It was an extraordinary Summer. My childhood friend, Keith Granger, and I took the first flight of our lives. We flew from Atlanta to St. Louis where we changed planes before continuing to Salt Lake City. From there, we drove four hours south with a total stranger in a station wagon.
We arrived in Koosharem, Utah about dusk. It was a working horse ranch nestled in an enormous grass valley near Bryce and Zion National Parks. It was a 13 year old boy’s idea of paradise.
Koos Kamp was a co-educational camp. Every kid there was from California except for Keith and myself. Boys stayed in small wooden cabins headed up by 17 year old counselors. All the girls stayed in the main lodge.
It was rough and rustic and every bit a working ranch. I canoed on the Colorado River, and took multi-day camping trips on horseback. You could ride for miles without coming across a fence. It seemed like the world went on forever.
This trip was a gift to me from my Aunt Cat. She lived in Whittier, California at the time and two of her children had already experienced Koos Kamp. Just as my cousins would come to Compass Lake to experience the south, she thought it would be good for me to experience the west in general, and California kids in particular.
Catharine Beall Byrd passed away this week just four days shy of her 90th birthday. Mary Lou and I had planned to celebrate her birthday with her and her family. Instead, we will travel to Vancouver, Washington to celebrate her amazing life.
As I reflect on her life I am mindful of several of the lessons that she taught me though she lived a continent away for most
of my life.
First, she and my mother, who was three years younger, were amazingly close. For the past three or four decades they have always taken a “Sisters” trip together each year. Just the two of them exploring the world. Their bonds were never weakened by distance, because they worked at being sisters and because of the love they shared for each other.
Second, she loved Compass Lake having grown up on the lake as a child just as I did. Her family made many trips back to the lake. She had planned to come with my mother this year, but Hurricane Michael changed those plans. Her grandchildren have made the trek to the lake many Summers as well. One of them, McCageor Byrd, or “Cage” as he is called, will be married the same weekend she is buried. Such is the cycle of life.
Third, she loved her husband and family. She and Uncle Bill were married for 67 years. That was one more year than her parents were married. Her grandparents were married for over 60 years as well. Commitment. Love. Honor. That is what I think about when I think of their marriage.
Finally, Aunt Cat was a Presbyterian, as I have been for over 30 years. We both served as Elders and would often discuss the changing face of the church in today’s world. Hers was a life of unshakable faith despite the challenges that came to her over her long life.
Great sisters get promoted to aunt. My Aunt Cat fit the bill on both accounts. She was a wonderful, loving and caring mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. But to her family back south, she was a lifelong friend to her sister and a lifelong inspiration to her nephews and nieces.
Now she gets her final promotion. She and Uncle Bill can celebrate that they are together again and will be for all eternity.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org