In Memoriam: Kathryn Stripling Byer

Kathryn Stripling Byer
IN MEMORIAM

 

A poet who sang, who shared, but above all, who inspired.

 

I have a clear memory from the end of a British Lit course in college: we were packing up our things, and the professor called me to the podium to hand back a poem I’d given him the week before. “It’s good,” he said. “And the poet of the house likes it, too.”

The professor was easily among my favorites, and as anyone knows by now a young writer handing his verse to an inspiring teacher needs only “good” to make his day. But the second part–the part about the poet of the house–meant even more.

That poet, Kathryn Stripling Byer, would later become the first female Poet Laureate of North Carolina and a member of our state’s Literary Hall of Fame. She passed away today after a brief illness. Continue reading “In Memoriam: Kathryn Stripling Byer”

Good Dog.

Zoe in 2012
FAMILY

Of life, and death, and a dog that was there for so much of it.

When I came downstairs last night to check on the dogs and lock up the basement, I had a sense that something wasn’t going to be right.

It had been a beautiful Saturday, warm and bright, and I’d spent the day working in the yard, putting out mulch and cleaning things up. The kids joined me at times, swinging and running around the yard, but most of the day it was just the dogs and me. Taylor, our youngest dog (although still coming up on her tenth birthday), followed me around. Zoe, our oldest, mostly slept in the sun.

Zoe, whom Kelly adopted in 2002, had had a rough go of it for the last six weeks. Just after the Christmas holiday, I’d come home to find her hobbling around on three legs, one of her back legs jutting out at an awkward angle. A trip to the vet confirmed only grim details: it would take surgery to fix the leg, and given that she was nearly 15 years of age and that she’d developed an obvious heart murmur, there wasn’t much point. Continue reading “Good Dog.”

Looking for Jan O’Brien

WCU's Jan O'Brien
IN MEMORIAM

 

 

A journey to say goodbye to a campus legend–before it’s too late.

UPDATE, DECEMBER 5, 2016: Western Carolina University announced today that Jan O’Brien had passed away. It’s important to note this story is about the summer of 2014, when Jan’s passing was erroneously reported.

Jan will always be a cherished part of my college years, and I am deeply saddened to hear she’s passed away. I will always be grateful, however, of the chance I got to tell her how important she was to so many of us before it was too late.  –jdh

*****

THIS STORY BEGINS SIXTEEN YEARS AGO, the fall of 1998, when I was a high school senior visiting my college sophomore girlfriend at Western Carolina. We were kids, so we were drawn like moths to the flame by the on-campus Chick-fil-a, where fried chicken sandwiches wrapped in foil bags sat under heat lamps, waiting for us to collect them and pay for them with a mysterious and seemingly inexhaustible supply of declining balance points.

We’d gathered our meals and headed for check-out, and that’s the first time I met Jan O’Brien, the infamous register attendant in the University Center food court. She was an older lady, short but strong stature, white, curly hair, and a vibrant smile, which she flashed warmly to me. “Hello, sweetheart!” she said.

“Hi, Jan!” Kelly said back to her.

I grinned. “What, no ‘sweetheart’ for me?”

She laughed, and then she called me sweetheart. We chatted, and then we checked out, and we ate, and the next year I came back to Western Carolina as a freshman. Jan was still there, and she called me sweetheart. She called me that for the next four years. Continue reading “Looking for Jan O’Brien”