I will begin my column this week by apologizing to Gwen Gingles and Johnny Gingles. In the story I did last week on the Penny Grocery and Johnny’s family, I inaccurately stated that Gwen and Rob Gingles were married in 1951. That, in fact, was the year Johnny was born, and Gwen and Rob had been married many years before. I was so absorbed in being accurate in naming all of Johnny’s descendants, and I obviously skimmed over this date.

If I had been thinking clearly, I would have known that since I was born in 1949 and Johnny is a few years younger than I am, this would have been his birth year. Even though this caused some laughter in the Gingles’ family, I cringed when I realized my mistake and am thankful I did get all the ancestors’ names correct. It proves that no matter how much you concentrate and proofread, small things do get overlooked, and once it is in print, there is no going back.

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My heart has been heavy this past week because I lost someone who was a very special friend, Gayle Foster.

Gayle and I had not been in touch for many years, but that did not keep me from remembering all the years we were close friends. Again, cancer reared its ugly head and took someone much too young.

Gayle’s youngest daughter, Ellen, and my youngest son, Shane, were the same age, and one of my earliest recollections of Gayle was when both the kids were attending Ann Carr’s Child Development Center at Murray State for 3- and 4-year olds. (It wasn’t named after Ann Carr, but that is what we all called it). Gayle and I took turns carpooling the kids to preschool. During that time, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” had hit the scene and all the kids were crazy about the music. Gayle and I were both in possession of the “Thriller” cassette (yes, this was before CDs), and every time we took the kids to school or picked them up, we had to play the “Thriller” cassette so the two of them could sing along.

Not only did our two children attend school together until they were in high school, but Gayle and I became friends, playing tennis and bridge and hanging out at the Murray Country Club pool in the summers. Gayle and I co-chaired the Women’s Tennis Association at the club. During that time, there was a large group of women who played tennis each week.

Gayle loved a party and loved people. She would always come up with a reason to throw a party to get people together. She loved to organize – not only a party, but a night out to dinner with friends, or even a weekend trip. One year, she organized a cruise for several couples from Murray.

And she loved her daughters. No matter what they were involved with, Gayle was there to support them and provide a taxi service to and from any event.

She loved Murray State football and basketball and we spent many hours, not only at Murray State games, but Murray High games where her oldest daughter, Stacey, was a cheerleader.

She drove me to Nashville for a chemotherapy treatment when I was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She sat with me for the several hours it took to receive the treatment, and entertained the other patients receiving chemo.

One of the many memorable events I shared with Gayle was when she accompanied me to the Atlanta Merchandise Mart in Atlanta, Georgia. She had, of course, never been, and she was pretty excited about going. I tried to tell her it was a lot of walking and long days, but I was thankful she had agreed to go with me. I was not one to drive to Atlanta on my own.

We arrived in Atlanta and checked into our hotel a few blocks from the Merchandise Mart and were ready to hit the sales floors early the next morning. There were temporary exhibits in one area of the market and I knew that in many of these, the vendors sold samples, and I thought this would be something Gayle would enjoy. I walked with her to where the temporary exhibits were located, all the time showing her how to get back to a designated spot to meet me for lunch. There are thousands of people at these large markets and the floors can become crowded, especially in the temporary vendors area.

At noon, I went to the designated meeting place and started watching for Gayle as hundreds of other people passed. I began to see someone in the distance and they were holding some large items trying to weave their way through the crowd. As that person approached closer to where I was waiting, I realized it was Gayle and she was carrying three large pieces of luggage – this was before luggage came with wheels.

Exhausted, she saw me, dropped the luggage and began to tell me how excited she was about purchasing the luggage and what a great price she had paid for them. I let her continue, and when she finished, I asked her a simple question: “What are you going to do with all that luggage for the rest of the day?” A light-bulb moment occurred, and I could tell she had not thought that far in advance.

I told her she would have to walk back to the hotel with the luggage and put it in our room. She was a bit hesitant because she wasn’t sure how to get back to our hotel or back to the market. I walked with her to the door and pointed in the direction of the hotel and told her I would wait for her inside the door. My feet were going to be very tired by the end of the day, and I didn’t wish to add more mileage to them by accompanying her to the hotel and back. She managed to get the luggage to the hotel and found her way back, and we laughed about this for many years.

If you ever traveled or dined out with Gayle, you knew that her first thought was dessert/sweets. In a restaurant, she was known to order dessert before a meal. If she had room for something to eat after dessert, then she would order a meal. Or, she would look at the dessert menu first to see if they had something she wanted and if so, she would order a meal accordingly, knowing she was having dessert.

When she traveled, especially when she drove, she would stop at a convenience store and buy chocolate – chocolate of any kind and more than one. She would line them up beside her on the seat so they were ready for her to grab easily.

Gayle’s world was rocked to her core and we spent many hours together talking, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. She, Ellen and Stacey eventually moved to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to be close to Gayle’s family. She decided to go back to college, but while doing so, she also had to work. She picked herself up, decided to finish college, enrolled in school, found a job, and during this time, the girls were still in school.

I think Gayle’s memories of Murray were mixed. It was one of the happiest times in her life, and yet also one of the saddest. She left and never returned.

She and I kept in touch and when I moved to Nashville, she and I reconnected. I went to family dinners with her, and even though I had met her mother years before this, I had a chance to get to know her brothers and their families. It was when I made the move to the Netherlands that we lost touch and even though I tried to reconnect a few times, it never happened. I understood in many ways, yet I missed my friend and thought of her often.

It is so ironic and very sad that for this past year, a few of her friends in Murray had discussed finding her and showing up unexpectedly to see her. Looking back now, I wished we had pursued this more urgently. It goes to prove that you never know what will happen, even in a  day.

It breaks my heart that she went through chemo and I wasn’t there to support her as she had supported me. If only I had known, but again, “life” gets in the way and you think about doing something, but fail to follow through.

I wished Gayle had known there were many in Murray who truly cared about her, and I think she did, but just chose to “leave it all behind her.”

I cannot imagine how hard this has been on her daughters and how much they will miss her. I hope she was the same spontaneous, happy, funny woman that I knew years ago. I know her girls and grandchildren were the light of her life.

This is just another lesson in not putting off something you intend to do, especially when it comes to friends. If any of you have been thinking of reconnecting with a friend, do it now so there are no regrets. Cherish those friendships because often times, friends are closer to you than family and know you better. I will always regret that I did not see my friend one last time.

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Another great lady of Murray has passed – Jean Blankenship. I knew Jean for many years, probably dating back to when she was the director of the American Red Cross.

She and Macon were an amazing couple and I always enjoyed being around them. For me, she was one of Murray’s “true ladies.”

Jean would call me from time-to-time since I have been working at the Ledger & Times, and I always enjoyed her phone calls. Jean was very active in this community for many years and she did not let her “late” years keep her from still being involved as much as she could. The last time I saw Jean was at the Murray Magazine Club when I was the guest speaker. She looked so attractive that day and was in the best of spirits.

My condolences to Mark and Beth and their families. She was a very outstanding, sweet, caring, attractive woman that will always be remembered by all those who had the privilege of knowing her.

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