My friend Andy came into my life by divine providence. You see, I had gone in search of a woman who was my first mentor, the mother of my high school boyfriend. Like my own mother, Ann was smart, dynamic, ivy educated and beautiful. She was all that women were raised to be in the forties before our boys came back from overseas and took back all the opportunity colleges and universities promised them while filling their coffers with tuition money.
Unlike my mother, Ann was not destined to settle into bitter disappointment, bridge games or heavy cocktails. At the time I met her in 1966, she was barefoot, impatient and wound like a top. She had received recent acclaim for her book about rearing four sons in the desert, which was more a study of desert flora, fauna, wolves and reptiles than a reverential soap about Tucson motherhood.
Ann’s dynamism put me in awe and her questions of me pulled me off-center. Her persona challenged every female norm in my well-heeled suburban upbringing; her questions elicited revolutionary answers; and her concept of womanhood was audacious in my eyes. Because of her, I changed my choice of colleges, redefined my major and took the bold first steps into social awareness and political activism that would define my generation.
As a girl of seventeen, I had no way of knowing that when she was questioning me, Ann was questioning herself. At the time she inspired me to make these changes, she was preparing to make them herself. In the following year she left behind a twenty-year marriage and the outward vestiges of a Fifties suburban lifestyle to be with Andy Rush and build an experimental art colony in Oracle. A woman-in-full, she had found her soulmate in Andy, a man of equal completeness who entered adulthood working ranches in Colorado and fulfilled it through expression of his extraordinary gifts as an artist, communicator and social activist, on every possible level. Their forty-two years together were something most people cannot even imagine, let alone aspire to.
I lost contact with Ann when I lost her son. Rather than revisit that story, I am jumping ahead forty years to a time when I decided to find her to thank her for the exponential impact she had on my young life and everyone I touched thereafter. I hired a private investigator and several months later, drove to Tucson and knocked on a stranger’s door. Before I could finish my introductory sentence, Andy said to my amazement, “I have wondered when you would come.” His intimate greeting was the first great magic that entered my life and his. You see, Ann had gone been into a nursing home just weeks before my arrival on the scene, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. Andy was falling fast into a well of despair and here, by an unseen hand, was someone who wanted to fill her heart with stories about the woman who had filled in his.
Over the next eight years, I came to know Ann in great relief during long visits with Andy at the still-vibrant commune in Oracle. In the role like a daughter, I helped Andy care for Ann during her brief visits home, drove him to Hermosillo to celebrate her ninetieth birthday with her Mexican caregivers and when she died, helped him sort her photos and personal papers. Along the way, I gathered up stories, building my own memories as I tapped into his. And I did my best to help Andy navigate complexities that come when illness and death visit a blended family and I watched in awe as he translated grief into fresh inspiration through art.
You may wonder what this has to do with snakes or grass. In brief, just this. My favorite story of Ann is that of her entering her writing studio to find a rattlesnake curled up by the window in the sun. As Andy tells it, she sat down and worked all day beside the snake – comfortable in their respective skins. And the grass, well – Andy’s new found medium is to paint with grass, both as a brush and a mixture. As he tells it, Ann would pluck desert grasses to share with him on their long walks and the grasses keep her close to him these days.