“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day.” Jim Valvano
Today is January 5, 2017, the fifth day of the year.
On this day in 1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first governor of a state in the U.S. when she was sworn in to lead Wyoming. Ross won a special election after her husband William died from complications during an appendectomy.
The democrat held office for two years before losing a re-election bid. Ross was appointed the Director of the United States Mint by President Franklin Roosevelt and went on to serve 20 years at the position.
They were an older couple sitting at dinner. The husband and wife were having a quiet meal – a meal in which both were content to just enjoy each other’s company. Nothing needed to be said.
But, while sipping a glass of wine, the wife suddenly found a tender place in her heart and spoke.
“I’m still crazy about you after all these years,” she said. “I know I just couldn’t live without you.”
“Do you really mean it,” the husband replied excitedly. “Is it you talking or the bottle of wine?”
The wife responded, “It is me taking to the wine.”
How does one become combobulated?
Today, I want to write about my friend, Liz Helms.
Each year, I cover the local high school basketball holiday tournament for the Hickory (N.C.) Daily Record. It was on the first day of that tournament in 2010 that I found out that she had died. I remember watching the basketball games that were playing out in front of me and I honestly could’ve cared less what was happening and what I would write about. A giant of a lady had passed to her eternal reward.
I first knew Liz from my time working at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Hickory, starting in 2002. We both loved baseball, so we had conversations about the game and what we thought about this player and that.
I soon found out that she was on staff with the Hickory Crawdads baseball team, working in the press box. She got me and my family hooked up with tickets at times over the 2003 and 2004 seasons, just because she could. I remember at one game – a slow, midweek game – she made sure that I “won” something that the Crawdads were giving away that night. (I hadn’t entered anything.)
Perhaps the most special game I attended at Hickory was on my 20th wedding anniversary. I had lost my job at St. Luke’s the spring of 2004 and had a hard time finding work. There was the ensuing stress of paying of the bills and dealing with depression, as well. Not a great scenario during which to plan a special anniversary. My wife wound up planning the special night, and with Liz’s help, we had a nice dinner at the Crawdads Café’, great seats behind home plate… and a signed baseball. I’m not sure how much she knew her kindness provided needed therapy for me at the time.
Liz had a lot to do with my employment with the Crawdads. In fact, it was she that lined up an interview for me with the general manager at the time. (After 5 seasons of tarp pulls, I’m still not sure if I should’ve kissed her, or slugged her… don’t worry, she’d laugh and get the joke.)
For games, I was put in the press box and for five seasons, she was my colleague. She ran the scoreboard, inputted stuff I needed for the videoboard. Basically, she was my right arm in running the press box during the four years I ran it.
It’s probably here that I should mention – for those that don’t know Liz – that she spent her life in a wheelchair. She dealt with an arm’s-length list of physical ailments with which no one should have to deal. The fact that she lived for 30 years was, in and of itself, a miracle.
A story I heard about Liz after she had passed had to do with her no longer needed a wheelchair in heaven. It is said that Liz didn’t care so much about that. For, in heaven, no one would care that she would be in a wheelchair. There’s a part of me that thinks Liz would be okay with a reality of eternity in her wheelchair, because she embraced life being in it.
Liz wanted no pity… no! None of that! Liz wanted to be treated like everyone else. One of the genuine joys of my life was when Liz allowed me to pop wheelies with her in the chair down the hall in the Crawdads front office. I laugh even now as I type this.
Part of that “being treated like everyone else” included the occasional argument, as will happen during a five-month, minor-league season. It’d be hot in that press box in the summer, she’d mess up and I’d get on her, and she’d give it back. She’d get mad at something I did and I yelled back. That’s what she wanted – nothing special, just treat her like everyone else. She fiercely defended her independence.
I remember with fondness a bet I had to pay off, when my alma mater – Cal State Fullerton – lost to North Carolina in the College World Series. Here was Liz, driving in her van and parking at Ham’s, maneuvering into the lot and the restaurant, ready to be paid off handsomely with whatever her heart desired to eat that afternoon. I loved paying off the bet, because I know she would’ve hated to pay it off if she had lost. But pay it off she would have.
Liz went on to a position at St. Luke’s as the Director of Lay Ministry. It was a job she was made for. It was there she worked when she passed.
A testament to Liz was a full sanctuary of easily 700-800 people, all dressed in Carolina blue. Even the diehard NC State fans donned the hated blue. That’s the type of person she was.
When I think of people who have inspired me to be better in life, Liz Helms is at the top of my list. It is not because of what she overcame; it is because she lived life on her own terms. Isn’t that what we should all do?
I miss you Liz.