I'm sitting here in Salt Lake City Cemetery, discretely off to the side, while the Brownie is on a field trip to learn Pioneer history, self-reliance, and some ghost stories to boot. Her class takes the public transit to go on their field trips in order to prepare them for life. They learn how to catch a bus, pay their fare, then walk to their destination. This means that Daddy can't interfere so that she learns to rely on herself, but I am secretly here just in case she has a seizure. It's easy chaperone work. I kept myself busy in my car writing, reading news, and practicing my pennywhislte. Then I got the news my friend, Rick Walton, had passed away this morning.
Tears are blurring my screen as I type this. I am so glad I had a chance to know Rick. You may not have heard of him. He was a prolific children's book author, specializing in picture books. What a bright, creative mind he had! It pains me to speak of him in the past tense now. I was just holding his hand at his bedside last Saturday. I've known him for eight years this month.
My favorite memory with him was getting together to play pennywhistles at a Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference. He was skilled at improvising, whereas I memorized set pieces. This was about five years ago. We found a quiet place to play, and together, we worked something out. It was pretty rough! I was shaky and uncertain since I had horrible stage fright. I've mostly cured myself of that particular anxiety, but at that time, agreeing to play in public with somebody was a major step forward. Then, because it was Rick, people started to linger to see what was going on. My playing took a definite dive downward, but at that point there was more talking than playing. People were pulled towards his gentle gravity and loved his clever wit.
My life became complicated soon after. That was the last writers conference I ever attended, but I held out hope that we would jam again one day. I was even practicing today something I could play for him tomorrow. It was my hope to go down to visit him again, though I wasn't sure how I'd manage with the Brownie tagging along. My greatest regret is that I never interviewed him for this blog as we talked about doing a few years back. Rick had Parkinson's Disease, yet still wrote and created constantly. It was a brain tumor that put a stop to his prolific brilliance, not his Parkinson's. He was inspirational to me, and I wanted him to be inspirational to you as well. Now I'll play my pennywhislte today in his memory. In my heart, though, I won't be alone. Thank you, Rick, for your friendship, advice, counsel, and inspiration over the years. You've left your legacy on our bookshelves and in our hearts. Be at peace.