Tuesday, July 10, 2012

FIRST IMPRESSIONS - LASTING IMPRESSIONS

All of us were taught growing up that the first impression that we give to people of ourselves are very important. Once that impression is embedded in a person's mind, it is a long road to change what is an impression to a reality of what kind of person you are and how they think of you.Sometimes that first impression will last forever in some peoples minds.

This is the story of my meeting a lovely lady named Laurie Merta. People who will read this and knew Laurie much better than I did will rightfully think and say to themselves that this guy didn't know Laurie at all. They would be right. Laurie and I crossed paths at most five or six times in our lives. She lived in Washington State while I live in Missouri. As little time as I spent with Laurie though, I have a strong and lasting impression of her in my mind.

Laurie was a friend of my Uncle Dan's. The people that were drawn to my Uncle were all different. Each person that I met had a totally different personality. Laurie was no different by being different. Her longtime partner in life, Craig, was as different from Laurie as Laurie was from everyone else. Then again, like Laurie and myself, Craig and I only crossed paths in person a few times. I have managed to keep in touch with Craig and a few more of my Uncle's friends from the Pacific Northwest so my impression of Craig is about the same reality as my impression of Laurie probably is.

My sister and I made a trek to the northwest to visit my Uncle one summer several years ago. Dan wanted us to meet his friends because he loved them all. We went to the theatre with his friends, went to dinner with his friends. The few days that we spent in the Tacoma area turned into an almost non-stop social calendar with Dan's friends.

Laurie and Craig came over to my uncle's a couple of times during our few days there. My very first impression of Laurie was that she was a lady who put herself out there. I mean WAY out there. While Craig was a little shy and a little quiet, she was very friendly, but Laurie was one to make her presence known as soon as she stepped in a room.

The first time I saw Laurie she came whooshing through the living room and into the kitchen like she lived there herself. She was totally at home and began to welcome people to my uncle's party. Her voice was rather ... well let's just say she projected her voice VERY well. I also began to notice that she would talk about anything. She picked up conversations with people she had not seen in a while like they had just been talking that morning about a subject.

Another thing that I noticed was that people responded to her and her big personality. And then I was introduced to her. To be honest, I was feeling a little intimidated when Jo Anne introduced me to her. Nothing to be intimidated about though. She quickly stuck her hand out straight at me, hard and fast and gave me a good hard handshake and made sure I knew she was sincerely glad to meet me.

The next time I saw Laurie was the next day I think. It was the Fourth of July and we were having a party to celebrate our country's independence. There was a an inlet of water that my Uncle's house looked over. Tacoma was going to shoot off fantastic fireworks display from a barge in the water. It was while we were waiting for the fireworks to begin that I learned to enjoy Laurie.

First off she had a sense of humor that matched her voice and personality. It could be a light hearted sense of humor or more likely a subtle dry sense of humor that was delivered with a straight face as long as she could hold it. Laurie was quit witted and seldom missed a beat when someone said something that could have two or more meanings. She was sharp. She was fast. She was fun.

As we continued to wait for the fireworks show to begin, the Boston Pops came onto the television with their annual performance of the 1812 Overture. Laurie immediately jumped up, turned the volume all the way up on the television got a chopstick and went into her version of how to properly conduct the Boston Pops. Her movements were over exaggerated as she swayed her body back and forth and bobbed her head in stiff movements in all directions with her arms flying back and forth in front of her. It didn't take her long to be completely enveloped in the music. She was feeling it as she was conducting and while all the rest of us were smiling at her, she was getting filled with the music and, I think, a feel for love she had for her country.

When the 1812 Overture was finished, Laurie had beads of sweat on her face that was a little red from the exertion she had just put herself through. While breathing heavily she manages to get out of her mouth "I love that song." That was my impression of Laurie. Unafraid to be herself, but aware of everyone around her and able to make them laugh. Elaine and I continued on our trip after that holiday and wouldn't see Laurie again for awhile, but she, along with all of the other people I met in the Seattle area, was engraved on my mind as a good memory.

The next time I saw Laurie and Craig was anything but a holiday. My Uncle had died and Elaine and I took a train to Seattle to participate in a memorial service for my uncle with his friends and to spread his ashes around a special place where my uncle's partner had his ashes spread when he had died. It would be at the of estate of Jem and Sterling's and all of my uncle's friends would be there, including Laurie and Craig.

I saw another side of Laurie the day of the service. She was very respectful and thoughtful. She was thinking of my uncle, as everyone was. She gave me a hug both before and after the little memorial service and it was clear that both her and Craig had lost a good friend.

After the service, we went to Jem and Sterling's to spread the ashes of my uncle. Laurie walked slowly around the estate finding special little places to place the ashes in her hand. It was a very somber time and every one was quiet as we placed the remains of my uncle around the place he wanted to be.

After that, we had a great dinner party. I felt like I was with old friends as we ate and drank and talked. Slowly things began to loosen up and we began to have a party in honor of Dan. We had shipped items that Dan had specified to be given to his friends and we began to parcel out memories of Dan to his friends that were considered part of his family. As a matter of fact it did feel like we were all one big family together to celebrate Dan.

As the evening progressed, Laurie's sense of humor began to emerge once again. It was the same quick, sharp witted Laurie that I had met years before. It became a fun time and every time I would walk past Laurie she was talking and being her witty self. It was a good time and a fond memory I have from that night. I was with my uncle's family and they were remembering him with humor and stories. Elaine, Barb, Brett and myself left the next day. I haven't seen any of Dan's family from the northwest since that day, although I have kept in touch with them through the miracle of the internet and Facebook.

Last week I received an email from Craig. She had attached a copy of Laurie's obituary. I was stunned and broken hearted for not only Craig, but for all of Laurie's friends, including myself.

Her obituary shed a new light on Laurie's life that I did not know. Her Obituary read:

Laurie Lynn Merta March 24, 1956 - June 23, 2012 A sparkling light has dimmed, but a new star is shining brightly. Laurie Merta passed peacefully from this life on Saturday, June 23, 2012 in Los Angeles, where she was attending a conference for the work she loved so much. Her enormous, generous and happy heart simply stopped beating. Laurie was born in St. Petersburg, Florida and moved to Chehalis, Washington with her family in 1968. She graduated W.F. West High School in Chehalis in 1974 and the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma in 1978. She settled in University Place after college, going to work immediately for the Washington Department of Corrections as a Community Corrections Officer, where she worked until 1990. In 1990 she proudly accepted a position as an Area Representative for the Washington Federation of State Employees, fighting for the rights of state employees. At the time of her death, she was the Director of Field Services at WFSE's headquarters in Olympia. Laurie was a faithful advocate and a strong voice for state employees; a genuine inspiration for so many people across the State of Washington. We are heartbroken, but we know you are resting well, watching over us and shining so beautifully in heaven. We will miss you always and we will love you forever. Laurie is survived by her mother Adelaide Merta of Chehalis, WA, her father and stepmother, Leonard and Sharon Merta of Gig Harbor, WA, her younger sister Leslie Merta of DuPont, WA, her close friend and companion Craig Haynes of University Place, WA, and her Godson Bryan Haynes of Seattle, WA. Laurie will also be remembered by other loving family members and many, many friends. A celebration of Laurie's life will be held on Saturday, July 21, 2012 at 11:00am at the Indian Summer Golf and Country Club, 5900 Troon Lane SE, Olympia, WA 98501. Donations may be made in Laurie's name to the following organizations: The Humane Society of Tacoma and Pierce County, 2608 Center Street, Tacoma, Washington 98409 or AFSCME PEOPLE, c/o 1212 Jefferson Street SE, Suite 300, Olympia, Washington 98501.

The first thing I noticed was that Laurie and I were born in the same year, 1956. She was my age. Too young to die for someone who loved life as much as Laurie did. The next thing I noticed were the various jobs and professions that she had held during her life. She worked to serve people. She served the public as she worked for the corrections department. She worked hard to represent the state workers for the state of Washington. With her personality, and her strong voice and strong beliefs, I can't help but think that she did a wonderful job of fighting for the rights of those workers. Then I thought of her leaving this world so very far from home. My heart went out to Craig as I imagined how she found out that Laurie had died.

I knew Laurie Merta. I considered her a friend even though I only saw her five or six times. She was a shining light that dimmed much too early. This world could use more people like Laurie Merta.

Well, that is how I knew Laurie. It was that first impression of her that has become a lasting impression. The impression is a good one, and one that I am glad I was able to experience.

This entry is dedicated to the memory of Laurie, to Craig and all of Laurie Merta's other friends. May she rest in peace.

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