The following is a tribute written by a friend of mine about Elsie, a woman I’ve never met. His words make me regret not meeting her, be thankful the world is full of people like this, and want to be the kind of person people remember with this kind of fondness all at the same time.
Bless you, Elsie. Rest in peace.
“There was a lovely, older woman I had the good fortune to get to know in the course of my job who had been becoming increasingly frail. Her mind was sharp, but not nearly as sharp as her wit and bubbly personality when she opened up. The last visit I made to her home, she was not present. Apparently her days of living independent in the grand, riverside home had come to an end. From the somber air I had always assumed the news was much worse than that. I have not seen her for a couple of years now, though I still on occasion drive by the majestic rural estate that presides over her section of the riverbank. Today it had a sign posted stating that the city would be redeveloping the site in Elsie’s memory.
It was the soft settling of a shoe long since dropped. I knew, certainly- but being certain and have that certainty confirmed are quite different. I was mildly sad to think of her passing. Now, there was no comfort left in the shadow of denial. And it made me more than just mildly sad because now it was undeniable.
I am so very lucky to have had a few afternoons to chat here and there with her and get a slim peek into such an incredibly interesting life. She had her issues to be sure and some challenges as well, but she had stories- wonderful stories- of a younger self that lived a much more adventurous life than the stately elder who smiled and shuffled with exaggerated frailty and care. And the glimmer of that mischief still shone out through her eyes and pealed out through a soft chuckle and grin as she remembered alongside telling me of different chapters in her life.
Typically I’d casually ask her about a photograph or wonderful artifact decorating her home. She’d reach out, touch whatever was I had remarked on, and tell me about what it was or when it was from or how it was special. And it seemed everything she decorated her home with had been special in some way to her.
She’d lived dramatic chapters in her life and told stories that seemed improbable without the photographs or other evidence to lend them credence. Exhibits like sun-beaten wild west rifles she’d discovered in the open desert while riding horseback as a young girl. The skates and photos from her days as an ice skating beauty and the personalized picture form Frick & Frack alongside a photo of herself with skater’s legs that would shame many models.
That woman was clearly still there, obscured by years and changes, but when you peeled back the layers or looked between, it was certain. That light was shining still.
She had a passion more than a fondness for animals. She loved cats with a vengeance. A visit to the house was always going to involve hauling out a huge bag of cat food for her. They were far too heavy for her to manage, and she had a herd of cats. A writhing mass, A ridiculous number that may not have been wise, but was also not my affair. The bulk of the mass were feral and outdoors. I recall how she had staged a shelter for them with a heat lamp to help protect them from the cold, but they did not seem to connect her compassion to her as much as she connected it with them.
It seemed even moreso than the cats, her affections went out to a particular horse corralled in the front whose name was always uttered with a sweet, baby-talk affectation that to this day leaves me uncertain whether his name was Patchy or Apache. I shrugged and split the difference, calling him ‘Pache. He lit up for her as much as she lit up for him, with a nuzzling congregation over the fence rail that always made me grin.
Quite a gem to get to know, if only for the small-talk times I was lucky enough to have had with her.
I’ve known the mayor of her town for the bulk of my life. If they are going to redevelop the property I expect it will be something fitting. It is as special a piece of property as the woman who used to live on it.
The house is a lost cause I understand, having been vandalized and stripped while vacant. And while that is sad, it is of no consequence to Elsie or her memory. If anything it opens up possibilities, because there is no option but to look beyond the structure of the house and imagine it as something you might not have expected.
And that might be the most fitting redevelopment tribute after all. Godspeed, Elsie. I wish I’d only had more time to hear more.”
— Mark Koch