Around this time of year, an old friend always pops into my mind. I think part of the reason is because Kay knew how to do holidays. Truly, she had a talent for making even little things special and her gift wrapping: sublime! She crafted bows of such artistry that they deserved a lighted display case at a Smithsonian Museum[i]. The rest of her life overflowed with substance, and lacked flash. Faith and family were her priorities. She dressed simply, seemed to avoid makeup, didn’t have expensive tastes, lived for pots of home-brewed plain-ol’ coffee, and prepared for all holidays with total abandon.
Prior to her cancer diagnosis, my little ragtag ‘ohana and her clan used to go out on picnics, bowling, have marathon board game sessions, or just hang out to eat and talk-story – always family style. She would volunteer to go early to pick out the best picnic table at a nearby park for our Easter feast and figure out the perfect time to attend fairs and community events. She cracked jokes with her husband, but as often sat quietly and observed others’ antics. She never asked for favors, didn’t depend on others for help. Without reservation, she treasured her daughter and son.
After the diagnosis, Kay started calling me for Adventures when she felt chipper. She rarely offered pleasantries and assumed I’d recognize her voice. My phone would ring. In those days “caller ID” cost extra, so on my shoestring budget I never knew who waited at the other end. I’d answer with a careful “Hello.” She would utter two words: “An adventure?” For some reason, good sense or my better angels would spur me to say, “Uh, yeah! What are you thinking?”
We enjoyed dozens of spur-of-the-moment adventures, most of them in southern Arizona.
We went to a Mariachi Festival where I stood about 15 feet away from the crowd and watched Kay twirl and laugh in the shade of an ancient tree. She stood within a yard or two of the musicians when she turned to me, grinning, and shouted, “I LOVE mariachi music!” Although we had known one another for years, that took me by surprise. How could I not know that?
We roamed Tumacácori[ii], looking at pottery and art and eating freshly made corn tortillas behind the museum/mission church. We went to rivers and hummingbird sanctuaries and monuments and museums tucked into the miles of mountains around Sierra Vista. We went to vineyards and toured wineries even though Kay didn’t like wine. We watched a ceremony in Skeleton Canyon (near San Simon) with the Buffalo Soldiers[iii] commemorating Geronimo’s surrender. We went to Mission San Xavier del Bac outside Tucson to pray and visited with a few local artists. We went to a ghost town (a trailer in the middle of nowhere that displayed items for sale on an honor system and offered free brochures that provided info/served as a warning system about the prolific local pit viper[iv] population).
There were a few longer journeys. We went to Disneyland once. When I picked her up at her house for the 7-hour drive and hastily arranged 4-day trip, I asked what her spouse said about the trip. He and I worked together; I didn’t want him upset with me. “Oh,” she chuckled, “I left him a note.” What?! We walked, talked, and laughed our way around the Magic Kingdom. We took a side-trip to wet our feet in the Pacific because we didn’t want any regrets during the journey back home.
There is one Adventure I most cherish, though. It had touches of spirit, magic, and the kind of trust that some friends share. This is one I keep thinking about.
If you’re at all familiar with the old War Chiefs, you’ve heard of Cochise. He’s apparently buried in an unknown and secret site up in what’s known as Cochise Stronghold or Cochise Memorial. The Stronghold, an oasis of sorts in a box canyon, sits in southern Arizona. On the way, Kay reminded me that she picked up a few things from her Apache dad (she didn’t connect as well with her mom, described as a generic-white debutante-type) before she informed me she wanted to go the Stronghold to find Cochise’s grave to have a little ceremony and pray. Now, lots of experts have tried, and failed, to find that grave, but … what the heck?! We went.
We took back-roads to the narrow lane into the canyon. That day, Southern Arizona looked like a drenched blanket. Mile after mile of craggy soaked land stretched out beneath an endless swath of dark clouds that dumped heavy rains and rattled teeth with thunderstorms. But Real Adventurers ignore minor inconveniences.
As we got closer to the Stronghold – me driving, Kay riding shotgun, my daughter in the back seat – we realized the pouring rain might interfere with our mission. We recalled a passage from the Bible – our version: “whenever two or more are gathered in God’s name, God is there” – and so we prayed for a break in the storm so we could enjoy the Stronghold and accomplish what had become our mission.
My grandmother used to call them “Angel Rays” – when light bounces through holes in the clouds. As we approached, an Angel Ray opened over the Stronghold and expanded. We recited my favorite prayer – Thank You – a few times and arrived at the one sunny spot we saw that day. All the campers and other visitors had fled, so we wandered the rocky, soggy area in peace. We trusted God or intuition or luck to guide our meanderings as the hole in the clouds above us began to shrink. We paused to talk about turning back, but Kay felt sure we were close. Another 20 yards and around a bend, we stopped.
The spot, scattered with trees, boulders, and small plants, transfixed us. The foliage danced in a sun-powered spotlight, a bouncy little breeze shook rain off the trees and shrubs while the rest of the area looked decidedly gray. Like something from a great movie scene, except this one belonged to Mother Nature without help from a fabulous special effects team, little bits of foliage and droplets of water from the leaves flitted around in this extraordinary golden light, surrounded by dark shadows around us that washed out the surrounding color.
We didn’t even discuss the location. While I stood aside, Kay led an informal, haphazard little ceremony. I didn’t ask Kay about her motivation. My prayer thanked Cochise for leading us to that beautiful place. She mentioned blessing him, his ancestors, and his descendants. She took a moment for silent reflection and asked that my daughter and I head back to the car. She promised to catch up.
My daughter and I moved as quickly as we could over soaked ground. The sun had disappeared behind charcoal clouds so when we reached the vehicle, we climbed in and sat with the engine idling, like a getaway car, heater running as we peered anxiously into the shrubbery until Kay appeared.
She scrambled into her seat, closed the door, and as the door latch clicked the clouds released a near solid curtain of water. We sat in the parking area and laughed as rain drummed that unique booming and soothing all-nature rhythm on the roof of the car.
Whenever this comes to mind, though I miss my friend who left this world shortly after that trip, I remember there is magic in this life. Magic in friendship. Magic in making time for adventures. Magic in nature. Magic in connecting.
I remind myself to cultivate a sense of wonder. To look for awe as a self-care practice. And to both acknowledge and treasure those moments.
So here’s my wish for you this year:
May you Appreciate What’s Around You. May you experience Joyful Adventures. May Magic and a Miracle or Two surprise you. May you enjoy Shelter from Life’s Storms. And may you Laugh in the Rain.
Copyright 2021 D. R. deLuis
[i] In case you’re not aware, and since I mentioned the Smithsonian, I feel compelled to mention the Smithsonian recently opened a new National Museum of African American Arts History and Culture. For info, visit: https://nmaahc.si.edu/.
[ii] For a bit more info about the area, including the very small unincorporated area and park, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumacacori,_Arizona. The annual art festival offered a lot of diversion the first weekend in December, though check the schedule. Nearby Tubac also has a fun vibe and lovely art festival. For more info: https://tubacaz.com/festival-of-the-arts/.
[iii] For more information, one brief description can be found here: https://www.azcentral.com/story/travel/arizona/road-trips/2018/09/10/fort-huachuca-arizona-buffalo-soldiers/953088002/. A longer history is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_Soldier.
[iv] Primarily Western Diamondbacks (rattlesnakes).