When the phone rings shortly after 6:30 on a Sunday morning it is sharp and sudden and sinks straight to the gut. There is seldom good news at such hours and the fact that my stepmother was in Arizona rapidly losing a fast fight with cancer made the sound of the phone all the more ominous. My wife found it in the dark and answered quiet and simply, putting condolences where a greeting should be.
“I’m so sorry,” she said into the morning glow of a phone against her cheek. And then I was on it, not hearing what my sister was saying, and hanging on her every word.
Jan Lawson Honea died around four in the morning with my father by her side. They had been married 17 years, celebrating their anniversary just one week earlier.
I was an adult, or what passes for one at the age of 23, when they married, and most of the years between now and then have been spent bouncing around from place to place, but Jan and my dad found their spot immediately and they stuck to it. Their home provided an anchor upon which we were tethered, and we were always welcomed with smiles, sunshine and something cold to drink.
Jan had children of her own, also grown well before she met my father, and over the years came grandchildren to spoil and nurture. She was always kind and quick with a laugh, and though the moments were far too few when my boys came to visit, she made each of them matter.
She believed in the community where they lived and worked hard to its advantage. It is the community in which my father was raised and his before him. My sister and I were brought up there, too. We played for years between a patchwork of cotton fields and dry deserts pulled upward toward distant mountains and sherbet sunsets. My father is the mayor there, and has been for years. It was through their mutual investment in the community of Marana that they met, their love grew, and the town right along with it.
Towns, however, tend to last much longer than people, and all we can do is our best and hope that it makes a difference. Jan did, and she has.
Love is also prone to playing with time, and it dabbles equally in space. Love knows no boundaries but that from the start, and it moves in an endless dance across a home full of smiles, fields ripe with cotton, town limit signs of varying population, and purple mountains stretching toward a bright orange sky.
When I close my eyes I see my father standing in the backyard against the setting sun, his face warm, wet, and bittersweet smiles. He stares forever upward, anchored by his roots and a love tightly tethered, their home still warm from the echoes of her laughter.
Jan Lawson Honea gave us her best, and it has made all the difference. She leaves us always fond and forever thankful.