Myrna was a sweet, slightly odd little lady. She was brought here from California in the late 70's by her retired military husband. He passed away, and she finished raising their two daughters. By the time she was widowed, there was no one left in California and she loved it here, so she stayed.
She tended bar, she waited tables, she did whatever it took to supplement her husband's military pension. Along the way she gained many, many friends. I first got to know her when she was managing the local American Legion club and I waitressed at a small cafe she frequented. We immediately clicked and had the best conversations.
Years went by-in 2002 she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Miraculously, even though the cancer was bad, she went into remission and recovered. She took up her routine again, by this time she was waitressing at a small restaurant by day, and helping out at a couple of bars at night. Most evenings you could find her at Sir Scott's Oasis, sitting at the bar, sipping red wine with ice cubes in it, and helping out a bit here and there. Her youngest daughter waitressed there and I think she was glad her mom was close by so she could keep an eye on her.
She loved to go to funerals. She knew people from Three Forks to Livingston and thought nothing of driving 50-60 miles to attend the funeral of someone she had known. She preferred to go by herself-she told me she wanted to be able to come and go as she wanted, not relying on her ride to dictate when and where. At the restaurant she worked at during the day, she set herself up at the end of the counter with her coffee and newspapers. She would sit and visit with whoever was seated next to her, periodically getting up to make milkshakes, clear tables, and pour coffee. The funny part about her job there was that she had quit in 2000 but still showed up every day, helping out the waitresses totally without pay. She rarely even accepted a tip, only when one of the waitresses would insist on it. She just needed something to do. When she felt her job was finished, she would gather up her papers, catalogs, and her fuzzy scarf and slip quietly out of the cafe. We joked that she was just a little angel, slipping in and out as was needed. She discovered those rocker-soled shoes, the ones that are supposed to slim your legs, and collected several pairs. Pretty soon that was all she wore, tottering around town spreading her own quiet brand of warmth.
Around the first of November, she had a disagreement with the cafe owner and quit showing up. I started losing track of her-sometimes I would see her green Honda parked in front of the local convenience store. She would buy a coffee and sit at the Subway, visiting with anyone who happened by. I joined her a few times, but then her trips there became rather infrequent. Then I really lost track when I went to work again. I kept looking for that Honda but to no avail.
On Christmas Eve day, I was in the local grocery store. I heard my name called and when I turned it was Myrna's younger daughter Michelle. She told me her mom had had surgery two weeks before and had just gotten home from the hospital. She said Myrna wanted to talk to me and gave me her phone number. I went right home and called her. Neither said the "C" word, neither talked about a prognosis, but in my heart I knew we were going to lose her. She asked me not to visit quite yet-she got too tired and wanted to regain her strength.
Time rolled by-6 weeks came and went like lightening. I kept thinking of her and looking for her car, hoping she had recovered enough to get out and about. The grapevine said she was dying. I decided that next week I was going to ignore her no-visit request and go see her.
Yesterday morning I opened the paper and there was her obituary. She had died 5 days before and few of us knew. Tears blinded me, and I sat there thinking about my loss-our loss. A town's loss. The loss of a gentle spirit who never asked for acclaim, never craved the spotlight. An extremely private person. She was just Myrna. Myrna with her wine and her shoes and her fuzzy scarf-laughing at something somebody said. Listening to all the stories, not judging-just listening. She was mom to countless young people who didn't have loving parents, but they knew they could count on Myrna to listen.
There's a great big hole here in Manhattan, Montana now. I know she loved her Jesus and she is with Him now, but doggone it-we weren't finished with her yet.
Get the coffee on, Myrna-I'll take the stool next to yours someday.