Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014
Today reminds me of an Autumn Saturday almost 20 years ago. October 23, 1993.
I had just started exploring Panthertown Valley that Summer, and was excited about seeing it in the Fall. It was a morning much like today - chilly with clear blue sky, the peak of leaf season.
I had my pack and camera gear loaded in the Bronco early and was ready to head out.
The only thing holding me back was that I hadn't been able to get my Mother on the phone. She was 80 years old and living alone since my Dad died several years before. I talked to her often in the morning just to check in and chat, and this particular day I wanted to tell her about my Panthertown plans. She had always loved to hike, and enjoyed hearing my (somewhat censored) trip reports and seeing the photos I took. I once took a picture of a flower on Big Green Mountain so I could get her to ID it for me, she knew all the wildflowers "Oh, that's a yellow fringed orchid!" (As I was just now scanning the print I saw where she had written the name on the back.)
The first half hour or so that she didn't answer I wasn't worried, I thought she might be in the shower. But after nearly an hour I was getting concerned. She had been having problems with unstable blood pressure - she took medication because it was high, but a couple of times when she got up in the morning it was so low she nearly passed out and had to go to the ER. Just the previous morning I had taken time off work to go with her to her doctor, who adjusted her meds.
We went out for lunch afterwards, and when I took her home she told me "You're a good son Stephen, I love you."
She lived about 20 minutes away, but not far off my route to Panthertown, so I decided to stop and check on her. When I got to her apartment she didn't answer the door, but I had a key and went in. She was lying in the floor between her bedroom and the kitchen. There was a half-full glass of water on the kitchen counter, I'm guessing she woke up feeling bad and went to the kitchen for water and maybe some medicine.
She never made it back to bed. Her body was already starting to cool when I found her. She probably went quickly, without much suffering, which was merciful to her but one hell of a shock to me! Maybe the worst I ever had.
Vernon and Helen Wilder
I was freaked out, but had to start the series of phone calls. 911 to send paramedics to confirm what I already knew. My sister in New Orleans - that broke my heart! I called a good friend to come over and be with me. (Thank God for friends!) The funeral home to send out a hearse. My pastor, who also came and was a big support. Other relatives and friends. Started making arrangements, it went on and on. A long and trying day. Every once in a while I would look outside and see how beautiful it was and think: "I'm supposed to be on top of Little Green Mountain right now!"
That evening I was driving to the airport to pick up my sister, and looked at my pack and camera case still in the back of the Bronco. Life has a way of changing your plans, doesn't it? I didn't get to see Panthertown in Autumn until the following year, but it was beautiful. I did miss showing the pictures to my Mother!