CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter
They are taking Toni off life-support on Saturday. I’ll try to be there, but it is 8:00 in the morning, and an hour away, and I have to be up 3 or 4 hours before my semi-colon will let me leave the house…
She won’t be alone, even without me. Shayne, her niece from Phoenix, will be there, with her husband, Efrain.
Toni is the little sister of Mike Dickey, my best friend from when we moved to Oakland City, when I was ten. I did Mike’s funeral in Prescott, AZ a summer ago. I had seen Toni off and on for fifty years, but Mike’s funeral allowed me to connect more deeply. I’m glad for that.
Mike and I were about twelve when Toni was born. Their father died soon thereafter. So Toni was always in search of a family, especially a father. She often said that she felt like she was raised by Mike’s high school class, especially the football team, where Mike was the star center. They often had to chase the pre-school Toni out of the locker room so the guys could get dressed. She wasn’t particularly interested in seeing sweaty naked boys, but she didn’t like being “out.”
She became an art teacher, married a rockabilly singer. They had no children, and he died young. The school district retired her. Her brother, who was her hero, and as close to a father as she had, was in Arizona, along with her niece and nephew and their families. She was alone.
Being an artist, she loved artistic things of all sorts, and bought a big old declining Victorian house in a whole historic district of such. There, since she had no family, she set about creating one, although I’m not sure she knew that was what she was doing. Ostensibly, she took in roomers. Some were only roomers. Most, though, became family. We’ve met most of them, Jessica and Mike and Paul and… Each has a story, of why they had no other family to live with, and how Toni took them in. Toni was eccentric, opinionated, demanding, needy, addicted, generous, resilient. She was a benign queen bee. She put up with her roomer family, and they put up with her. They also loved her, and she loved them.
I think one of the most fun meals I’ve ever had was a dozen of us around Toni’s artistically decorated dining room table, eating and laughing. It was a family meal. I think it must have been a bit like the first communion. I know it was communion for me. I hope it was for Toni.