By Trudy Wischemann
This year has been marked by the deaths of several men I have loved, including my father. The discovery of how much I loved each one came the instant I heard of their passing, a common experience, I’m sure. Had these deaths not come in such rapid succession, however, I might have missed a curious phenomenon: that the person became more present to me, not less.
As these men have ridden around with me as I move through my days, I’ve come to see our time here on earth not as a journey, but as a passage: a paragraph punctuated with commas and periods, with a beginning and an end. A ticket on a steamer, a route through the mountains navigated with difficulty or ease, but short term, in fact. Here and gone, yet not gone without effect.
This past Saturday at the Visalia Friends Meetinghouse we memorialized one of this region’s most adorable and pugnacious Quakers, Bill Lovett. The stories of fights he entered on behalf of the common good were as numerous as the people who came to tell them. One of my favorites was of Bill and his wife Beth and four other people standing off Tulare Irrigation District’s bulldozers over the canal concretization project. Eventually they were joined by local farmers and others who realized the impact on the groundwater table would have been horrible, but had felt helpless to do anything until that standoff. Eventually TID became a positive force in recharging the aquifer, which might not have happened but for that standoff.
I know that story was somehow responsible for my own conversion, if you will, to the Friends. So was the place they built there just off Highway 198 adjacent to Kaweah Oaks Preserve: a meetinghouse handcrafted of wood and stone tucked into a wooded glade, garnished with a Christmas tree farm that served to bring people into that beauty once a year. But the story I offered to the gathering Saturday about Bill’s impact on me was more modest, a small example of a big effect.
We were renovating the billboard along the highway. That old billboard had also been responsible for my eventual move to the Visalia Friends, announcing as it did their very existence and some smidgeon of what they stood for. New poles were sunk into the ground, new panels created to hold the message, and our job one November Saturday was to raise those panels from the ground and connect them to the posts. As much planning as possible was done in advance, but you know what they say about plans. Late in the afternoon, we had those panels suspended by ropes tied to the bumpers of pickups, but somehow the linking mechanism fell through and a new one had to be devised. Bill gave orders for retrieving certain items from his now infamous scrap pile, and then scaled the tallest ladder to the top of the poles and hammered the essential link into place. “He was only in his eighties then,” I said with only a little irony, but it was his lifelong ability to know what needed to be done and then do it that made me a follower.
And it seems to me that what Bill’s passing has done for me is allow me to accept his passage through my life with new joy and gratitude. To arrange his contributions with the others’ on the deck of this ship, and plough forward. Some are longer than others, but all our passages are limited. Make them count.
Trudy Wischemann is a grateful carpenter’s daughter who writes. You can send your stories of passage to her c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.