Thank you all for coming to celebrate the life of Kay Wright. It’s hard to put 87 years into a handful of words – so bear with me if I jump and start and even get lost.
If you don’t already know, I’m Catharine – or Cathie as Mom nicknamed me – her eldest daughter. There are several other members of Kay’s immediate family here today – my sister Claudia, my son Austin, and my step-siblings Lewie, Janie and Bobby with their extended families.
I knew the sweetness of Kay’s heart before I took my first breath – listening as I grew deep inside her body. It was her loving heart that touched all of us … that’s why we’re here today. I can feel her presence inside each and every one of you.
Mama Kay was born in Long Beach in 1927 to Harold and Gretchen Stevenson. Her elementary years were spent living with her grandparents in Azusa, where Grandmother Catharine taught her to sew and Grandfather Adolf let her follow him around the ranch – where he taught her at 11 how to snap the neck of the chicken that was to be that night’s dinner. Boy, she was tougher than I am!
Back to Long Beach, mom was a flag girl, a cheerleader, and president of the Girl’s Athletic League at Long Beach Poly. She went on to study at USC, where she pledged Pi Beta Phi sorority, excelled in her studies and fell in love with acting. She had many staring roles in the Community Theatre.
One day, while waiting for a bus, a handsome young man in a Cadillac convertible offered the pretty lady a ride. She said ¬– no – but Crofton Cooper persisted. They were married a few months later.
I was born on my mother’s 22nd birthday – and changed her life forever. In succession, she added my brother Gly and my sister Claudia. She smothered us in love.
Whenever people asked mom what she did, she replied proudly, that she was a homemaker. Kay cherished her family – her children – and their lives above all else. She loved to entertain – and was always the perfect hostess – dressed for the event – not a hair out of place – and she made sure that everyone had what they needed – a cocktail, some food, and stimulating conversation.
In 1956, the family moved to Laguna Beach. With her kids in elementary school, she jumped right into Brownies, Girls Scouts and the PTA – President of them all – as well as the Laguna Beach Community Chest.
Dad bought a boat – so mom, being mom – took up navigation and became the female commodore of the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club. Summers were spent moored in Catalina – and the grownups weren’t the only ones to party 🙂
When her marriage to Crofton fell apart, money was tight. Kay hunkered down, got a job at the County Welfare Department and worked with troubled young girls – while simultaneously trying to mange her own three unruly teenagers. A daunting task in the drug-riddled 60s. We were not easy kids …
And then … along came … Mr. Wright …
Lewis was the magic that filled out the rest of Kay’s life.
Together they loved and struggled with their children, enjoyed their Bridge hands, improved their golf games, embraced their ever-expanding friendships, and traveled the globe.
Whenever there was a family problem – and with six kids between them and a handful of grandkids you know there were plenty – they’d quietly put their heads together and figure out the best way to help without hindering.
Lewie had an olive tree ranch in Murietta, and with Kay at his side, they added a level of animal husbandry – farming chickens, pigs and cattle. Mom had piglets coming out of the wazoo – chickens that laid eggs faster than she could possibly eat them, and an overflow of ribs, steaks and roasts. She even learned to drive the tractor and was quite the scene mowing the south 40!
After a lot of good times – and there were so many – 2005 was a tough year.
First, their Laguna Beach home of 40 years tumbled down the hill in the Bluebird landslide. They had barely settled into a friends home to recover from the loss when my brother, Gly, passed away. His death was unexpected, and a horrible hit for my mother. I think it was the impetus for their moving to Laguna Woods. Mom was desperate to feel ‘at home’ again – and the Woods provided a sense of security and safety – as well as a single story home – a blessing for aging knees and hips.
Three years ago, the love of her life had a stroke, and Mom – as always – refused to be beaten down. She was committed to his recovery and coached him through physical and mental exercises that brought Lewie back.
Two years ago, Mom finally decided that she ‘learn about that email.’ After some playful time in the Apple store (I told her to pretend she was 12) she purchased an iPad. The world of texting opened up between us – and her fears of the technology disappeared as she added Nook books, on-line Bingo, crossword puzzles – and was able to track her women’s golf club, jokes from her girlfriends, and updates from family members. When my sister added messaging, we had fun with 3-way conversations – from laundry discussions to shared recipes.
When Lewie passed away a year and half ago, mom was devastated. She’d lost the love of her life – and she’d never lived alone. The silly jigsaw puzzles we’d done with Lewie, became a kind of grief-diversion – along with a cocktail, watching jeopardy and a simple shared dinner.
Last year Mom and I took a trip to Idaho to celebrate my sister’s birthday. With my dog, Buster, in the backseat and mom riding shotgun, we took to the highway. First stop was Bishop to visit a college girlfriend, then on through the meandering back roads of Nevada, where she oohed and ahhed over the blue blue sky and the vast expanse of clouds. Nothing quite as entertaining as checking into a motel with a dog, an 86 year old woman, 2 suitcases, a computer bag, and a cooler for the wine.
This year, she wanted to make sure I did exactly what I wanted for my 65th birthday (remember, we shared the birthdate and most of our annual celebrations). I told her what I really wanted was for her and my sister to come to my house in Baja for a week. She surprised the hell out of me by saying – sounds great! She got a new passport, Buster got his ‘air pass’, Claudia figured out her flight connections, and we spent a week by the water, with tacos – wine instead of beer, great meals with neighbors, another jigsaw puzzle – some amazing sunrises –and a Bridge game in town with my friends.
In August, we took one last trip together – again, for my sister’s birthday flying to Idaho. Kay rode the gondola to the top of Baldy Mountain and took in the high mountain air and breathtaking views. The three of us had a tie-dye session – something she’d never done – and she folded, tied and created beautiful scarves and hand towels, basking with joy in her new found skill. Afterwards, I bought her watercolors, and she painted lovely cards and sent them to friends.
There are three things you need to know about my mom.
She did the crossword puzzle every single day.
Her first scent was first Shalimar – in midlife, she shifted to Pavlova.
She never left the house without putting on lipstick – her color – coral.
In the last weeks of her life, mom seemed upbeat – pissed off about golf – she kept threatening to quit and then she’d go back out. She’d recently amped up her bridge to two or three times a week.
She’d been to her doctor and he told her she was in great shape … not to come back until February. Over the weekend she planted out her garden.
She texted me that she felt ‘weirder than she’d ever remembered’ – but thought it was bad food. I asked her if she was sure she was okay – but she was more concerned about a headache I’d been fighting …
I told I’d have a fabulous day surfing and that everything was fine.
Her last text to me – “Good. Now I know that you are okay.”
Her last voice mail that evening: “I love you.”
She went to sleep that Sunday evening and left us during the night.
There is nothing simple or easy or good about losing a parent – especially a mother. She’s the one who’s always there for you – the rock – the one who loves you when you crash her car or embarrass the hell out of her. She loves you unconditionally. She knows you inside and out. She’d walk through fire for you.
And when she’s gone …………… it’s all about the memories – and how she lives on in your heart.
When I think of Mama Kay – I see her sparkling blue eyes and her face-wide smile. I feel her hands on my shoulders, her soft lips on my cheek. I hear her telling me, “Everything will work out just fine.” I think about all the love she shared with everyone – the kindness and caring – how she loved and upheld me and her family and her friends through the hardest of times.
I love you Mama Kay – and will miss you now and in every moment for the rest of my life. May you rest in peace…
And if there is golf in heaven, I hope you are giving Lewie a chance to remember just how good it can be…
Catharine, this story about your mother is so loving and such a good read. I enjoy knowing about the dedication you and your mother had for each other… And, I’m envious, too, as my mother died at 44.
You have always been such a good writer and artist, and now I know you as wonderful daughter.
You know me from the Laguna Beach Festival of Art, as I was a friend of Hal Lambert, and a volunteer who helped build and sit art booths. I always remember your smile and talent, and now I know you even better…! Thank you, and God Bless you! Eric Swenson
Your kind words have touched me deeply – the loss of my mother occured well before I was ready. I can hear her argue, however, that she never ended up in the hospital or as a burden to her children (her fears). And yes, of course I remember you 🙂 Such a respectful gentleman. I’m back this year at the Festial – with a very different body of work. Hope to see you. Thank you again … Catharine