We were friends before Facebook. Before selfies. Before the world got angry.
She was more than my friend. She was my confidant.
She was the original vault. Anything said in her presence stayed locked up tight.
She was a nurse long before nurses were issued cell phones and constantly distracted with incessant paging devices. She had a PhD in compassion and kindness, and God protect anyone who stood between her and her patient (and they were her patients). When she phoned a doctor to discuss “her” patient, the doctor listened and prescribed the plan of treatment she suggested. She never made a wrong diagnosis with her patients. Care taking was her gift and God himself poured so much kindness and compassion into her that patients pitched royal hell-fits just to get her to take care of them when we worked for the Health Department and Home Health Agency.
She taught me to pump my body full of water before blood draws to lessen any complications. She was full of little tricks like that to help you, her patient. She took her time with every patient. The watch she wore was for checking your heart rate, never her schedule. She was respected, and that’s a word you don’t hear much these days.
She was Katherine Nordling, and I often called her mother.
Her life was filled with pain. For decades. But she never complained, and I mean never. I recall one particular surgery where the doctor fit a huge metal square-shaped stabilizer, fused it to her noggin’ in order to keep her head from turning as she healed.
She wasn’t supposed to drive, but she did. Somehow managing to get that monstrosity into the car, without ripping her silly head off, because sometimes a woman’s gotta get the Sam Hill out of the house.
She never raised her voice. Ever. She got her point across, clearly, without raising a single tone in her velvet voice. That soothing voice was a balm to my soul.
I’d oft visit her house. We were prone to spend hours on the couch. Shoes off, socked-feet curled beneath us. That’s the kind of friend I need. The kind of friend I will miss.
Friends like that are rapidly disappearing and what’s worse, they aren’t being replaced. These days, folk are too busy taking selfies to give a tinker’s durned about anything other than themselves.
Katherine had 15 seconds of fame. A call for automobiles went out during the filming of the Fugitive in my tiny hometown of Bryson City. They needed a nice car, faux traffic in our tiny town. That’s Eric and Katherine Nordling driving a gold car across the RR tracks through Bryson as Harrison Ford escapes. You can’t see her, but I know she’s there, in a movie!
She was the first person I called when I thought I was going into labor. She said, again in that calm voice, “I think you should take a shower, and then go to the hospital. Take your time. Don’t be in a rush.”
She spoke often about the ways of the earth, of gardening. She loved roses, iris, and daffodils. She told me – often – that I should come pull up some of her flowers. She knew about my flower rescues, having rescued several herself when she was able. She was a lover of beans: green beans, pinto beans . . . didn’t matter. Last year I was talking about my bean planting and how I had crammed as many as physically possible into my deck planters.-the same planters my husband had built specifically for flowers-Katherine spoke the most charming phrase, “My philosophy is, pull up a weed and plant a bean.”
We laughed, and every time I pull weeds I remember her advice.
She loved me like I was her daughter, and she knew that there were many times I wished she were my mother.
She moved in with her daughter yet maintained as much independence as possible. She was fierce with that independence, all while knowing that eventually, the degeneration caused by surgeries and steroids would eventually lead her to depend on her daughter. She knew she was failing, knew the moment when her health started taking a slow spiral years ago. She knew because she was a nurse, knew what to expect and that her future was pain-filled. But, again, Katherine didn’t complain about the pain. It was part of her life, part of the path she had to walk to get her to Jesus.
She never forgot my birthday, ever. She remembered my daughter’s birthday also. One might not think a simple card matters, but I saved every one she ever mailed.
My heart seems to remain in a constant state of brokenness these days. I know that Katherine is with Jesus now. Her fight is over. I like to believe that we-the faithful- get to petition Jesus when we get to heaven; get to send a little help down to those who remain on earth. As I type, storm clouds have gathered. Rain is coming. We have waited for months, suffered through four weeks of wildfires. I like to think that Katherine has whispered in that soothing voice, “Jesus, you know they could use a little rain.”
Because today I planted beans in her honor, a winter crop. Today I decided to rip up the weeds of grief and plant some beans.
Katherine, I love you and I will miss you every day until I see you again.
Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of: Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches (Mercer University Press, 2014. Print only-sadly, no e-book version); In the Garden with Billy: Lessons about Life, Love & Tomatoes (Little Creek Books, 2008) (e-book and print); and Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half Truths from Appalachia (Make Your Mark Publishing) (electronic version only).