Saturday, July 28, 2018

Remembering the Light and Life of Virginia P. Gilmore

Yesterday, Bryan, Texas, lost a quiet but devoted ambassador of music, life, and a person who was cherished by her friends. Virginia Gilmore passed away a year and one month to the day that the light of her life, Eddie Gilmore, had crossed over to heaven. It’s hard to accept that she’s gone, as she was an extremely young 80 years old, but it also seemed not long enough. Her friends offered that Eddie needed her “there” more than others wanted her “here.”

Make no mistake. Virginia was not the kind of person you’d get to know quickly. She just wasn’t that way. She found her own way and time to reach out to you, and she was cautious before committing her friendship. But when she did, it was solid as a rock, and it was meant for a lifetime. If you consider all the people who knew her well, the average person in Bryan would have been her friend for at least 40 years. She loved a pillow in one of her friends’ homes that said, “Old friends are the best friends,” because that’s how she saw things.

When Eddie and Virginia met, they were both working at Rauscher Pierce and Refsnes, Inc. in Dallas, then arguably the largest brokerage firm in Texas. Eddie was Senior Vice President of the firm and on the board of the National Securities Clearing Corporation. He had a virtually photographic memory, for stocks and for statistics, and Virginia had a mind that met his and kept him interested and beyond. They were best friends and they both had great senses of humor, plus they had even more in common.

When they married on Sept. 3, 1971, Virginia was 33 and Eddie was 36. Both of them were old enough to know what they did and didn’t want in life, and together they built a life that they both could look back on and say, “I wouldn’t have scripted it any other way.” It’s been said that we live in a vacuum sometimes when we think we are able to control anything that happens in life.

We can make all the plans we want and then life happens. So, it’s fair to say that there were good and bad times in both their lives, but their time together was golden. There were no children, but they shared a love for Virginia’s dogs through the years, and their real family was made up of their lifetime friends with whom they shared the best of times together and when times were tough, they were right there for one another, without question. The chances I had to see that in action were voluminous, but they’re private, and will remain that way.

One of the things that struck me most about Virginia was how deeply she felt about the people in her life that she cared about, but she was short on words verbally. She showed it in her longtime loyalty to them. Though they had no children of their own, dear friends shared their time with their children, their children’s spouses, and their grandchildren to the point that they never felt childless. Both Virginia and Eddie adored their adoptive family, who grew up hearing her addressed as “Shorty.” It’s true Virginia was short compared to Eddie, but so was most of the room in any gathering. Not just everyone could call her that, but she smiled and rather beamed when she was addressed that way.

While her mom was alive, Virginia was a wonderful daughter and caretaker who was able to care for her mother without making her feel like she was being looked after. Losing her mom was quite a blow to Virginia but she absorbed the grief and just kept going. She hated going to funerals and it took everything she had to attend services for her mother, but she so loved her mother and those ladies of the church who loved her, that no one else knew how absolutely devastating it was for her to say goodbye—publicly.

Virginia was a private person by nature, but she knew almost everyone in town and managed to sustain many friendships of longstanding and was good about checking on people by phone. She maintained a childhood friendship with her best friend from at least high school days and that says a lot. She remembered others’ birthdays and was a sentimental creature. Her birthday was easy to remember, October 4th, which she giggled and said, “It’s 10-4!” and you always remembered that day ever after. Her feelings ran deep but she played her cards close.

Her career was vast and varied and included a wonderful time shopping at the Dallas Fashion Mart with a dear friend for the friend’s exclusive clothing boutique in Bryan “back in the day,” as they say. Ultimately, she cofounded an independent office supply business in Bryan with another dear friend, and she was actually scheduled to go in to work (she and her business partner rotating taking every “other” Friday off) on the day she passed away. You know she just hated to miss that day of work.

Just as Virginia knew how to work, she knew how to play too, and her favorite pastime was music, live music, and dancing to live music, any or all of those choices, thank you very much. They went to many of the early OPAS Galas, the earliest of the American Heart Association’s first Heart Rock CafĂ© event with the "Back to the 50s" theme (Note: Virginia brought her favorite picture of Elvis), Junior League galas and more. They loved supporting The Boys & Girls Club of Bryan with heartfelt devotion.

Eddie and Virginia on the dance floor were clearly the most fun dancers to watch; everyone always thought of them that way. Virtually all their close friends were avid and accomplished dancers, though. It didn't matter whether it was country-western music, rock 'n roll, jitterbug, swing, you name it! And so many of their years together were dear couples’ friends together enjoying trips all over the country. Reminiscing over the early days of their young lives together was often a part of the good times. Shared vacations, trips to see the changing of the leaves, many visits to the best in California’s wine country and more filled their dockets.

Beloved lifetime friends in Bryan were so devoted to Virginia, particularly during Eddie’s final days and for the thirteen months after his passing. She grieved privately for Eddie, but you couldn’t ask for more loving, caring friends to see to her every need. Just a month ago, two precious friends had made plans well in advance and spent “Eddie’s Day” with her and you know that had to be one of the sweetest gifts she’d ever received in her life.

Times just spent with people she loved were her favorite, favored days. She could appreciate the perfection of a Nehi Grape soda and looked around for weeks until she found a four-pack to gift a friend with because, in their early days together, they’d enjoyed them together. She enjoyed visiting small out-of-the-way shops and finding anything that was unique. She and Eddie were good about exploring restaurants and they were always telling you about the newest places to go, because they’d been among the first to try them out.

They loved being able to live most of their final years in a dream home they custom built on a magnificent golf estates location, but home is where the heart is, and when Eddie could no longer live independently at home, Virginia didn’t hesitate for a moment in leaving that behind, and she wisely chose a location literally two minutes away from two of her dearest friends of the heart. It’s the gifts of time and thoughtfulness that Virginia gave to others and received from them that will most be remembered.

Learning from two precious people today of her passing and knowing her absolute disdain at, and refusal to, being lifted up by name in a public notice of having transitioned to her heavenly reward, I risk her wrath at even writing a word about her, but somehow right now, I just don’t care. If I’m fortunate enough to one day make it to where she is now, with her Eddie, she can read me the riot act then.

But after the tears had dried, what made me smile was the thought of how she loved Elvis, his music, and the Mississippi Blues so very much. Among her favorite songs of all time, though, wasn’t really one of Elvis’s songs. It was by electric blues man, Jimmy Reed. Wherever they were out dancing to live music, or if there was a jukebox in the corner, Eddie Gilmore never failed to make sure that his Virginia heard her favorite song: “Big Boss Man.”

So, as the sun went down tonight on the first day without Virginia in it, I’m reminded that life is short, that the age of 80 is a long and good life to reach, and that the world can turn against you, the planets of Mars and Mercury can turn retrograde and turn your world of calm into a celestial hurricane, and nothing is going as you once thought it would.

But when you have friends, good friends who love you and care for, and about you, throughout the worst days of your life, who are front and center with you to celebrate the best days of your life, and you have faith in the higher power who gave life and the promise of life beyond this one to all, then you have everything in life that you could ever ask for. And all is truly right with the world.

For all those fortunate enough to know her, for however long or however well, Virginia Gilmore’s life meant knowing a truly good person with a heart of gold and enjoying life just a little bit more, because she was there in it. Virginia was right—Old friends are the best friends.

I had a front-row seat to watch and see those whom she considered as such. I wasn’t in that group, those who called her “Shorty,” but to be sure, I saw what a blessing they were to her, and she to them. I did learn much from her example, as I went forth and continued to build my extended family of friends of love, faith, care, and compassion, remembering every good time and happy, funny moment shared with those she loved best. She was a good teacher by example, that Virginia Gilmore.

Let the music of heaven play on now, and may you have a dance floor that is as wide as an ocean and a band that never quits playing. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” ~~Jeremiah 31:13

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Through the Eyes of a Friend, We See Clearly

My friend Patti came in through the porch screen door the other day, eyes brimming with tears, but smiling as she brought me updates about a special sight she was witnessing from the porch. It was early morning, too early for most people, and we were on the third floor of a condo in Mexico, a favorite annual getaway vacation for “the almost golden girls.” Her morning ritual of devotions and prayer time on the porch, alone, had been interrupted, gently, by the vision of something so beautiful she couldn’t just let it go unnoted.

She’d come in three times already with updates and a sense of true wonder, as she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. The first description provided a clue. She said she’d seen a big burly guy walking along holding the hands of his tiny daughter, who appeared not to be even two years old, walking along the mostly deserted beach. It was still so early in the morning that most tourists had not yet found their way down. I was up at this hour, working on a rush project on my so-called vacation, without even my first cup of coffee nearby.

The first thing Patti noticed was how big and strong the man was. He wore a sleeveless t-shirt and dew rag around his head. She thought he looked more like an offensive tackle for the Chicago Bears than a dad. Her second report noted she understood once again how God was at work in her life, as well as that of the family below her.

As the daughter had been previously been exploring the beach, she was tentative, amazed and awed by the waves, but a little fearful. The dad walked behind her, closely, without her even noticing his shadow. Once a wave came along the far part of the shore, gentle to an adult, it was overpowering to the child, who was navigating the path for the first time. The third report was even more powerful.

In an instant, the youngster had been knocked over by the gentle wave, but before you could count to “3,” her father had scooped her up and restored her to her previous balance, and they continued along their path together. No tears, just restored confidence. The next time another big wave came along, the father had both of his daughter’s hands in his, and he lifted her feet high above the waves as they came crashing into shore.

The delight on the child’s face was equaled only by her trust that her dad had her safely in his grasp and sight. Patti returned inside of the condo. ”I’ve just seen the Father at work, this is exactly what God does,” as she described the next leg of the child’s journey. Finally, I grabbed my camera and went outside to see what she was talking about. And it was at that point that I was truly moved. It was a living picture of the parable about “one set of footprints in the sand.”

Though the sun had not yet broken through the fog-laden morning sky, the view was unmistakable. The father was now cradling his daughter in his arms. She had one little arm that was wrapped around one side of his neck, and her right arm sealed her connection to her dad across his chest.

Unhurried, the father walked up and down the same stretch of beach, as the sounds of the waves gently lulled his daughter to sleep. After the fourth lap of the journey, they settled atop a chaise lounge under the shade of a palapa, still alone, without disturbing the daughter’s slumber. I, too, was friend Patti grew more amazed with each vista of what she was able to see, being played out through the trust, love, and gentleness of a daughter resting in the arms of a loving father.

As he cradled his daughter, the vision of the once gentle giant had given way to a sight that Patti could not have been more accurate in describing: The Father at work. “Isn’t that just what Jesus does?” she exclaimed? He’s always there behind you or beside you to rescue you, and when you cannot travel the path alone, he holds your hands and lifts you above the waves and protects you from the harm that you’re not even aware of.” She was right.

The fifth and final report was another special scene….the child’s mother had awakened from a precious few moments’ nap inside their condo and joined her family under the palapa on the lounge chair adjacent to her husband. With his left hand securing his daughter atop his broad chest, he gently reached out for his wife’s left hand with his right hand.

Once their hands were joined, there were no footprints in the sand….that you could see…but that’s because all three in the family were being held in sight by a quiet soul who said a prayer for them, three floors above, unnoticed. How many people pray for us whom we neither know, nor see, during the course of a day? How many times do we pray for those whom we do not know? Makes you want to do that more frequently as a result of one simple parable come to life.

And, at last my early morning brain was freed from a focus on crunching through my latest checklist of due dates and must-do’s to pause and remember the one set of footprints in the sand. It was when I, too, was being carried. The Lord is everywhere with us in our daily journey, if only we’ll get up from the desk to see it and listen to friends who try and bring us closer to Him.

~~ June, 2011