“She walks in beauty, like the night– Lord Byron
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;”
My mother, Catherine Campbell Richie, drew her last breath in her sleep on June 11th. I’d opened the door to her screened balcony a few minutes earlier to all that breathes, of bird song and leaf stirrings, not knowing this would be the music to guide her across that mysterious threshold. I did know she was at peace.
On her bureau, my mother kept special cards from my father, including a small Santa gift tag from a Christmas package. “She walks in beauty.” Most fondly, S.C.
I love that my father chose those four words. Together, my parents walked in beauty until my father’s passing from cancer in 2002. Alone, my mother kept walking in beauty, often smiling through the sadness of loss, and still radiant.
To walk in beauty is to lift the spirits of others. My mother had that sunshine and rainbows way. She engaged people with her big brown eyes, that magnetic smile–oh she loved her red lipstick–and irresistible laugh.
When I remember “Walk in Beauty” times with my mother, it’s hard to settle on one to share. They form a continuum that merges with who I am.
In this scene, I’m 20 years old, and mom is 45. She’s come to see me in Eugene, where I’m attending the University of Oregon. As always, we stay up late—me perched on the edge of her bed and we’re chatting away in our PJs as mom-daughter and best of friends.
A couple of days later, we borrow my housemate’s VW Beetle to drive to the coast. The only problem? I couldn’t drive a stick shift. No worries. Plucky Cate was experienced — as my family knows from the oft-repeated story of our father (a former marine pilot) taking a turn too fast on a curve approaching Yellowstone National Park. Their baby blue Beetle rolled. Our young parents were unharmed, their adventures continued, and the Beetle served as the family car until it became too tight for five of us.
On a drizzly, misty day, mom drove the Beetle in style on that curving road to Florence. Once settled in our cottage, and the rain showers lifted, it was time for my lesson. We’d found a quiet back road and, I have to admit, we’d shared a glass of wine first for fortification. Every lurch, fumble, and grind of gears produced uncontrollable laughter–so much that we’d have to stop, wipe the tears, gasp for breath, and pull ourselves together. I did improve, and mom took credit for that advancement in my life.
I credit my mother with much more than learning the art of shifting gears–although that is an invaluable skill. From my mother, I know what is it to walk in beauty. Going forward, I feel my feet press upon the earth, lift, and fall. I linger among the wildflowers of our yard and savor my mother’s radiant love.
“And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,” (Lord Byron poem)
Click here for a PDF of a family tribute, with photos to share among friends and my mother’s alma mater, Goucher College.
My special gratitude and love to my brothers–Rob and David, and all our family who cherished Cate and will always feel her loving presence.