Thirty-one years ago I moved across the county to hang with a long-time (fifteen year) friend who had just moved back to the U.S. to take a tenure track position after his post-doc.
My social circle primarily developed through a couple, Debbie and Steve, who loved to entertain, and were connected to my husband’s campus department.
We married about 6 months later on top of a mountain with a wedding celebration planned by Debbie.
Debbie, the wife in the couple, loved all things tie dye, and she always organized an annual tie dye party for the chemistry club. It was a much anticipated event, as were Christmas dinner gatherings, and camping trips in Southern Arizona mountains. She became ill and passed away in June of 2005.
Steve and Debbie’s birthdays both fell quite close to the Winter Solstice. After Debbie’s death, Steve transitioned to a Solstice party for all the extended local network of friends that he and Debbie had amassed, then he would travel to be with family back in the Mid-West at Christmas.
The tie-dye party was on hiatus until Steve and close friends decided to continue the gathering as a memorial by and for friends of Debbie’s at their house. Steve downsized eventually, but his new house continued be the place of the Memorial Tie-Dye party.
Yesterday was no different, though the date was earlier than the target date of the Spring Equinox.
Yesterday the chemists gathered, their kids and grand kids gathered. White towels, curtains, bedspreads, and of course T-shirts were rubber-banded, zip-tied, and folded with different symmetries to form circles, bands, rainbows, flowers, zig-zags, and other geometric patterns. Soaking the cloth in tubs of water and soda ash to allow the cloth to better absorb the dye dispensed from squirt bottles to the cloth over tubs covered with metal mesh grills to catch the excess dye without falling into the muddled mix of colors.
Inside the house people would first drop off food in the kitchen: heathy, yummy, and sometimes sugary, sweet… but made with love. Coolers were filled with sodas, beer, water, and ice. Then they wandered outside to greet friends and make bright beautiful patterns on cloth.
Music was everywhere coming from speakers both inside and out.
Steve had said he wasn’t feeling great. He went to his bedroom and sat down. A long-time friend went back to check on him. He was sitting in a chair, resting. She turned to get something, turned back, and Steve had slumped in the chair, unresponsive.
He did not eat sweets, or junk food, and was physically active with remodeling projects. No one saw this coming. Did he know he was ill? He was very close with his personal information. We may never know.
A 911 call, firetrucks, paramedics, an ambulance, and people in the house with some knowing what was up and others walking in to confusion and tears. Steve was pronounced dead at the hospital. He never regained consciousness.
Far too young to die. Just in his mid-60s. He had had cancer but was doing well after last year’s surgery, or so we all thought. His bridge game on Thursday night saw him have a magnificent closing hand. He and I had 3 Words with Friends games going and he was kicking my butt in all of them.
Somehow it is fitting that he passed at the annual memorial for his wife. Friends were near. I imagine his wife’s spirit coming back to see the gathering and asking him if he wanted to join her. But neither of them believed in such things. It does not matter. The imagery comforts me.
It could happen to anyone, at any time.