Yesterday morning I sat in the overflow section with a host of other people who had come to the stake center in Ferndale, Washington say good-bye to Gail Whitney and to wish her well, now that she has flown the prison of her physical body.
I know that each of us conjured different memories of Gail as we watched her family follow her flower-laden casket down the aisle, but I have an idea that there would be a common thread running through the narrative if we had all been called upon to share.
I haven’t been called upon, but I’m going to share a memory or two:
If I had to describe Gail in one word, it would be serene. She seemed unflappable, never ruffled or frantic. When she was Relief Society President of our ward, I often marveled at her, because I remembered my tenure in that position and the many times I had wide eyes, sweaty palms and a voice rising in decibels according to the caliber of disaster I was presiding over. Not Gail. That wasn’t her style. Just being around her was soothing.
I couldn’t tell you what color Gail’s eyes were, but I can tell you how it felt to have her look at you. You felt noticed, loved, cared about. I saw her last fall, and I remember telling her how good she looked, even though she was obviously frail. On the way home, I was thinking that was a gauche thing to do, but then I realized that she DID look good, because what I saw was her eyes. As she took my hand, she looked at me, and I was nurtured by that connection. It wasn’t until later reflection that I realized my comment wasn’t really accurate.
But, that’s just a lead-in to the story I wanted to tell about Gail.
When she was Relief Society President, she called one time when I was down with the flu, and in the conversation, she found out that I was an aspiring writer and that I had, in fact, just sold a story to True Romance. Now, when you write for True Romance, you don’t get a byline—because they’re ‘true’ stories, not supposed to be made-up—and it takes about six months from the time you get word your story has been accepted until it comes out in print.
Gail asked the name of the story and asked when it was coming out. I told her and thought no more of it. But she remembered, and six months later, she bought a copy from the magazine rack at the drug store and read my story.
That was huge to me, because True Romance was just a couple steps above the tabloids that have stories about alien abductions, and to buy the magazine in public where everyone can see you seemed to be very brave. If it had been me, I would have announced very loudly that I was buying the magazine for a friend. But she didn’t. She acted as if my being published there was a great thing. I think that’s when I finally began admitting to people that I wrote for True Romance.
I never told Gail how much that meant to me. Should have, but didn’t. Maybe that’s why I felt the need to tell it now.