Bent Branches and Illogical Consequences

Late Sunday afternoon Lin Brimeyer re-entered my life, and it couldn’t have come any time too soon. She came by printed page thanks to her husband, Jack, who had promised to publish a booklet of their too-short life together. Sunday was the 25th anniversary of Lin’s death at age 45 due to cancer. It had been awhile. Lin and I hadn’t seen one another since their wedding at Eagle Point Park overlooking the Mississippi River in Dubuque over Memorial Day weekend in 1972. I took pictures for their wedding.

Lin was a young woman embedded with an old soul, and for some reason those rare folks aren’t around us for very long. Rarely long enough. When she hugged you she enveloped you with that inner soul, wrapping you with comfort and joy. Jack and I were “cub” reporters at the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, and for a time we were roommates. When Lin and Jack walked down the street in front of you it was hard to guess who was who for both had beautiful, long brown hair women envied that reached nearly to their waists. Eventually I would move on to the Denver Post, and Jack would leave a few years later to become the managing editor of the Peoria Star Journal. 

Lin had a wonderful outlook on life, and never seemed to take illogical consequences too seriously, which bode well for me on Sunday. The afternoon before I had just returned from a five-day stay in a hospital with Covid, and where I spent too much time contemplating life, along with irrational thoughts of what my son might see if he picked up my old Nikon were I to die. Would the last picture be worthy? Unworthy of being saved? Indeed, the wile and ways of illogical consequences, like a mother worrying if her child had on clean underwear in case of being hit by a fire truck.

My last image from my April 11 foray to Big Stone Lake State Park, taken on a wetland just north of my Listening Stones Farm …

“If you’re going to obsess, save it for something truly important and work is usually not that important,” was among the thoughts Lin had shared with Jack over the years.  

You see, Lin had many such views concerning life which Jack shared in his booklet: and a piece read at her memorial service explains a lot about her, a piece written by Dick Schneider and published in Family Guideposts in 1981: “They say that if you creep into an evergreen forest late at night you can hear the trees talking. In the whisper of the wind you’ll catch the older pines explaining to the younger ones why they’ll never be perfectly shaped. There will always be a bent branch here, a gap there …”

Besides the numerous eulogies, milestones and anecdotes he shared in his beautiful booklet, he included a number of “Lin-isms” they shared that said so much about her philosophies of life, a life she had devoted to helping others both personally and through her career in social work. Among them:

Love your family unconditionally; they’re the best you’ll ever get. If people offer to help, it’s your duty to let them. You should dance on a table at least once. When in doubt, plant more flowers. All you Redhats: You can never overdo Christmas. Things done at the last moment are somehow more gratifying. Don’t judge people harshly; they’re probably doing that themselves. The fun of fishing is lost when you actually hook something. You can never have too many books. It’s not enough to simply love someone; you must be able to tell them why. When you’re under a lot of stress, you’ll probably wreck your car. It’s best to have many best friends. Serve more food than anyone can eat and don’t forget the rolls. Time spent on the phone with friends is not deducted from your total allotment. If you put in a swimming pool, size it for family and friends, not for yourself. Take long walks but never alone. Every vacation must include a visit to a flower garden. Always carry aspirin. Newspaper people are much nicer than other people think. Anything made by your mother is better. Don’t throw out memories; rent more space if you have to. Islands are always better than the mainland. It’s OK to have lots of stuff. Nephews and nieces are never boring. Be sure to designate a favorite aunt. For really relaxing music, turn on a purring cat. You should never be too busy to listen and never too scared to talk. Weed barriers don’t work, dammit. Let others in on your dreams. We’ll never stop needing toys. It’s mostly in the genes and that’s not fair. Dirty jokes are usually funnier. Chocolate is best at breakfast. When you stop learning, you stop. Never rush a river, for rivers have a flow of their own.

My first image on the foray, of fishermen at the State Park access. Taken the evening before I was admitted to the Sandford Hospital in Sioux Falls with Covid.

And then there was this one Jack wrote that they both learned after attending too many funerals where the dead person was never mentioned in human terms, and sometimes not even by their known name: Remember the dead with laughter if you can, and tears if you must. But do remember them.

For some reason, two really struck home: “Never rush a river, for rivers have a flow of their own.” And, “Islands are more interesting the mainlands.”

Over the years I’ve been more “island” than “mainland,” and I never felt either more alive or free than when I was a freelancer, when every moment and conversation seemed loaded with possibilities. Years later, when working as an editor for a magazine in an office, the “mainland” was a grind, seemingly staid and stifling. Some sense of freedom returned after moving to the prairie to run the small country weekly, which I “married” to a coordinator’s position with an international student exchange program. I had found the freedom to write and photograph whatever I wanted along with earning international travel and making friends all over the world. We were also surrounded by a river valley of people who themselves were “islands” off the “mainland” of humanity. This became home, and remains so for that very reason.

My second image … a murmuration at the entrance of the park …

There, too, is a natural rhythm of life … a river, if you will … that plays itself out within the currents of time. Moments come when the currents are narrowed, becoming rolling rapids over boulders of stress at the height of a stream. We, too, edge into eddies from time to time, yet somehow ease back into an ever flowing current. Never rush a river.

For some scary moments laying in the hospital bed I did obsess over some things of serious nature … including fears that a rough rapids could occur quickly. Perhaps my fear of death from Covid was a bit overwrought. And while there were alternatives to laying in thought (especially of those silly illogical consequences), or staring out a window at a barren sky … which I did on occasion on my last afternoon … mine was a quiet room, an eddy in time, and I rested in relative comfort in realizing that the staff was comforting, professional and caring.

I hadn’t met up again with Lin Brimeyer as yet, but when we did gather the following afternoon she came with a smile and a soul deep with understanding and care. Just as I remember her doing all those years back in the past.

My third image was of a lone tree on the crest of a ravine …

Toward the end of her life, Lin and Jack found an old part of a oak-shaded cemetery where they secured a plot, and where he would place a marble tombstone onto which he had etched an Emily Dickenson poem, one so appropriate to her enriched and beautiful soul:

“If I can stop one heart from breaking, 

I shall not live in vain; 

If I can ease one life the aching, 

Or cool one pain, 

Or help one fainting robin 

Unto his nest again, 

I shall not live in vain.”

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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