Friday, December 4, 2009

December 4, 2009....Happy Birthday ERTB

Here is the first thing you need to know about Elizabeth Rachel Tyndall Baucum--she will be your friend even if you break into her house.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

We met in the fall of 1978.  Her Episcopal church youth group (progressive in a Venice Beach sort of way) came from Springfield, MO to my Episcopal church for some kind of a retreat.  At the time I had mixed feelings about the Episcopalians and their youth--there were cuter boys at the Presbyterian church up the road, the services there seemed more normal since the Presbyterians, for example, didn't feel the need to sling incense on a regular basis.  The Episcopalians were a different bunch--sucking down coffee and smoking like chimneys in the church basement during social hour.

I arrived late to the meeting.  Shy and shuffling, I found a spot and listened without looking around until the leader said he wanted to pray.  And at that point he said he wanted to pray for someone in particular and pretty much described in detail what was circling around in my head.  I'm not gonna lie--it totally freaked me out.  I had every intention of waiting for someone else to cop to what I was thinking until finally I couldn't take the silence any more.

"Um, yeah, ok," I said, "You could pray for me."  And then I immediately shut my eyes to get it over with quickly, at which point I felt a hand slip into mine and looked up into a sympathetic smile.

It was over fast enough.  I went down to the sanctuary and found my mother, a great lover of after-church chat, and asked if we could leave.

"Well, yes," she said, "but I want you to meet an old friend of mine who came with the visiting group," to which I groaned in the same key that my children exhibit now, "Her daughter was in the youth group meeting.  You could meet her too."

But of course, I already had.

Lizzie and I would get to know one another far better two years later when we wound up in the same sorority house (I see those eye rolls--don't judge).  For three years she would be the wisest voice in my head, the most independent thinker, and my most unique friend.  She had a family who listened to Prairie Home Companion at a time when I didn't know what Public Radio was.  She had a red-headed boyfriend, a grandfather who had once sold his business to stay home and read the encyclopedia for a few years, a feisty grandmother called MeeMaw and an uncle who had lived with his girlfriend forever.

She understood the fragility of life--her father Vinnie had gone toe to toe with cancer and won, at a time when almost no one did.  She sang and played the guitar sitting on her bed, and she got out into the world (which at that time was a large state university campus) and she did things and met people which was very different from the life I had where I occasionally went to class, seldom spoke to anyone I didn't know, and pretty much hunkered down until graduation.  She had more great guy friends than she knew what to do with, so she shared them with people like me.  She was, and remains today, just about the easiest person I know to be with--the very essence of familiar.

Which is why I knew it would be fine to break into her house.  At the beginning of a long car trip from Branson to Kansas City one summer I found myself in dire need of a bathroom.  My good sense of direction (yes I do say this proudly) did not fail me, and I found her parents' house as if I knew exactly where I was going.  Pulling up in the driveway things looked ominously silent and one trip around the house confirmed that there was no one home and I was totally screwed because now I was about to burst and had NOT left myself time enough for another alternative.

Thank God the Tyndalls always preferred windows to air conditioning.  It was so easy to snap that screen off the front window of the house that it really didn't even qualify as a break-in.  I found my way to the bathroom that was home to three sisters and then wandered back through the house, a fatal decision if ever there was one because it is just such a comfortable place, a place where Take Your Shoes Off and Stay Awhile, just sort of hangs in the air.  And so I did.  Well, I actually took off more than my shoes.  I needed to, in order to take a bath (I had been working at a camp for two weeks--geez) and then when I was clean, I thought maybe I should wash some clothes too.  So I put in a load, topping it off with someone else's stuff in the laundry room (I was nothing, if not a good guest) and came upstairs just in time to hear the phone ring.

Ever helpful (this was back in the pleistocene era before answering machines, call waiting or cell phones) I answered brightly, "Tyndall residence."

This was followed by a fairly long pause, broken with the words, "Who is this?"

Confidently, in the voice only a truly helpful person could muster, I said, "This is Kate.  I'm a friend of the Tyndall's."

"Kate, this is Vinnie," he said, in the kindest possible voice he could have used for someone who had vandalized his home, "What are you doing in my house?"

"Oh gosh, Vinnie, hi!" I bubbled, "Well, I drove through Springfield and needed to use the bathroom..." and I walked him through my visit right up through the laundry room.

There was silence at the other end of the phone.....and then they invited me to join them at Meemaw's for dinner.

One of the things I forgot to mention about Lizzie is that she and hers were all just tech crazy.  I mean if those girls had been teenagers now, at least one of them would be an underground dj, privy to all the latest music and with a host of gadgetry that would put most record companies to shame.  They got this from Vinnie, who, at the time I answered was demonstrating for his brother Terry the way his new ham radio could also place a phone call.  That day, they were surprised by more than the technology.

Undoubtedly, if you are reading this post you are thinking that I was nearly certifiable.  And were it any other home, I would admit you were correct.  Certainly I had some more learning to do in the area of Boundaries, for example.   But somehow, Lizzie managed to overlook my insanity.  Who are we, I have to ask, if we do not have people in our lives who will forgive our foolishness?

She drove a an orange hippie van and went to law school.  Clerked for a judge and then lived in a loft before most people could spell it.  She introduced me to Nancy Griffith, told me she thought I was smart, and for the rest of my life I will not hear the Billy Joel song, "You're My Home," without thinking of her, such a staple it was on our college mixtape collection.  She is godmother to my first daughter, Hannah, and after she had done all of these things--lived so thoroughly--she married Tory Baucum, an Episcopal priest who would go on to serve in that very little church where she and I first met.

She has lived in great cities and small towns, is equally at home with thinkers and tradesmen.  Mother to three beautiful daughters, she can hang with holy rollers and atheists, home schoolers and high ranking professionals.  She is a woman who knows when to pick up the phone and call.  And tonight, I learned, she is sitting at the hospital bedside of that dear man who loved me enough not to press charges.  A hospital room isn't usually a great place to celebrate a birthday, but with this crowd it should be spectacular.

"There was a star danced, and under that I was born," wrote William Shakespeare.
The heavens celebrate you still.  Happy birthday friend.

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