Pat Edwards, left, and friends Connie and Dick, visiting in Helena, Mont.
Last week, I didn’t get my column written because I boarded a plane June 15 to spend four days with a very good friend in Montana. Connie and I began our long, close friendship during my one-year stint of college at Linfield in 1960. I was not able to return the following year.
Instead, I got a job to try to earn enough for tuition in order to return in 1962. It never happened. In the meantime, Connie met Dick at Linfield, and they began a long and loving marriage that ended much too soon with Dick’s passing on May 14 of this year.
Connie and Dick were newly married when they offered me their home in Tigard in 1963 to stay while I awaited the birth of my first baby – the one I gave up for adoption, but who came back into my life 30 years later. Though Connie and I saw little of each other in the passing years, we kept in touch. Their lives took them to South Dakota to run a large grain and cattle farm owned by Dick’s father and grandfather until the 1980s’ farm recession and 21% interest rates forced the sale of the property and the loss of a way of life that they loved.
It devastated them both and we lost touch with them for a few years. She and Dick had gone into a period of mourning.
Later, when we reconnected, they were in Wyoming, working for Earl Holding – owner of Sinclair Oil, Sun Valley, Little America and the Grand America Hotel and Resort chains. Earl and his wife Carol hired them to help run their Sunlight Ranch that borders Yellowstone National Park and Cody, Wyo. It was Connie’s job to keep the Holding home and the ranch guest houses ready at all times and Dick oversaw maintenance of the pastures and grounds surrounding the Holding home. They lived in a snug cabin on the property overlooking a pasture where a huge elk herd calved each spring and where moose occasionally hung their heads over the backyard fence, begging for apples. Connie took hikes in bear country and observed the wolf pair that had been released nearby as they raised their babies and formed their pack. Connie and Dick were there when the devastating Yellowstone fire of 1988 spread through the nearby pastures of Sunlight Ranch, and she mourned.
When my plane touched down at the Helena, Mont., airport last week, Connie and her daughter, Jeannette, were there to greet me. Our hugs conveyed all of the history we shared, and I knew that my visit was welcomed. I arrived on Tuesday and flew out on Friday. Once we got to the house she had shared with Dick, we never left. Those four days were spent with non-stop talking and listening except when we slept – or, at least, while I slept. Connie hadn’t gotten much sleep since Dick died of the cancer he had been fighting for the past five years. During the day, I helped her with a few home projects that needed to be done and we watered the flowers in the hot Montana sunshine. We forgot to eat a couple of meals and once failed to turn on the lights when it got dark because we were so engrossed in reminiscing and opening our hearts to the emotions that had been locked away and needed to be discussed.
We were so amazed at how many parallels we had while growing up. Both of us had moved quite often; she attended 12 different schools; I went to 10. She and I were both shy and wallflowers in school; both of our families had invested in strawberry and bean farms when we were teens – hers in Dayton, Ore.; mine in Lebanon; and each farm had 5 acres of strawberries and 15 acres of beans. We both helped with the planting, irrigating and weeding. Both of us learned to love classical music as teens and we did much of our housework in our young married years while listening to Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and their counterparts.
Those four days meant so much to us both and Connie knows that if the weight of her loss begins to feel too heavy, that all she needs to do is call. Our friendship is something that we will cherish forever.