With our parents in their twilight years, Andrea, Laurie and I have quietly prepared ourselves for the unexpected. We’ve tried to help out here and there. As a whole, they appreciate our offers while saying they can still manage. So, we see every day as a blessing to have them.
Yet, an unexpected came last week. A journey home to San Antonio for Laurie. She had hoped it would not come so soon. Her mom, Maggie, passed away in her sleep last week.
A few hours earlier, she was amazed by the end of the Super Bowl game. A diehard football fan, Maggie was surprised how the game ended. So much so, she even managed a Skype call. (Maggie and Skype did not get along. Skype seemed to crash on her every time.) The call ended with Laurie promising to call Monday evening. Monday morning came the sad news, after Laurie had gone to work.
Much of last week passed in a blurry slow motion. Each day seemed to last much longer than its 24 hours. Laurie, her sister, Cindy, and older brother, Tom were clearly exhausted at the end of each day. Understandably grief-stricken, their dad, Ben, did his best to stay strong. Andrea and I helped with the other daily errands that needed to be done.
Laurie had volunteered to speak on behalf of the family at the funeral mass. Without notes or a prepared text, Laurie spoke eloquently of her mom. She said, Maggie, lived her life with a faith and trust in God. She loved, cared and doted on them, because that was what family is supposed to do for one another. Laurie talked about how her mom did not give up on her.
“Tom and Cindy had talents and did well in school. When it came to me, school was a puzzler. Just making it through was my goal, my desire. My real talent, I knew how to throw a tight spiral pass. I could throw the ball with touch and with velocity. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many jobs for girls with that kind of skill. After a field trip to a hospital for career day, in junior year, I came home and announced to mom, I knew what I wanted to be. ‘What is that?’ she asked. When I said I wanted to become a doctor. A surgeon no less, specializing in trauma. Mom could have easily rolled her eyes and said I needed to lower my goals and expectations. But, she didn’t. She told me I had to buckle down and study. My grades were a mess, mom helped me turn them around. When I made my first honor roll ever, I couldn’t believe it. Mom was so excited, probably more than I was. Daddy, awfully proud. Anything and everything was possible. No dream was too big or too small.”
Coming home, Laurie whispered to Andrea and me she’s not ready to be all grown-up. We understood what she meant. In many ways, Andrea and I aren’t ready either.
Walking With Horses
When the girls and I were in Texas last year, we encouraged Ben and Maggie to come to the horse show in Tyler. Though they said “we don’t think so” because of the long drive, they surprised us by being there on “Grand Prix” day. The girls, especially Tara, were tickled pink to have them. They gave them a short tour around the show grounds, and visited with the horses we had brought down. It was a good day – not too humid, not many flying bugs.
Maggie asked if it was okay to cheer for certain riders and horses. I noted some riders, and most definitely, some horses, have developed followings. She wondered if any of our horses had fans. I said ours had a few. They were especially taken by Elizabeth’s Golden Palomino, Mr. Ed. To that, she said, “Good. I plan to cheer loudly.” Maggie watched intently when Deborah, Tara and Elizabeth had their turn on the grand prix course. Elizabeth, onboard Lilith, almost pulled off the win with a nearly three-second lead on the rest of the field. Seemingly poised to win, the next rider on the course edged them out by fractions of a second. The time differential was enough to avoid a jump-off.
Maggie always loved the photos of the girls in action, and dedicated a wall in her hallway to display them. She called it her Hall of Fame. Of course, the ones she loved the most were of Tara, with her red hair flowing from under her helmet.
When we gathered everyone for the Thanksgiving holiday in 2013, Deborah and Maggie chatted quite a bit about their favorite singer, George Strait. Deborah said she can play his songs over and over again. She recounted to Maggie the one time when her and I were driving to check out a horse, and she kept playing one song over and over. Deborah was sure she was driving dad bonkers. Maggie said she thought she drove Ben bonkers with the same song. They heartily agreed George was “very easy on the eyes”.
One of the things Maggie wanted for a memorial or funeral mass was perhaps if a song or two that George Strait had done could be sung. While most church groups are willing to give it a try, more often than not, a recorded version is played. When it came to making the request, Andrea said if she could do the asking. The small group of three guitar players and a piano player were quite agreeable to doing the song. Their only question was who would sing lead. With no one exactly volunteering for the task, Andrea said she would sing lead.
Needless to say, Andrea sang it very, very well.
The song, “I Cross My Heart” from Pure Country.*
Daughter of Texas
Maggie originally came from Southern Virginia, she went practically everywhere when she married Ben. He was a career Army man. Of course, she couldn’t go with him to Korea and Vietnam for obvious reasons. The assignments to West Germany and Japan were intriguing, but nowhere was better than being home. When Ben decided to retire from the Army, San Antonio became their home. It was a good place to raise the kids, a good place to set roots.
It didn’t take long for Ben to reacquire his Texas accent. And, Maggie was glad to speak more “Southern” again. The kids learned the accent and the sayings rather quickly. Cindy and Tom didn’t develop much of an accent. Laurie’s accent, however, had sounded more Aussie. (Laurie: “It just came out that way.”) That wasn’t bad though. Many thought how nice of the Westin’s “adopting a girl from Australia”. Ben’s mother said those “Yankees” must have a vision problem too. “They can’t see Laurie and Cindy look alike.” She added, “from now on, just say you all are Daughters of Texas, because that’s what you are.”
Daughter of God
Though she didn’t call herself a devout Catholic, Maggie was a stickler with regard to Sunday Mass. You go to Mass on Sunday morning, not the Anticipated Mass on Saturday afternoon. Saturday Mass is for those who are doing something important Sunday morning, like working. That suited Laurie just fine. She played football with Tom and his friends most Saturday afternoons. Come Sunday morning, Laurie was the last to wake up. And, there was always some back and forth about being properly dressed for church. “Why do I have to wear a skirt or a dress? I’m wearing my best pair of dress pants.” Maggie’s reply was, “Yes, but God’s watching.”
Occasionally, Laurie and Tara have had the same back and forth. “Tara, you’re not wearing that skirt (dress). It’s much too short. You can wear pants, if you want. May be that nice charcoal gray pair I picked up for you.” As to Tara’s asking why, Laurie always replies, “Because, God’s watching.”
The tradition of going to Mass only on Sunday mornings, though, has slipped away. Sometimes, it’s Laurie’s and Andrea’s schedule. Other times, it’s the girls’ riding and practice schedule.
* * *
We will miss Margaret Avery Westin, so very, very much. Ever so kind and loving, yet so strong.
Be well in the company of angels and saints. Love you always.
*The video of George Strait performing this song can be seen here.
**The song Deborah and Maggie could listen to over and over again is “Amarillo by Morning”. The video of George Strait performing this song can be seen here.