It would be difficult to state with any certainty how many people read this column each week. Even so, I’m pretty sure about the identity of my biggest fan.
I know with some certainty because she passed away last week. After a painful battle with heart disease, my cousin, Anne Hardin, left us.
Anne was a couple of years older than my mother. They grew up together in the tiny farming community of Altheimer in Jefferson County. My favorite family photo is of them posed together outside the gates of Elvis Presley’s house in Memphis, Tenn.
My mother is a lean 12-year-old with curly red hair. She’s wearing dark jeans that are cuffed to the knee, white loafers and a denim jacket. She looks every bit the 1950s adolescent girl.
Then there’s Anne. She’s precisely posed in a fitted dark dress, perfectly coiffed and precisely dolled up. All I can think is Elizabeth Taylor in “Giant.”
They were life-long friends. As such, Anne was one of the ladies whose presence helped to fill out my sense of family. Her mother and my maternal grandfather were siblings. Because my great-grandparents lived long lives, there were decades of family gatherings.
My great-grandfather lived by himself well into his 90s. Had a tornado not plucked up his house like the Wizard of Oz, he’d have likely lived there until he died.
That kind of strong will and independence is evident in many of my people, myself and Anne in particular. It is also evident in Anne’s daughter, Stacy.
Stacy got her mother’s poise and good looks. She was always a pretty child. Even in middle age, she’s a lovely woman and always put together. Time has been kind. She now owns a dance studio in our hometown. Anne was the business manager.
The success of the business was evident at the funeral visitation. There was a throng of lithe young ladies, all with good posture, along with a number of former students — now adults — who also exhibited those same telltale traits.
As my wife, Kathleen, said, “It looked like the Junior Miss pageant in there.”
The funeral and drop-in thereafter were consistent with everything I know about Anne and Stacy. The parade of bereaved passed by Stacy to offer condolences. By all appearances, Stacy did most of the comforting. Years of lessons about standing up straight and saying the right thing were clearly in play. Anne would have been very proud. I sense she was anyway.
Anne and Stacy have always been dear to me for another reason. They love God’s furry people about as much as one could. They always have a cavalcade of stray cats lined up for the kitty soup kitchen. Cats at Anne’s house, cats at the old dance studio, cats at the new dance studio … it’s a — movable feast of Meow Mix.
Here too, the “raise them up …” Bible verse has strong purchase. I remember Anne’s mother’s dog, Pony. Anybody who knows me knows how much I love dogs. My Trooper and Tilly are the sun and the moon. With that as preface, Pony was a little jerk. Admittedly, my memory of Pony is that of a child, but I have a powerful image of a churlish, shaky, arthritic, half-blind, foot-tall monster. He couldn’t have been more loved.
Last Thursday, I was in Virginia, about to give a talk at a conference when the phone call came. I was walking down the street, the ocean a hundred yards to my left. When Kathleen told me Anne had died, I just sat in the middle of the sidewalk. That’s the kind of news that throws propriety right out the window.
While I wasn’t there when Anne left us, Stacy was. I’m pretty sure she was standing up straight. I’ll miss you, Anne.
Matthew Pate is a former law enforcement executive who holds a doctorate in criminal justice from the University of Albany and who has advised police agencies around the country. He writes from Pine Bluff, Ark. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org