My very dear friend, Kathe Campbell, passed away yesterday at the age of 84. We met through our writing many years ago. She wrote warm folksy stories laced with her unique brand of humor. She was feisty, loving, and talented. We cyber-chatted on a daily basis. I'll miss that contact with this woman whom I came to love and admire greatly.
She lost her right arm many years ago in a horrific accident with one of the beloved show donkeys she and her husband raised on their mountaintop ranch in Montana. When she came home from the hospital, she was depressed, felt like she was useless. Then, her adult son built a computer for her and she started pecking the keyboard with one hand a little at a time. It wasn't long before she began to write stories about her life on the ranch, her family, experiences over the years. She started submitting her stories, classified as creative nonfiction to a website called 2TheHeart. That is where I met her. She has pages of titles she contributed to Our Echo--a website where writers can post their work. Next she submitted to the Chicken Soup books and has stories published in close to 30 books plus a few other anthologies, as well.
She wrote despite a constant battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis which left her hand and feet crippled. She was not a quitter. She continued living on the ranch and writing after her husband died. With the RA worsening the past year, she had slowed down, had not written much. But she did have one more story in a Chicken Soup book published in 2015. It tickled her just as much as the first one long ago had. She loved God, her family and friends and she loved life. She wrote that final story with a hand so crippled by RA that she had little control over it.
I am a better writer and a better person because of knowing her. I often ran my stories by her to get her thoughts on what might be changed..The story below is one that I wrote and was published in Chicken Soup for the Sister Soul II quite a few years ago. You'll see in the story why I consider her a 'sister.' And why I'll miss her so much.
Wish Upon A Star
Star light, star bright,
first star I see tonight,
I wish I may,
I wish I might
have this wish
I wish tonight
I repeated the childhood poem on myriad starlit nights and finished with: "I wish for a baby sister." God would hear I told myself, for wasn't a wish like mine the same as a prayer? Perhaps God heard, but He chose to answer in a slightly different manner. When I neared four, He sent me a baby brother. At age eight, another brother joined our household. Even so, I continued to watch for the first star of the evening and repeated my wish. No baby sister arrived. When I'd nearly given up, my parents informed me there was to be another baby.
My heart soared with hope. Finally, my baby sister would be a reality. Did it matter that I would be sixteen when she made her appearance? Most assuredly not. All through the months of waiting, I watched for the first evening star and repeated the same words "I wish for a baby sister." She'd make her appearance in May, which pleased me for it was also my birth month. In May trees blossomed and grass showed a new spring green coat, the sun warmed us, and gentle rains urged tulips from their winter's sleep. What more perfect time for my longtime wish to come true?
Dad called from the hospital to tell me that our new brother had arrived. Brother? My heart nearly broke. Three strikes and you're out--baseball or baby sisters; same difference. As disappointed as I'd been, I soon adored my third brother. I accepted the fact that I'd never have a sister. I even stopped repeating my wish whenever I spied the first evening star.
I loved my three brothers, but something seemed to be missing in my otherwise full life.
Girlfriends held special places in my heart throughout high school, college, and newlywed years. I collected friends wherever we lived. But I still felt incomplete in some way. When I heard other women mention their sisters, a little pang rose within me. It couldn't be called jealousy. No, it was more a pang of envy. I chastised myself for feeling this way when I had a wonderful daughter and, as time went on, three beautiful granddaughters.
Once my children were independent, I pursued a life-long wish to write. Many of my stories found a home at an inspirational e-zine. Fan mail arrived from readers, and I soon recognized names of others who wrote regularly for the same site. One in particular wrote often to comment on my stories. It was a mutual admiration society as I loved the folksy humor she injected in each of her stories, the way she taught life's lessons with amazing tales, and the manner in which she used words and phrases. Numerous pictures of her appeared in the e-zine, and I admired the sparkle in her eye and the broad smile in each photo. Our e-mails became more frequent. She lived on a mountaintop, raising donkeys and loving her family. I lived in a university town with neighbors nearby and no pets but also loving my family. Kathe often mentioned another writer who was also a marvelous editor. Before long, the three of us were good buddies.
In time, our three-way friendship grew strong. In an e-mail, Kathe said she had something serious to discuss, something for me to ponder upon. Would I consider being her sister since she'd never had one? I knew this was no joke, and I sat in front of my computer feeling stunned. A lump rose in my throat and tears threatened. Pleasure warmed me from head to toe as my childhood wish was granted in my sixth decade of life. But this would be no baby sister, because Kathe was seven years older than I. After all the years of waiting, I wasn't about to quibble. My fingers flew over the keyboard as I wrote a glowing acceptance of her offer to be my sister.
Not long after, she wrote to ask what I'd think about asking that sweet Maria to be our younger sister. And so it came to be that we three are sisters of the heart. Kathe is the eldest, I am the middle sister, and Maria is our baby sister. Is it only coincidence that she is the same age as my youngest brother? The messages fly between us. We edit one another's stories before they are sent to an editor. We rejoice when they sell, and we commiserate when they don't. We bare our souls to one another.
This past summer I had the great good fortune to finally meet my older sister in the flesh, since my husband and I would be traveling through her state. I hesitated to suggest a visit, since Kathe had lost her husband only weeks earlier. She immediately told us to come. The long hug we gave one another sealed our sisterly bond forever. We talked nonstop for two days-the way sisters do. Late on the second afternoon, a phone call from our baby sister, Maria, brought more laughs and chatter between the three of us. How wonderful if Maria might have joined us on top of Kathe's mountain.
One day perhaps we three sisters of the heart will find ourselves together in a place where we can give hugs whenever we like. Meanwhile, the messages fly through cyberspace. Each one is filled with the love only a sister can pass along to another sister. Now, when I see the first evening star, I repeat the little poem to myself and just smile. My sisters were worth the wait.