This morning I said a final goodbye to one of the most unique individuals that I’ve ever had the honor of knowing. Her name was Annette, and this segment is my final send-off to her.
As I’ve mentioned throughout the ‘ROPA’ series, the Zeigle family (who were our neighbors) had a huge impact on my life growing up. I still don’t think they realize how much, but I think as the years go on I’m making it clearer. They had nine children – six boys and three girls. The next to last was Annette. I won’t tell you how old she was because she never looked it, and she would also (I’m certain) playfully slap me on the shoulder from the great beyond. Suffice it to say that she was just a bit older than I.
Annette was my babysitter when I was young. I remember her coming to my home, and spending most of the time I wasn’t making myself barf on my Sit’N’Spin talking on the phone to friends (it was the 70’s, after all). One of the strangest things I recall was her using the term ‘unka’ (pronounced just like it is spelled) in lieu of ‘okay’. She and I spoke about it years later and on numerous occasions. She had no recollection of having done it, though I suspect it might have been a fleeting teen colloquialism much like ‘totes’ or ‘gag me with a rocketship’. I only remembered it so vividly because I thought it was weird.
Her nephew Chris (who has the distinction of being my single oldest friend in the world – poor guy) and I used to get into all sorts of trouble, mostly annoying Annette to amuse ourselves. There was one time, however, where we probably went too far (read: uh, yeah – way too far). She had a little, black, convertible MG Spyder that she loved, and Chris and I admired. One day, we decided that it might be fun to scare her. Now bear in mind that were young, being stupid, and boys. The car was parked in the driveway, and she was a mere twenty feet away, working on something at the picnic table in the Zeigle’s side yard. Chris went into the house and found the keys, and then I decided to finish the deed by starting the car. This, apparently, was supposed to be a ‘surprise scare’ (we were young – work with me, here) that would provide us some amusement at her expense. Looking back on it, we really needed a hobby. I started the car, and it immediately lurched forward. I panicked and hit the brakes just before it could crash through the garage door. I had a solid inch of space left. It was the only time I ever saw Annette mad, and it broke my heart that I had done something that made her experience such a change of demeanor. It was something that I remember vividly, and with shame, to this day.
I remember the day that she moved out vividly, too. It was apparently another slow amusement day in the neighborhood, because Chris and I decided that her boxes on the lawn, waiting to be loaded up, were fair game to paw through while in temporary flux. I remember pulling a calendar out of one of them, being puzzled by the cover, and asking her what ‘Playgirl’ was. I don’t think I ever saw her move faster in my life, and I didn’t come to recognize just what had occurred until a number of years later. In hindsight, my hetero self still thanks her for her speed before I got an eyeful.
In 1987, when I heard that she had become a stewardess for Delta Airlines, I was initially worried sick. In my mind, airplanes were dangerous death traps. And surely someone who flew on them as a job was doomed to be killed in a plane crash. Thankfully, I was dead wrong. And I think she chose the perfect profession. I can’t imagine her having done anything else, given her flair and lust for life.
As I got older, and came to the strange realization that girls were not, in fact, icky and cootie-riddled it became clear to me that Annette was not just pretty, but a singular sort of beauty among women. This served to explain all of the crazy things that her boyfriends over the years had insisted on doing for her, buying for her, or places that had taken her. I watched as she went from enjoying the attention being heaped upon her, to becoming an introspective and adult woman. For some reason (precociousness? availability?) I sometimes found myself serving as a sounding board for her musings on her love life. There were offers of marriage, but she was smart enough to realize that those individuals, while endeared to her, were not the single love of her life that she was waiting for.
All of this changed when she met a professional golfer from Australia named Mark Wickenden. When she spoke of Mark, a change came over her. It was something I had never seen before, and my first experience watching someone fall from companionship and intimacy into true love.
I recall one of Mark’s early visits to the Zeigle homestead. It was my first experience speaking with a genuine Australian, and I got a strange thrill asking him questions about his home, and listening to his accent. It was like traveling to a faraway place (something I had never done) without leaving home. Mark brought with him a beloved product from home as well. I happened to be in their kitchen on the morning when he broke it out for all of the breakfasting Zeigles to try. It was called Vegemite (a rather infamous product). I tried it once. Do yourself a favor: try it once, but DON’T DO IT AGAIN.
One of my favorite memories of Annette and Mark happened shortly after he had asked her to marry him. First, I was thrilled because this had never happened before. Second, she was so clearly taken with him that it was infectious. I remember her sitting on a sofa in the front room with him, as she excitedly asked me to watch him say, ‘I do’ each time she asked him to, teasing him not to forget how during that single crucial moment when the priest asked that all important, life changing question. I thought it was a bit silly (and in hindsight, Mark was one hell of a good sport about it), but I remember seeing the love between them and thinking that I wanted that someday. Eventually I got precisely that, and I’d like to think that a piece of my happiness was modeled after their own.
After their wedding, I remember learning that Annette was finally pregnant, and feeling like that was the most ridiculous statement in the world. Annette? With kids of her own? It just seemed weird that this teenage girl I had known in my youth was not only married to someone from halfway around the world, but that she was now having children too! It was a milestone in growing up that reminded me that things change, and we all get older.
After that, I saw less and less of Annette over the years. She was raising a family, and I eventually moved out from my home, to start a life on my own as she had. Still, I would see her on occasion when her path and mine crossed in the old neighborhood (she lived out of state, so this was seldom). She often had some new and exciting stories about places she’d been, people she’d met, or experiences she’d had. I remember thinking that of all the individuals that I’d known in my still-young life, she was the one who seemed to truly embrace what it meant to live, and make the most out of a life just waiting to happen, if only we’d let it. So many individuals will never experience even a small fraction of the lust for life that she had until her dying day, and in the words of Mother Teresa that’s ‘a poverty’.
In recent years, I knew that Annette’s condition was serious. She underwent a significant surgery that had a number of us on edge, until she pulled through it. What I didn’t know was that, months later, she would be gone. Even so, I will cherish my two final meetings with her.
The first of these was a random invitation by her father and mother to attend a dinner with themselves, their daughter Mary (who I hadn’t seen in ages), their son Mike (who, in true ‘small world’ form, is one of my clients at my day job), his youngest son, Patrick, and Annette. I was seated next to her that evening, and the whole time we just talked like two old friends often do; we caught up, we laughed, we teased one another, and just enjoyed the heck out of the company. I wonder if her Father will ever know how much that evening meant to me, especially now.
The second, and final, meeting was a far more somber affair. Mike’s wife, and Chris’s mother (whom I also mourned, and still do, as someone I had known all my life, and who was a beautiful person in her own right on so many levels) had passed away suddenly of cancer. It was the first time in my life that someone outside of my family that I had been close to had passed away, and it hit me so much harder than I ever would have guessed. I drove to Sun Prairie to mourn the loss with my friends, the Zeigles, and Chris (again, my longest friendship on the planet). It was a painfully joyous time to remember an amazing woman and the life she had lived, while reconnecting with folks I did not get to see nearly enough of. It wasn’t an opportunity I was happy about, but I considered that nothing would make her happier than knowing that she was bringing joy to others, even in her death.
Annette’s life was cut short by cancer. It was 16 months in the making, and it’s one of the single most tragic things I’ve ever borne witness to. To think that the likes of Manson are still alive and well, and yet someone as beautiful, funny, smart, talented, and who knew what it meant to live a life can be taken from us at such a tender age brings an uncomfortable mixture of tears and anger to me. It’s something I’ll probably never understand, and maybe that’s the point.
In closing, I want to offer you this: I’ve been crying the entire time I’ve been writing this. If someone can have that sort of meaningful impact on your life, then they’re the sort of person you should aspire to be. Annette’s life, while far too short, is a testament to what it means to not squander a moment of our time here on this Earth. We never know if we’ll wake up tomorrow, yet so often we live in state of self-induced strife, stress, waste, greed, and envy. Annette knew how to live. If only the rest of us could be so fortunate as to figure out how to do so as well, before our opportunities are all gone.
In the words of Jim Steinman, “If you’re only killing time, it’ll kill you right back.”
Today I say farewell, Annette, and God bless. My current novel-in-progress was still in need of a fitting dedication. With your passing, it’s all yours Annette, with my gratitude and honor of posthumous presentation. You might be gone, but you won’t be forgotten. And you’ll be a small component of what makes me, me, for the rest of my life. I don’t know what it’s like to die, but I’m hopeful that when my turn comes, you’ll be there to share some new stories.
Heath D. Alberts – Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Author of: ‘Terminal Beginning‘ (2010) | ‘Guerrilla Business‘ (2012) | ‘The Battery Man‘ (2013) | ‘Last Rights‘ (2013) | “Deeper” (2014) | ‘Photographic Memory‘ (2014) | ‘Guerrilla Business 2.0‘ (2015) | ‘Not On The List‘ (2015) | ‘A Twist Of Fate‘ (2015) | ‘Rockford Writes‘ (2015)
Co-author of: ‘Dave’s Not Here‘ (2015)
Contributor To: ‘Secret Rockford‘ (2014)
Administrator of The Rockford Blog
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