THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
My mother-in-law, Jesse Laverne Manns, known as Laverne by her friends and colleagues, died last week in Fontana, California, after a heart attack and many years of diabetes. Laverne was 72 years old and beautiful in every way.
She was born in a small town in Oklahoma and became a high school basketball star in a state that took – and still takes – its “girls” high school basketball very seriously. Her sports skills earned her a college scholarship, but although Laverne always loved sports her life was devoted to two other great loves.
The first was her husband, Everett.
I came into Laverne’s life too late to meet the man everyone called “Coach Manns,” and who died, also of a heart attack, when he was still a vigorous, bodybuilding 59. But Laverne spoke of him with such adoration that I still treasure the time she turned to me—I don’t remember what I was doing but sure wish I did—and said, “Why, you’re just like Everett!” and gave me a smile that made the whole room shine.
The second great object of Laverne’s devotion was education.
She was an educator all her adult life. Went from elementary school teacher to principal to university administrator because, for her, it was all about teaching and learning and guiding everyone she could toward a better future.
She could be pushy, demanding, stern. As manipulative, in a feminine “You talking about little ole me?” kind of way as Donald Trump is with his slick masculine aggression. But she played her games for the sake of others. Because she wanted the best for everyone else.
Laverne had big ambitions for her children, Vicki, Gwen, Denyse, Cary, and Johnny (who came over to the house for dinner with Coach Manns one day when he was still a schoolboy and stayed on to finish growing up), and her grandchildren. And for all her friends, neighbors, and co-workers as well.
“You’ve got to do your best to get the best,” she would tell them all. It was the motto behind all of Laverne’s days.
I know Laverne best as my beloved mother-in-law. Who wouldn’t love a mother-in-law who, on Gwen the Beautiful’s birthday last month, sent her all of my favorite food? New York cheesecake! Egg bagels! Chicago pizza
Laverne’s life was not without its share of travail. But it was impossible for her to stay down for long. Hope and idealism were like titles—or degrees—after her name. Quite simply, she was one of the most idealistic people I’ve ever known.
The last time Laverne visited us here on the Mountain, she told me about a problem a teacher she’d recruited was having with another faculty member. This teacher was semi-retired, a former Superintendent of Schools, and a very savvy and practical man.
When I said to Laverne, “If he’s upset why doesn’t he go to the Dean?” she looked astounded.
“Oh no,” Laverne said. “He would never go over somebody’s head like that. This is a university. Nobody would think of playing politics here.”
I’ve got a few friends who are professors at various colleges, and you can believe me when I say I’ve heard a story or two to the contrary over the years. But I didn’t argue. I just smiled and nodded.
Because if that’s how Laverne saw the world—if it was her world—well, that made her one very lucky woman. How could anyone ever want to change that?
Laverne’s death has brought luck to some other people too. In her never-ending battle to make things better at all times, she signed on as an organ donor. And, of course, her life helped all of us who knew her feel lucky indeed.
I already miss my mother-in-law. For fifteen years, no matter where Laverne and Gwen and I were, Laverne was part of every moment of my life. She was always tucked away in the safest corners of both my head and my heart. Over to the right, beside her daughter. Now–
Just a minute. I’m hearing something. Wait–
It’s a voice. A familiar voice. A very familiar voice…
“I love you,” the voice is saying, from its old place beside Gwen. “And I know I can count on you to go on and do what’s best.”
I’ll try, Laverne. It’ll be a lot easier now that I know you’re still here.