As I pondered what I would write about this first posting of the new year, what first came to my mind was my losing one of my best friends in the whole wide world on all of days, New Year's Day, 90- year old author, bookseller, historian, and genealogist Fred McKenzie.
I thought Fred would make the Guinness Book of World Records for living to be the oldest man alive. He never walked, he ran. He rode his bicycle fast, his little red truck even faster, and Lord knows what all he did when he flew his plane. Each minute of his life was filled with pure joy and abandonment in the moment. He was my inspiration and my hero. There was nothing we could not discuss and we shared pretty much the same philosophy of most of life's important issues. If ever there was someone who loved talking more than I do, and talking about books as much as me, it was Fred.
As the funeral approached, I got to thinking about how Fred died, fast and well-loved. Fred was not the type of guy who would have ever wanted to spend a day laid up in bed. He once told me, "When you stop, you drop," and he was right. I was not ready to let Fred go and I reluctantly and with great apprehension went to the funeral. I think everybody in town was crowded into the First United Methodist Church where Fred and I attended Sunday School. He arriving on his trusty bike, me in my Inferno Red Pacific. We often arrived at the same time and as we parked, I would smile with unfettered abandon. Fred was such a joy!
Then when one of the ministers spoke at the funeral, I changed my whole outlook on Fred's death. He told us that none of us thought we would ever be here for this occasion. In fact, we probably all thought Fred would live forever. He told us that none of us wanted to be there. I nodded in agreement. He also said that Fred had gone to heaven and we were quite selfishly the ones who did not want Fred to go.
It was true. All I could think about with Fred dying was me, me, me, when I should of been thinking about him, him, him. I could not imagine my life without my book buddy but Fred had gone on to his heavenly home. I suddenly was filled with pure joy. Joy for a life lived well, a life lived for the power of the written word.
The weekend after the funeral was my annual Pulpwood Queen hosted author, book, music, and theatrical convention which we call our Girlfriend Weekend Author Extravaganza. Fred was to have received the Doug Marlette Award, an award giving in memory of our dear author friend, Doug Marlette, to an individual devoted to a lifetime of promoting literacy. I had rushed to Fred's house the night before he was to go to surgery after hearing about it at church. I told Fred and his family that I hated coming to their house so late before the scheduled surgery date but I had to see Fred. I had to tell him how much I loved him and how I wanted him to have a speedy recovery because he was being honored at our Girlfriend Weekend. He just kidded and joked with me, "Oh Kathy, I'll be there. You know this surgery is going to be a breeze. I wouldn't miss your big ta do for the world." I was reassured but hugged and hugged him anyway. My last memory was him ever chipper in his red Christmas sweater, I had given him, hurrying to fill out his Christmas cards to get mailed before he went to the hospital. I found out later he rode his bike earlier that day to the post office to send off a batch.
God Bless Fred McKenzie! Can you imagine hand written Christmas cards and this wasn't just a note, but letters with photos too!
As the time approached for me to present the Doug Marlette Award during Girlfriend Weekend to Fred McKenzie's daughter, Dr. Carol Harrell, his granddaughter, Paula Phy, and great-granddaughter Stephanie Phy, I thought how am I going to keep my act together. But Fred was right, he was there with me, big time. Not that I did not cry, I did, tears of joy for knowing one of the most amazing men I have ever met.
And Fred did leave me, yes, indeed. But he left me with this year a true gift, that it is now time for me to stop talking and start listening. I really have been listening this year. Listening to the authors speak at Girlfriend Weekend. What a joy! As author, Jane Porter poured out her heart and soul to us, I listened. As author, Mary Corrigan spoke of her father, I listened. I listened so much I have never felt such tremendous joy and happiness. So for all of you out there that are big talkers like me, remember this year to be big listeners too. When I heard Jennifer Hudson sing the Star Spangled Banner during the Super Bowl last night I was moved so much, that my voice caught and tears flowed.
Yes, life is filled with deep sadness and sorrow but life is also filled with other great joys. Fred would be happy to know he has inspired me to do great things, great works. Won't you join me? For me, all the answers are found right between the pages of good books. I don't know about all of you but it is really hard to talk when you are reading. So if you see me silent, don't think anything is wrong. Everything is finally falling into place in my life and everything couldn't be more right.
We are starting the Fred McKenzie Bicycle Brigade for Literacy in all of Jefferson's many parades this Mardi Gras. Fred always rode his two-seater bike in the parade and you can read all about my adventures with Fred in my book, "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life", Chapter 13, I Live for Adventure. Fred was also the author of two books, Avinger, Texas, U.S.A" and "Hickory Hill" which covered pretty much all the families and genealogy of everybody in this area. His used book store is still open, Fred McKenzie's Books on the Bayou for now so stop by for a visit. The Pulpwood Queens and I are also going to start a Fred McKenzie Storytelling Festival here in Jefferson in the next coming year as nobody loved telling a good story better than Fred.
For more on Fred McKenzie check out this feature in the Longview News Journal:
And now as we begin this new year, let's be inspired by Fred to do good works. I know that he is smiling down on all of us as nothing would please him more than promoting literacy and the power of the written word.
Kathy L. Patrick owns and operates Beauty and the Book, the ONLY Hair Salon/Book Store in the country, is the founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs, the largest "meeting and discussing" book club in the world, and the author of "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life", Grand Central Publishing. Her book was awarded the Top Ten Books in Texas for 2008. She is the founder of Girlfriend Weekend, Books Alive, and the up-and-coming Fred McKenzie's Storytelling Festival all held in her hometown of historic Jefferson, Texas. She is hard at work on writing her next book, "The Pulpwood Queens' Guide to Reading for a Higher Purpose" and currently teaching a lifewriting class to the homeless at Newgate Mission in Longview, Texas.
For photos and her daily literary blogs, go to www.pulpwoodqueen.com. For more on her book club, festivals, and her shop, go to www.beautyandthebook.com. Now that she is listening please comment on this blog or email firstname.lastname@example.org as she would love to hear your inspiring comments too!