffee just to visit and see how she was doing. She always insisted on making me toast. So we would have toast and coffee together and ramble from one subject to another.
She loved beautiful things. Her problem was, if she liked it she wanted to take it home. So her home was like a crowded little boutique of pretty things. She was forever getting friends like Marie and Linda Creech (there were three of us Lindas) and Collette to help her reorganize and redecorate.
But she never let her health problems slow her down. She began to walk with a cane, and her legs didn’t work so well anymore. But all us gals were happy to hold her arm, or help her up steps. She was, after all, the life of the party. Her memory got really bad, but that wasn’t enough to stop her. It just made her late sometimes or a no-show.
I was the Women’s Sunday school teacher for several years, and one Sunday we had a long discussion about lying. After the service Dean and I were discussing the lesson with the pastor when Dean remarked,
“My memory is so bad, I don’t know if I’m lying or not”
I have gotten so many belly laughs out of repeating this phrase that I use it too much. Dean never saw the humor in it. She was serious.
Dean always sadly said she didn’t have a spiritual “gift”, like teaching, or understanding the Bible well, or any number of things. I tried to assure her she had plenty of spiritual gifts. She knew how to make people smile and feel included. She would go to great lengths to help people, or go to them, no matter how far, to comfort them in time of need. She also took her turn as a caregiver for her parents respectively.
Pastor Harvey Ching did such a wonderful tribute at her funeral. Pastor Ching and his wife Alana were born in Hawaii and were called as our pastor family during our church’s last years. He is now the pastor at a Huntsville Alliance Church. Because he knew Dean so well, he shared things about her life that made us laugh a little. But also told how very precious and unique she was to us.
“When I first came over from Hawaii, Dean made an impression on me,” he said. “I didn’t even have my wife and child here, or my stuff yet, but she put in that she wanted me to do a Luau. She didn’t let me forget, either. We finally had our Luau, and another one a few months after that. She told me she had always wanted to go to Hawaii. But she wouldn’t fly and the boat took too long.”
I told her son, Derrick, that if they had built a bridge from here to Hawaii, she would have allowed him to drive her all the way. That woman loved to ride. Derrick laughed and totally agreed.
After the funeral, the family invited us to join them for dinner. But we figured they needed their own time apart. So as we old friends gathered outside the pavilion, we agreed to go somewhere and dine together. We were like “Our Gang” in the Little Rascals. We had memories that only friends can understand.
We gathered at Ruby Tuesday in Trussville. After ordering I said we should have ordered baby back ribs as a “libation” to Dean, each of us sharing a piece. That was her favorite. We talked about the past, about the Bible, about Dean and her humorously all-or-nothing life. A life that drew us into her whirling vortex. From your left to right: Linda Creech, Alana Ching, Pastor Harvey Ching, Mike Smith at the end. Beside Mike is me, except I’m not there. Again behind the camera. Next is Marie Walton and her daughter, Lisa and at the end with her back to us is Pastor and Alana’s teenage daughter, Christina.
None of our group was what you would call “flush” at any time, but we loved getting together to eat or go somewhere. Dean would spend her last dollar to cover somebody who might be a little short. Of course, we all did this at different times. It was a generous group. More like sisters.
But no matter what, Dean knew how to LIVE. She was a tsunami of life, and swept us all right along with her. Another thing Dean always wanted was a log cabin up on the hill from her house. She talked about those plans. Talked and talked. She never got her log cabin, just as a bridge was never built to Hawaii and she never got to go.
But Pastor says maybe the angels showed her Hawaii on the way out. And I’m sure she’s already entertaining in that special log cabin Jesus prepared just for her. She is already making Heaven ring with laughter. I can just about hear it now.
Bye, Dean. Heaven’s gain is our loss. The Old Gang misses you.