WORDS, WORDS: My beloved wife, Sue, the light of my life, is dead.
In all my half-century-plus in newspaper work, after many thousands of words, this is the hardest column I ever wrote and no doubt my last.
Sue was the happiest woman I ever knew. She always woke up with a smile and headed out to feed her cats, put out the flag of the day, and uncovered the tarp from her curbside free library.
It had been a wonderful day. We had coffee at her favorite spot, shopped for food for one of her special dishes, and spent the rest of the day on the front porch of our San Roque home she loved so much.
She read on the sofa, cradled her cat, black-and-white Figaro, a stray that adopted her, and talked with her brother Peter about another of her front-yard projects.
Later, as we lolled on the deck in the gloaming, we decided that it was a perfect night for our annual martini: gin, a splash of vermouth, and a tiny onion.
Life seemed perfect. Sue waited until she was 50 to marry, and I was the lucky guy who’d come to do research in the News-Press library where she worked. She was impressed at the time and effort I spent, though I paid little attention to this kid in jeans.
Sue was a Bishop High grad and former journalism student at Santa Barbara City College, and she was a star athlete at both schools. After that you might have seen this slim, pretty woman on TV getting her head smashed in at the roller derby.
Through hard work she became head librarian. Finally, after staff cuts, she was left to do the work alone, but she loved it until the day she resigned.
At first, Sue couldn’t cook, spoiled by the steaming Italian dinners her parents, Peter and Vivian De Lapa, served up. But gradually, thanks to her usual enthusiasm, TV shows, and dozens of cookbooks she collected, she became a highly skilled cook and tackled demanding French and Italian recipes.
The results she would happily share with friends, family, and neighbors, sometimes leaving a slice or two for me. She never forgot a birthday, even when people failed to remember hers. And she always took time to respect the date of her parents’ deaths and that of her late brother, David.
Sue was generous, ready to give away something a person admired, so generous that I would tell her, “One day I’ll come home and the house will be bare.”
When the garbage men rolled by or our gardeners started mowing, she was quick to put out pitchers of ice water.
On Saturdays she’d set out with her friend Sandy and hit the Carpinteria thrift shops, returning joyfully to show off the bargains, a morning of fun for less than $10.
Sue dreamed of being a homeowner, a dream that came true after we met. I had owned a home, but when it came time to sell and move on, we signed escrow papers with our friend, realtor Diane Waterhouse, and set out for a new place. Diane drove us to a San Roque home, and we got out. “That’s it,” Sue said. “A long driveway, a big garage, and a front porch.”
“Don’t you even want to see the inside before deciding?” I asked.
“No, that’s it.” And it was. She planted tomatoes, created a Sacred Space in the back with Peter’s help, and they later built a front-yard patio, complete with fire ring and a row of chairs, where she loved to sit and read, cat on her lap.
With an opera singer father, Sue grew up with the great arias in her ears. The classical music station, KUSC, played all day.
Sue was an amateur photographer, and her photos often adorned my column, although she was very modest about her work — and everything else.
Late that delightful day I described, Sue suffered a fatal heart attack. (Thanks to paramedics, firefighters, and police who responded and the caring people at Cottage Hospital.)
There are tears in my eyes as I write this and pain in my heart because I will never again enjoy life with this wonderful woman who relished every day. A celebration of her life may be announced later.