This year, had Dick Carson, my husband, hung on just a bit longer, he and I would have celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Alas, it was not to be.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a sad story. Au contraire, I am profoundly grateful for the time he and I had together.
Although Dick isn’t physically present to celebrate, he still lives in my heart. He also lives in my head—sometimes annoyingly so. That’s because I constantly hear his admonition to “Stop working so hard” or “Stop and smell the roses!”
Two “Geriatrics” Find Romance
I was 50 and Dick was 57 years old when we met—almost geriatric, according to our adult children. I’d assumed, after being single for almost 20 years following a disastrous marriage, that I would never remarry. Or, as I promised myself after spending a fortune on legal fees to extricate myself from a youthful misjudgment, I would never again “register a relationship with the government.”
But obviously, Dick prevailed.
At the time, Dick lived in Quincy, California, a small, picture-perfect northern California town. When he retired, he was a well-known forester in the Plumas National Forest. Before Plumas, he’d worked in the Modoc, Eldorado, Sequoia and Los Padres National Forests.
I lived in Alameda, a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area. Odds were that we would never meet.
But fate intervened. Joan, my next-door neighbor, persuaded me to take time off from my 12-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week work schedule to go to the University of California’s family camp in Pinecrest, California.
She knew I was a workaholic, but she also knew how much I loved tennis. So she convinced me that a week of tennis instruction would dramatically improve my game.
Surprise! Singles Week
On the drive to Pinecrest, she surprised me with the news that it was also singles week. I was furious that she’d tricked me into going to a camp where men and women would be sizing each other up, like animals at an auction. But it was too late. I was committed.
As for Dick, he went to the camp with the intention of finding a wife. Widowed months earlier, he knew he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life living alone.
Through chance, he and I met over a game of table tennis. He won. In truth, though, the score was close only because he occasionally spotted me points so I’d feel competitive. After the pretend-a-battle, we spent the rest of the week together.
Weeks later, when I visited him at his home in Quincy, I got the once-over by the ladies at the local Methodist church who wondered about the “city lady” who was being courted by one of the more eligible Quincy bachelors.
On one occasion, Dick insisted we go to the Plumas County Fair in Quincy, an important once-a-year event. On a whim, we had our picture taken in old-timey clothes.
When we tried to ride the Ferris wheel, the attendant asked us if either of us had heart issues. We had a good laugh as we climbed into the seat and buckled up.
Dick Won Me Over
Although I enjoyed spending time with Dick, I rebelled at the notion of being a “replacement” for a woman he had dearly loved. Plus, I resisted being dependent upon anyone. On my own, I’d done just fine, I told myself.
Dick worked hard to convince me that I wasn’t a stand-in for his late wife, pointing out that she and I couldn’t be more different. At the same time, he knew he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life “sleeping single in a double bed.”
By the time he persuaded me to marry him a little over a year later, it had become clear to me that Quincy was too remote a place. I needed to be near an airport to travel to my businesses in Iowa, Illinois, and Tennessee. At the same time, Dick could never live in an urban environment. Clearly, a compromise was needed.
Access to Airports and a National Forest
We agreed on Nevada City, a small town in the Sierra Foothills, a little over an hour from both the Sacramento and Reno airports. Equally important, it was adjacent to the Tahoe National Forest.
We were married 30 years ago in September.
I’d like to report that we had unqualified support for our marriage from our six offspring. (We had three children each.) But like Pinocchio, my nose would grow longer if I made the claim. Given time, however, each of our children came to terms—more or less—with our union.
Dick and I established early on that our marriage was our first priority and that we would never allow our children to come between us. When we were tested later, that principle served us well.
Professional Forestry—a Calling
Before I met Dick, I’d never known a forester. In learning about the profession, I gained enormous respect for these committed individuals. Dick’s friends—almost all foresters—viewed their work as a ministry—a calling—rather than a way to make a living. Their love of trees and the outdoors plus the desire to preserve the forest for future generations was the guiding force in their lives.
Much to my surprise and delight, Dick’s contribution to the US Forest Service was nationally recognized. Because of his understated, sustained efforts, he was successful in acquiring land adjacent to Lake Tahoe for the US Forest Service for public use.
Without his work and unpublicized negotiations, the land would have remained in the hands of wealthy individuals. And ordinary people like you and me would never be able to stand at the water’s edge and have access to Lake Tahoe.
A Personal Contribution
His contribution to me was similarly invaluable. After five years of nagging, he finally persuaded me to sell my business and begin writing. If he hadn’t insisted, I am reasonably certain that by now I would not be here, having worked myself to death. Nor would I have lived to see a single word of mine in print.
After Dick died, I received numerous communications expressing condolences. What I found amazing was that a single theme was repeated in the cards, phone calls, letters, and emails: the word “kind” appeared over and over.
After living with him for nearly 30 years, I concur with this singular assessment of his character. I will always be impressed with his kindness. It wasn’t conscious or intentional. Being kind was simply who he was.
(I wish I had more of that quality! But then, I remind myself, I’m a work in progress.)
To Love and Love of Nature
I wrote this post as a tribute to him, to our marriage, and to all those who celebrate current and lost loves. But I also wrote it as a tribute to those who tend the forests and spend their lives preserving them for future generations.
Of course, I miss Dick. Mostly I miss sharing the daily trivia of ordinary life. Yet, as Dick said, “Life goes on,” and, as he always added, “Life is for the living.”
If I believe him now as I did all those years we spent together, then Grandma Carole’s French adventures will continue.