From my newspaper column
This week I got word that my life-long friend Trudie Martin had passed away. I could tell there was something in the flow and sting of my tears telling me that the loss was more profound than I initially understood or was prepared for. When I say I was unprepared, Trudie did not die suddenly or tragically at a young age. Hers was not the tender life of youth cruelly clipped as a bud nor the flowering potential of an adult cut off in its stem and prime.
Trudie Martin lived a full, remarkably healthy, and vibrant rich life, passing over her own century mark in 2001 like it was a mere speed bump. She slowed down just a bit for her 110th birthday last year and she left this life just a few months short of turning 111. When I was a kid, “Granny” as we kids called her, was so healthy and energetic well into her 70’s that we used to say “Granny is going to outlive us all.” Lord knows she did her best to make us prophets. In fact I’m convinced that when Trudie arrived last week at the pearly gates Saint Peter greeted her with a smile and said, “It’s about time, Trudie. We’ve been waiting so long for you to get here we’ve had to change the outdated carpet and wallpaper in your mansion 5 or 6 times.”
In the Andy Griffith Show, Sherriff Taylor was the central part of an entertaining and loveable cast. Trudie Martin was a central character in a wonderful show known as the Wright Family. But theirs was not a show to watch; it was a show to be a part of, to be welcomed into. You became a part of the cast because you were treated like family.
The opening lines of the Cheers theme song goes, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came…” Instead of getting friendship at the price of beer and pretzels in a bar, it came to me freely with iced tea and a slice of pound cake in a home appropriately set at the summit of a great hill as though it were a lighthouse for kids like me, where the side door off the gravel driveway was always open day or night, week days or weekends. We were told not to knock or ring the doorbell because “that’s what visitors and strangers do”. Family just taps lightly and comes on in. I guess the entire immediate family learned to stay dressed 24/7 because they never knew when another “family member” might suddenly appear in their living room or be walking through their kitchen.
Every kid should be so lucky to have a home in their neighborhood with a 4-generation family in it like the Wrights, with a gentle and gracious matriarch in it like Trudie Martin. Throughout my childhood I was an only child lovingly raised by a wonderful single mother. Though I was quite comfortable with stillness and solitude, as all writers are and must be, sometimes I got lonely. So I often went, without calling ahead for an invitation or reservation because neither was needed or expected at the Wright’s hotel.
Hey, they didn’t name our subdivision Rolling Hills Estates for nothing. To get from my house at the bottom of Rushland Drive to the Wright’s home atop Mountain View Road a mile away meant a bike ride up and down steep hills that should be a warm-up lap for the Tour-de-France. But it was worth it. And I never outgrew making that trip, even after turning 16 and having motorized wheels that would take me anywhere in town I wanted to go. Even after graduation from high school and college, whether to join in some celebration or to receive aid for a broken heart, I made that journey up the hill like a thirsty man who knows where to find a fountain. And when a man has a parched soul, having a loving and gentle woman like Trudie Martin filling a plastic tumbler with cold sweet tea is a good place to start.
So my tears are certainly ones of sadness, but they are also a liquid offering of profound gratitude. For there was a bright sun in my neighborhood and in my childhood, and I was one of many children and teens who were held in gentle orbit by its light and warmth, forever blessed by the presence and legacy of its nucleus, Trudie Tillie Martin.