While I was recuperating from yet another intestinal disorder (occupational hazard here in East Africa), I just remembered things that made it seem as if Karen was still here with me. I’d roll over to talk to her as she sat in the chair watching me (she did this every time I was sick) and I wanted to tell her something and realized she wasn't there and I couldn't, not now, not ever. That’s when it really started to hurt. I tried to do a video blog one morning while I sat out and listened to the birds and talked to the people passing by like Karen and I used to do almost every morning. I did a passable job I think even though at one point my voice broke and I got choked up. Sadly, I messed it up and didn’t stop the camera properly and the whole thing was trashed. I’ll try again.
One of the things I truly loved about my Lady Karen is that she was just that, a true lady. She waited for me to open doors for her, to pull her chair out at the table, expected me to stand up when she came into the room, and to always walk on the street side of the sidewalk when we walked together. She never ran, always walked like a lady (at about the pace that Meghan walked down the aisle to Harry). Several times I’d be walking and realize I was alone, would stop, turn around and see her about a block behind me. I’d go back, she wouldn’t say a thing, and we’d start walking together again, but this time I would be holding her hand and walking a lot slower and staying with her. My favorite song for her was Lionel Ritchie’s “Three Times A Lady” and I would play it or dedicate to her on the radio many times. She never cursed, didn’t smoke, drink, or ever do drugs. She didn’t like to be around those who did but would never say anything negative, just wouldn’t join in. It was slow, but she converted me. I never became a true gentleman to her lady, but I was a whole lot closer at the end than I ever was before. She never used crude or vulgar language and if she left the room, it was always to “powder her nose.” I loved that about her and came to resent women who cursed and used vulgar language—she had that effect on me. Of course, her ladyship sometimes caused me embarrassment. Seems that true ladies don’t purchase their own lingerie or feminine items—that fell to me. I spent many an anxious moment in the lingerie departments of Sears and The May Company. This was in those very old days before you could buy things online and have them delivered. It was before Victoria’s Secret. The only thing going back then was a place called Fredrick’s of Hollywood which was a much raunchier version of Victoria’s Secret. I never even went in although we did drive by it. Once at a party in Hollywood, I met Don Mackie who designed all of Cher’s clothes and outfits. We got to talking and he designed a couple of pieces of very nice lingerie for my lady. Did it for free, too. She loved them and wore them but would never tell anyone about them. I asked her why, and she said, “Because then they would want to see them, and they are only for my gentleman.” I shut up forever. I hated the looks I got when I was buying underwear for her but happily she was so much smaller than me that no one thought that I was buying for myself. Of course, the feminine products were worse, and it always seemed that when I got to the register whatever I had was not marked or priced properly and the cashier would reach for the microphone and announce to the store that she needed a price check on . . . well, you know. My face would still be red when I got home, but Karen knew better than to ask.
I did get her once, though. We got engaged early in January of 1965, and on our Easter break that year, we drove from Abilene, Texas, to Alexandria, Louisiana, for her to meet my parents. She was dressed to the nines and was wearing an Easter hat the queen would have envied. On the way, I kept telling her that my parents were very posh and the dinner would be formal with lots of cutlery. Several forks on the left, several knives on the right and two spoons above the plate. I kept drilling her on what fork to use when and how to replace the dessert spoon. She was nervous but had practiced and practiced. Now, I knew that my parents (and Karen) loved seafood and that the dinner that night would be crabs. When we walked in, she saw that the dining room table was covered with newspaper, crabs were piled all over it, and on every plate was only one utensil—a pair of pliers. She stopped, turned, and gave me a look that is still etched in the back of my head. It would have killed a lesser man. She just hissed under her breath, “I. Know. How. To. Use. A. Pair. of. Pliers.” That became a family phrase for the next half century. I miss my lady, there was never another one like her. I’m getting better at getting through the day and am becoming much better at planning for the future and dealing with paperwork, but there will always be a sword in my heart to remind me that my lady is mine no longer.