When she was young, my sister loved horses. She would draw pictures of them in her school notebooks. I don't know if she could ever draw anything else, but she drew a darned good horse. For a while she owned one and named him Gypsy, after a drive-in movie we saw titled (I believe) Gypsy Colt, and weekends were spend at 4-H riding competitions. She devoured books about horses: Black Beauty, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, and every The Black Stallion book she could get hold of. She made me read Walter Farley's The Black Stallion, which I did grudgingly until I realized that the horse was an alien from ouer space; later I returned the favor by getting her to read some Arthur C. Clarke. She carried her love of reading with her throughout her life.
As a teenager, she was hooked on Connie Francis, the Everly Brothers, and Pat Boone. Remember those old rectangular cases that held a collection of 45s? My sister's was pink with a large black half note imprinted on the front; it was always stuffed and every corner was worn. She also discovered country music through Jim Reeves and others. She saved up her money and bought an Ernest Tubb album because she had read that he was one of the great country and western singers; and she was unpleasantly surprised. "He can't sing!" she told me. Linda had expected all great country singers to sound like Jim Reeves and all country groups to sound like The Sons of the Pioneers. Later on, she began to appreciate the type of country music that was not played on the top 40.
Linda loved to talk. I think she was born talking. The day before I married Kitty, my parents held a get-together at their house. One of Kitty's bridesmaids, a friend from New Jersey, was there and I jokingly told her to be kind to my sister because she was not all there mentally and loved to talk. Much, much later we discovered that she and Linda had talked for a long while and she actually believed that Linda was a couple of cards shy of a full deck. Linda laughed and laughed when we told her but I don't know if she ever forgave me. And once, while visiting Linda and her second husband, he and I went to the local store. Buck, her husband, asked me to just play along when we went into the store. He introduced me to the store owner, saying that I was Linda's brother but that I couldn't talk because Linda talked so much while I was a kid I never had a chance to learn to talk. The storeowner believed us. Again, I don't know if Linda ever fully forgave me, but she sure did laugh.
She married three times, all to pretty great guys. He first two husbands, though, had hidden demons that helped to break up the marriages. She was with her third husband for over twenty-five years until her death earlier this month. From her first marriage came her children, Becky and Joe, who always remained a major part of her life and her love.
Linda was easy to love because she radiated love. She had a kind and open heart. I doubt she hated anyone in her entire life. Linda was the person who befriended elderly neighbors and would drop in often just to chat. I'm sure you've known the type. Young girls would often stop by with their traumas of growing up and Linda would soothe them, sympathize with them, make them smile.
And Linda would laugh with them. Linda loved to laugh. A friend on Facebook noted that every posting about her mentioned laughter, which is a great tribute. The last time I talked with Linda over the phone was a couple of weeks before she died. (She lived in Florida; I live in Southern Maryland.) My brother and his daughter Julie were visiting Linda. Julie had just broken up with her boyfriend and the three of them were trying to think of the worst curse words possible to describe the ex. For some reason, I know not why, they decided that the most creative curser in the world had to be me, so, all of them laughing like crazy, they got me on the phone. I told them that Julie's ex was lower than the pus in a pimple on the penis of a protozoa in a Patagonian pit. And so the last thing I heard from Linda was her laughter. Fitting.
Linda's life was not easy. A stroke affected her memory and she would have to use written directions to drive to the local grocery story and back. She told me the x-rays of her brain showed a black spot the size of a pack of cigarettes, a good analogy for someone who smoked like a trooper. Years ago, she suffered from cardiomyopathy and had been placed on a heart transplant list. This just pissed Linda off and she scoured the internet looking for information on cardiomyopathy, which led to changes in diet and lifestyle. Her heart improved, she was taken off the list, and I still don't know if this was solely because of the changes she made or because the docter who made the original diagnosis was a dud. Either way, Linda lived for a long time afterwards and she grew to love the internet.
The internet allowed her to follow her two great passions, cooking and geneology. She ended up moderating two blogs, one on each subject. A few years ago, a number of her blogging friends who had never met each other in person trekked to the Tampa area to meet Linda. She was thrilled and I sincerely doubt they were disappointed.
A number of months ago Becky called me to say that her mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and did not have long to live. Yet whenever I talked with Linda on the phone she exuded happiness and laughter, and was more interested in what my kids and grandkids were doing than anything else. Still, that mindless, evil cancer spread through her body and finally took her. A pyrrhic victory, perhaps, because the laughter remains.
And the hugs. My daughter said that Linda gave the greatest hugs. Whenever I laugh, whenever I hug, a part of my sister remains. Which is as it should be because I cannot imagine a world that does not have at least a part of Linda.