He gave me all kinds of intangible gifts. As I wrote in Dude – A Message of Love, I knew Dude Stephenson virtually my whole life as he was my operetta teacher for five glorious summers at the National Music Camp, Interlochen, MI from 1965-1969. He taught me the value of being an important member of an ensemble, he gave me self-confidence, he gave the gifts of friendship and love. I was honored to be recognized every summer while in the High School division with the Outstanding Chorus Award and, years later, as the best female chorus member for the first 25 years of operetta from among the thousands of girls who had been in Dude’s chorus. That was no small gift.
So his death, last December 29th, was a cruel blow. Every time we spoke, he told me that I was special and how much he loved me. That was a rare gift. Days after his death, the president of Interlochen informed us there would be a celebration of Dude’s life the last weekend of July. Those of us who loved him (and there were many) made plans to return. Then his widow, and true soul mate, called me and asked if I would be one of two alumni to speak at the service. Another honor and gift.
I wrote the first draft of my speech the next day, and continued to work on it for months, to hone and shape it. It had to be perfect. It was my last gift to Dude. I think I got it right. The weekend was a tremendous coming-together of friends from across the country.
The night after the Celebration of Life, Cathy continued one of Dude’s cherished traditions: an ice cream social back at their cabin on the lake. She is so gracious, she hosted all, whether she knew them or not. She provided homemade brownies, pies and of course, ice cream and toppings of all varieties. We gorged, visited, enjoyed the view and each other. As we prepared to say good bye, she handed me a gift bag.”It’s just a little something,” she demurred.
We hustled into a car and went back to our cabin. Christie and I shared one, as we did years ago when we often visited Dude. She looked over my shoulder as I pulled the red tissue paper out and unwrapped a tiny porcelain owl, then read the card.
“Dear Betsy, Thank you again for speaking at Dude’s Celebration of Life. Your thoughts and memories were perfectly conveyed. Dude would have loved every minute of it! Thank goodness for these memories that keep Dude firmly in our hearts. As you know, Dude collected many things, including owls of every size and shape. Please allow me to make a gift of a little owl from his collection. I know when you see it you will think of Dude…Above everything else, thank you for your continued friendship. Love Cathy”.
I collapsed into Christie’s arms, overwhelmed by a sense of loss and gratitude. She comforted me.
The owl now rests on my bureau, with my grandmother’s little hand mirror, in front of my most precious family photos. I do think of Dude whenever I see it. I cherish this final gift.
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.