Dear Catherine

When I saw the peonies just poking their new shoots above the ground next to your house, it was almost too much to bear. I love peonies. In 1991 we bought the house on Strawberry Hill back in Dover Massachusetts. The perennial gardens were seventy years old then, and I had no idea what was planted there. That spring was a miracle—tulips and irises and daffodils and crocuses shot up in green tendrils through the last few mounds of old snow and blossomed into a riot of color. But the peonies were a surprise—crawling with ants they lifted their heavy heads and bloomed into unparalleled delicacy. I was in awe, and the peonies and the lilacs are two of the things I will always miss from my years in Boston. I wish I had taken more photographs. When I saw your peonies, I cried for both of us.

I have been to New Mexico many many times, and I agree with all of the tourist literature and hype: New Mexico is indeed the Land of Enchantment. Everyone knows and loves Georgia O’Keefe, but in my opinion Wilson Hurley did it best. He captured the big skies and sunsets that the Navajo saw before the white folks came and that keep people like me coming back. The sunsets, and the friends I have made there hold a special grip on me. Of all of my friends, you were unique. An Army “brat”, you had lived everywhere—Florida, Europe, Japan, New York City. You were educated, you spoke several languages, you rode horses and had collies and you loved the ballet. But in the end, you came back to Albuquerque, to a home you loved. We met because of the deerhounds—in a world of instant gratification, fast food and big screen violence and romance, we were anachronisms together.

I too came back to Albuquerque–on Wednesday to help Joan settle your estate. Your parents died in 2008 and 2009—you had no brothers or sisters or children. In the end, crippled by an old accident which had shattered your legs at nineteen and dampened your spirit, you succumbed to diabetes, heart disease, infection and time. I could have done, and should have done more for you. When I visited, I always stayed at the hotel you recommended. You said, “Stay with me NEXT time, after I get the house fixed up.” I did not want to inconvenience you, and besides, having so many dogs and cats and demands at home, staying in a quiet hotel, with the soothing sounds of an air conditioner and no midnight potty calls seemed like a luxury to me.

In August, when you got sick, Joan finally had the key and let us into your house. I was appalled at the conditions you were living in. I had no idea—Natalee was supposed to be taking care of you. She failed miserably at her duties, and she took advantage of you, and I was determined that you could not, and would not go home until we had remedied the situation. We spoke in the hospital of your expansive back yard, and of the charm that the little adobe home must have had in the past. You agreed that it was time, finally, to reclaim that charm, the sun filled living room, the warmth of those thick adobe walls, the cozy bedrooms, and the photographs of the greatest dancers the world has known. You knew that it was time, and you let Joan hire a contractor. All you ever wanted was to be home by Christmas.

The house is beautiful, Catherine. The living room walls are a pale turquoise, just as you picked out. Your bedroom is the same color and the guest rooms are a lovely yellow, the color of the New Mexico sunshine. There is an amazing tub in the bathroom, perfect for a person in a wheelchair such as yourself—you just grab the handrails and do the transfer and sit on the bench while the door seals itself shut and you soak in warm water up to your neck. I am so sad that you never got to enjoy it. Joan did a wonderful job.

I miss you Catherine—your wit, your humor, your love of pretty colored gemstones, and of course the calendars you sent me each year of the handsomest men in the world. I know you always favored Viggo, but you humored me with photos of Gerard Butler and Sean Bean and Orlando Bloom and Javier Bardem and Olivier Martinez. I will keep those calendars forever, to remind me that we, you and I, can always dream of handsome men and beautiful jewels. I hope that your deerhounds met you at the “bridge”, and that you are there as in your youth, dancing in your finest pearls.

For the rest of us, tell the people you love, that you love them every day. You never know when you won’t get a chance to anymore.

5 thoughts on “Dear Catherine

  1. I have reached the age where I have lost several best friends. Each time it hurts.
    You never really get over it. You just ge used to it. I am sdorry for your loss.

  2. Just a beautiful tribute. You tell me you can’t “do” funerals or eulogies…but this one is just wonderful, and now we all get to share in this friendship. What an amazing woman. Life is so precious, why do we always wait until we are old to figure it out? Maybe that’s the magic: you waste the early years thinking you have forever, and then all of a sudden you realize it’s nearly over. Like a special piece of dessert; we need to savor every last taste. Thanks for the good lesson.

  3. I’m sorry that only recently at Lompoc did I meet Catherine. This writing brings me to tears. I loved the description of her home and thank you very much for sharing this. I did not know who Catherine really was. Just jealous she won the raffle for the wonderful art piece last year. I had read other notes since about her involvement in deerhounds. I have been to New Mexico and my favorite place in the US remains the SW four corners. My heart goes out to those close to Catherine and only hope I have such great stewards of my past life when I too must pass on and meet my hounds in an endless field with countless tulips in full bloom. Best regards to you and Joan. And I shall raise a toast for her lovely home and all souls lost.

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