Monday, October 14, 2019

In Loving Memory of Barbara Denise Cusack Squires

August 9, 1947 – October 4, 2019

On October 4, my friend Barbara Cusack Squires, passed away at age 72—too soon for anyone’s liking. Although she’d battled serious health challenges for the past 15 years that I’d known her, she had an indefatigable spirit of bouncing back, Irish stubbornness that wouldn’t quit, and a joie de vivre that was infectious, to say the least.

Barbara gifted me with many things over the years, her time, love and care as a friend, and time with her family. You’re a friend of one Cusack, you’re a friend of the entire Cusack clan. That’s how she rolled…and rolled she did.

Famous for her love of Cadillacs, sometimes you couldn’t see her coming because of the blur created by her lead foot and ability to outdrive any police car that might be even remotely interested in snagging her with a speeding ticket. Her dad was a cop and she started driving in middle school (never mind she may or may not have had a license).

Barbara grew up in Chicago, and I learned from her to back into a parking space (for a faster getaway)…at the time she offered that instruction, I was slightly mystified as to why I might need that skill, but later I learned just to listen and remember what she said.

Growing up in Chicago can mean many things to many people, but to a Chicagoland native, that means understanding the neighborhood where you are from. She was an MC…not emcee, but MC as in Madison and Central. She had respect from the locals anywhere she went. If you were her friend, you knew it. If she was mad at you, you knew it.

She was a larger-than-life Leo and given her Irish temper, there were times when you’d be on the receiving end of her thoughts…but you learned to wait until the storm passed and then she was gentle as a lamb and always seeing what she could do to help you out with something.

She welcomed me at her family gatherings for holidays in my earliest years after my Mom had passed away, which allowed me not to prolong grieving my loss because I was busy celebrating life. Those were wonderful occasions filled with laughter, great food, and she was the quintessential hostess. And she loved music, especially 60s music and especially The Buckinghams.

Long story short, she told me had a good friend from their days as teenagers in Chicago, Carl Giammarese, and she invited me to join her the next time The Buckinghams played in Las Vegas. In 2006, Barbara, her daughter Tara, sister Candace and Candace’s daughter Natalie went for a girls’ trip and included me.

I met them out there and we had an amazing concert evening. She told Carl, “you two need to meet each other; Carl, Dawn Lee writes and Dawn Lee, Carl writes.” Now, I’d written her a long opinion piece regarding Carl’s first solo album, “Trying Not to Fade.” I had no idea but she’d sent it to him. That’s when our dialogue and ultimate writing collaboration began, thanks to Barbara. Just another of her random acts of kindness.

Throughout these past five years, my journey has whisked me away from what I “used to do” and instead finds me “doing different things.” Barbara never ceased to be encouraging of my goals, whatever they were. Even when we’d not spoken in person or by phone in the past two years, she’d like or comment on my Facebook posts. I was stunned when I went to her Facebook page today and saw that she’d recently shared two photos of me in the midst of my recent work out west…and that made me smile.

She knew that about me…that I am in my “happy place” when I am able to introduce light and love into the world and tell the stories of success that people have accomplished, both during their lifetimes and afterwards. She loved that I’d become a Certified Life Celebrant and reminded me of why she thought I was good at it. 😊

Briefly, her passing was quick and her suffering was brief…she’d gone back home to Chicago (without telling her family) for her high school class reunion, and for one last look, as it would turn out, at the others who’d grown up with her in school. Those of us who insist on keeping up with our high school friends (my hand is in the air) know better than most how precious life is and how, with each passing year, we lose one or more of each other from our ranks.

So, we gather, frequently, usually twice a year, leaving aside differences in opinions and judgments of same, to simply celebrate life together and “remember when” life was simpler, clearer, and the entire world was still ahead of us.

I’m aware that Barbara kept details of her health challenges to herself mostly, and if you asked her how she was doing, she’d lean back, laugh her trademark laugh, and say, “Just shoot me” and then she would turn the conversation to a different topic as quickly as she could. In her lifetime, she loved deeply, made her way in this world and took control of things she could and waited out the hard times with a good spirit and faith that never failed her.

She brought into this world two wonderful children who became terrific adults. She lived to know and love her grandchildren, seeing many of them through to adulthood. Daughter Tara inherited her beauty and her determination to make her way in this world, to love her kids and love everyone around her. Barbara sang Tara’s praises to everyone (except Tara, of course); she was so proud of her work ethic and her parenting skills.

Son Martin was a rock for her and no matter where he was in the world, she always knew he was a phone call away. And he was. Grandsons Brandon, Jake, and Martin III (M3, now in college), and granddaughter Sophie and Martin’s wife Kelli brought great joy…there were so many times she spoke of them and shared photos so proudly…and when one of them had a ceremony, everyone in the family turned out en masse!

Barbara’s richest treasures on this earth were her family…and she was a wealthy woman in that regard. Husband Charlie stood by Barbara and would slyly smile as he’d turned a Chicago city girl into a Huntsville country girl (she once said to me, “Do you know I never once wore a pair of jeans in Chicago?

I didn’t ever wear those until I wound up on a ranch with Charlie!! And, by the way, there’s a cow in my front yard right now, waiting for me to go swimming in the pond out front with her!”). She never said “y’all” that I can recall, and she never lost her Chicago roots, but she survived Texas well (as long as the a/c in her Cadillac was on full blast)!!

Her nieces and nephews called her AB (short for Aunt Barbara), and she was as proud of each of them as she was of her own. She adored her ‘baby brother’ Bil, and longed for the days they could get away for an Italian beef sandwich together. She was so proud of her nephew Chris, and his amazingly brilliant Houston restaurant ventures.

She loved how her niece Natalie sang, and how another niece, Tiffany, was a fabulous mom, and how another niece, Ashley, was blowing the tops off the test scores in college. There are more relatives and love she shared, but sadly I’d lost touch with her the last few years to know the details. Barbara loved going to casinos with her sister Candace, to hear live music with Bil and Karen, and sister Kim, who adored her big sis and shared many of her same loving traits. She’d always include you in the gang if she was going to hear music she knew you’d like.

I’ll never forget the concert at the Woodlands when there were about 7 Cusacks and two others of us in one entire row to hear Earth Wind & Fire and KC and the Sunshine Band. In case you were wondering, no, none of us sat down the entire time as we were up dancing along. That’s just what you do. Everyone was on their feet, lovin’ the music.

Times with the Cusacks were fun…you might be in a hilarious gift exchange at Christmas, enjoying barbeque outdoors while trying to hold your own in dominoes, or just sitting in a lawn chair holding her little chihuahua because well…he just was too cute not to hold and cuddle. I remember once I got to babysit Lucky here at my house (I had no warning I was about to do that one day, she’d forgotten to tell me (or ask me), but he and I became fast friends) for a week, and he was so precious.

Barbara grew up with a famous mother (at least in Arizona and Texas) who was often in the spotlight on TV or newspapers. For a time in the 1960s, she and her mom (Joanne) worked in PR for Pat Boone she said one day, matter of fact as though everyone had done it. In her late teens, she worked for photographers on some modeling assignments, and then later she organized runway shows in Houston when she managed a boutique dress store. Barbara became famous in her own right, and many championed her as a success in the worlds where they met her.

Upon reflection, she was a force larger than life in many ways and she loved as large as she lived. She would find her heart crushed from time to time, and Leo that she was, if she was happy, you knew it and if she wasn’t, you heard about it, too.

She likely outlived many prognoses that she refused to admit to hearing (or was willing to share that she heard), and she survived open heart surgery two years ago without having told many people. In the end, pneumonia won out, but as she knew better than many, this world is not where everything ends that it doesn’t begin anew somewhere else.

One thing is for certain…in her lifetime she loved many people and she knew that she was loved every day of her life. Her family will need some time to process their reality, and grief, and decide on their plan for life without her, but they also know that they carry with them her abiding love. God bless you Barbara Cusack Squires, and thanks for the good times. Those are the ones we’ll always remember.