Linda and Me

If this were a movie script, it would start like this:

Open fade up on the place and date in white type over black, center screen:

June 15, 2021, Durham, NC

Audio up, you hear a woman speaking, “I first met Linda…”

Cross fade from date to wide shot of a room full of people.

Cut from close-ups face to face to face of those sitting and standing, listening to the speaker…building the awareness that someone has died, and this is a service celebrating their life.

Cut to medium shot of the speaker continuing to tell her story about her friend, this remarkable woman, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, artist and successful business woman…Camera dollies around the speaker at the podium to behind her, revealing the crowded room she is addressing.

Audio begins to drift off as the screen dips to black. Sound up on birds chirping.

Fade in on type reading “Summer 1960”,

Cross-fade to an extreme closeup of big eyes, staring into the camera, but obviously looking beyond the lens. Camera pulls out enough to reveal a young girl, seven or so years old, watching something intently through an open window, the bug screen mesh adding texture to the image. She is leaning on the sill, arms crossed, chin on her interlaced hands. Her big eyes blinking. 

The camera dollies out more to show the window on the side of the white siding and pans 180 degrees, revealing the small well-kept lawn and lazy summer neighborhood street at the corner of Englewood and Carolina Avenue. Aside from the chirping birds it has been whispery quiet up until now, but timed in front of the camera pan, the sound would raise and introduce the clickity-clack cutting sounds of an old reel push mower, in fits and starts, brought into view as the camera completes its 180 degree pan.

A skinny young boy is struggling with the mower, pushing it through the thick grass of the small, tight lawn across the street. 

Video showing the camera pan from the Carolina Avenue side of the McGill’s former home to the Glymph’s side yard.

That boy mowing her neighbor’s yard, the focus of her interest, is wearing what looks like an animal on his head. She realizes that it is a coon skin hat, with the ‘coon tail flopping around on the back of his head as he pushed a few feet, then pulled the mower back to clear the blade reels of grass caught in the cutter bar. Then pushed again, gradually making headway. 

She couldn’t take her eyes off of this sight of the young boy, curiously wearing an animal skin hat, mowing the lawn in the growing heat of the summer morning. 

That boy was me, mowing my grandmother’s grass, wearing my cherished Davy Crockett coon-skin cap. I could obviously care less that it was way too hot a day for a fur cap. And, I had no idea that I was being watched by those big eyes next door.

The young girl at the window was, of course, Linda, when the McGills lived across the street from my grandparents, the Glymphs.

I had no idea that such a girl lived across the street, let alone was watching me struggle with the mower. And, I only know this story because, years later, Linda revealed her first memory and early interest in me…and my cap.

My early recollections of Linda are from the teenage dances held at Willowhaven Country Club when we were early teens. Although I was going to the new Carrington Junior High in the  county school system, many of the kids at the club went to Brogden Junior High in the city. I’m sure that Linda and I danced a time or two then but it was really just a fun time dancing to a live teenage band playing early sock-hop rock songs. Not serious dating stuff. Just getting the moves down and the nerves up enough to break away from the wall and turn from a watcher to the watched. We also hung around some at the club pool, catching rays and playing Fox and the Geese. I mean, she was so cute, how could I not want to tag her before she reached the other side of the pool when she was a goose and I was the fox.

So, suffice it to say, we had made our acquaintance but weren’t close friends. That would come later.

Fast forward to 1969 when I transferred from Northern High to Durham High School for my Junior year. I quickly fell into a circle of people that I already knew from Willowhaven, Asbury Methodist Church and from basketball at the YMCA. That initial group included Linda, Bob Umberger, my cousin, Gary Pope, Susan Nelson, Karen Tilley, Andy Swindell, Ann Freeman, Bill and Ben Wilson to name a few. 

This was a very heady time for all of the normal reasons, like hormonal changes in teenagers. And it was also a major time of unrest. The Civil Rights and Anti-War movements, along with the explosion of Rock and Roll music all intersected in our high school years. 

It was a time in which most of us were not sure who we were, but we were sure that we were not happy with who we were NOT. The story of Linda and me was that early-in-life love story, a story that had a beginning, a middle, an end followed by a reconfiguration from lovers to lifelong friends. 

It was that time when we found in each other someone in whom to just let go, and in doing so, lost ourselves in a world discovery. If you will allow, I’d like to share some of that story.

Early in our senior year we dated a couple of times. You know, to football games or a movie. We were both “available” for the most part. She and my buddy, Bob, had gone steady for a while, but when they were unsteady, Linda and I went out on a couple of dates. We had fun. We were great friends and I remember us working our way through the friend thing to something different.

The Note

I’m a little fuzzy on this but some time had passed after our last date and she came up to me near the Durham High smoking corral. She handed me note, smiled, and then walked off. I opened it and it read something like this: “I don’t know if you want to, and I understand it if you don’t, but if you do, I would really like to go out with you again. I leave it up to you. Yours, Linda”

That note was so Linda. Honest. Strong enough to be vulnerable. Vulnerable enough to show some lack of confidence. 

Something about it touched me so deeply. I felt that there was more to peel back here. That there could be something special if we both just let go. And we did. With that, she captured my heart. From that day forward, I was all in. We both just let ourselves go in our commitment to one another for almost four years. 

Her artistic flair began to really flourish into true talent.

Freshman year, Linda went to Goucher way up north in Maryland while I went to UNC. That didn’t stop us from being together. I drove up almost every other week, borrowing cars from whomever would loan theirs to me – my old sports car wasn’t trustworthy for that kind of travel. 

Through it all, I had a front row seat to witness the growth of her artistic talent at Goucher and UNC-G as she experimented in different mediums of expression — through brush, pen and knife with oil, acrylic, water color and clay…until she found her element in metal. First big steel plates and gears, then tiny wax sculptures turning gold and silver, stone and jewels into wearable art.

Seldom satisfied with the results, I believe her inner battle between vision and capabilities drove her to always keep pushing for better work. 

Through it all, I loved her then like I had never loved anyone before. Linda was both the joy and the sorrow of my life at that vulnerable and impressionable time of high school and college.

Our love of each other was strong enough to last through breaking up. Strong enough to forgive. Strong enough to care, overcome distance and time and become the friendship that lasted to the day she died. 

I am so thankful for the many pieces of her spread throughout my family and her community of customers. Through that, she will live on, continuing to bring joy through each individual treasure. One of the early rings that she made at her first shop in Lakewood Shopping center in 1977 was for me at my request. She crafted it from silver with an onyx stone for me to wear on my right fourth finger.

True to form, she grew to dislike it…until I showed it to her one final time when she lay dying. 

She pulled my right hand towards her face, holding it tightly and turned it to “see” the ring from all sides. Then, she smiled and said, “It’s beautiful.”

I leaned over and whispered something that only she would know about us in her ear and asked if she remembered. I watched the memory cross through her gaze, she smiled a knowing smile, looked at me, still holding my hand and said, “Oh yes. I remember.”

That’s all that I needed to hear. And those were the last words I heard her utter.

“Oh yes…I remember.”

Two weeks later, on June 4th, Debbie called to tell me that Linda had died that morning just before the dawn. Through my sobs and tears Debbie offered a consoling truth, “You know…you were her first love, Steve. You know that.”

I told her what it meant to me, all of these years later, to hear that, even as if I could ever have forgotten.

Who would ever believe that that vulnerable, impressionable girl would build and leave behind such a thriving business of artists and jewelers as Jewelsmith. What a precious gift. A place for her family of designers to keep her spirit alive. And I, like all of you who love her, can still go there and in doing so, stay close with her memory. It wouldn’t hurt to buy something. Just saying.

Of course there are many stories I’m skipping over. Stories that require a bit more time. I’ll save them for later. They involve a red 1959 TR3, lost driver’s license, brief jail time, a hocked watch, and a pet pot plant that ultimately short-circuited Linda’s application for Trusted Traveler. Oh, and there was the hashish Bob and I buried in the McGill’s backyard on Wilson Street.

I remain forever grateful to have had Linda in my early life. I learned so much about the joy and adventure of love, the sorrow of losing it, the healing nature of forgiveness, and, how opening your heart to finding love again pays the greatest respect to love lost by finding it once again. 

I end for the moment with a poem I wrote to Linda in 1974 after our breakup. At the time that I put pen to paper I was inconsolably lost. I don’t think that I’ve ever been so succinct before or since.

It was published in the Charlotte Observer three years later. It’s called,

The Pre-Heart Shake Holiday (or the St. Valentines Day Blues)

With lines and curves 
I tried 
But couldn’t,
And now with lines and words 
I try 
But can’t
Present
The feelings 
Of a heart 
That’s bent 
And a mind 
That’s spent 
From loving you. 

Farewell my dear and forever friend.

Linda on our 1974 scuba diving trip to Florida over winter break with the crew of David Katzenmeyer, Chris Osborn, Wally Diehl, Bob Umberger, Liz Greene, Dena Thompson and Curtis Brooks.

8 thoughts on “Linda and Me

  1. So sorry for the loss of a beautiful friend. Once again, a beautiful well written memory that you shared with so many. Many thanks. You have so many beautiful words inside that beautiful heart. I love you always. So happy our paths crossed

  2. Steve, what a beautiful and moving piece! Thank you so much for sending it!

    Love to you and Julie. Dottie

    1. Thank you Dottie. Chris was so eloquent in tribute to Linda at her service…as was David. And I learned so much more about the woman Linda became in the years since we were together. Amazing.

  3. Steve,

    What a touching piece for a dear dear special beautiful friend of yours. I am so sorry for your loss and the world’s loss. Thank you for sharing. She would have loved it.

  4. What a sweet memory. So sorry for your loss. Memories are a wonderful thing
    Love you
    Denise

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