EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a blog for now-defunct TucsonCitizen.com and has continued to offer his opinion and insight with AllSportsTucson.com. McCray also writes blogs for SanDiegoFreePress.org.
Oh, I remember days, just a few years ago, when memories of Nancy (my very dearly departed soulmate) would weaken me in the knees and draw heavy tears from my eyes but thank goodness such dreary days eventually wither and die.
Now, when she comes to my mind’s eye, it’s a welcomed occasion, and she’ll usually surface at a real nice time. Like every time one of our grandchildren is born I can’t help but see her as a Grandma: getting little Lyric Allen or Marley Mandela or Indigo Maya (or all of them at the same time) in a headlock on the living room floor, they giggling uncontrollably; guiding them into swimmers on our Pacific shores; holding them to her breast with every ounce of the deep well of love that dwelled in her; making them pose for more photographs than should be legal; singing them silly made-up-on-the-spot ditties and songs…
She looks lovely in those scenes. Most of the times, though, I never know when she might come to mind, like the other day she appeared out of nowhere – triggered by a vision I saw as I walked briskly along the sea at La Jolla Shores.
I was enjoying the scenery: kayakers, eager to get their boats afloat; a spirited well played volleyball game; surfers catching waves and sunbathers galore – and then as I turned my graybearded wizened face to take in a deep cleansing breath of ocean air, I noticed, in the distance, La Jolla Cove. And, voila, Nancy entered the scene like a water goddess suddenly coming out of waves breaking at the beach’s edge.
How could she not considering how many times I’d driven her to the Cove and then motored over to the Shores to be there after she finished her mile or so swim.
She’d be hardly breathing, this fish of a woman who says she was a halibut in a former life, and then we’d sit on the beach, in the sun, and enjoy each other’s company in a meditative kind of silence or we’d talk and laugh about something non-stop. Life can be so beautiful.
No sooner than those memories faded away, I was sent a PDF of “Finding a Hippie in the Palisades,” a nice piece about Nancy in the Palisadian-Post. It was written by Michael Oldham and, man, did his writing ever resurrect a range of memories.
She ended up as the heroine, if you will, in this story because the author had been reading about Southern California’s “hippie” scene in the ’60s and ’70s and wondered if there was a past or present “bohemian-non-conformist-type” who played a role in any of that.
He clicked around on the internet for such a being and came across something I had written about her, about her activism, about how she lived life, as herself, unapologetically, wearing her heart on her sleeve, always giving to cause after cause – he had found his hippie.
And he presented her well, making me remember her energy, her willingness to take on things; her eating philosophies; her being the “Recycling Queen”; her passion for yoga and photography; her grin which, according to a childhood friend, was “like she’s figured out something the rest of us haven’t”; her radiance which, in the words of another such friend, made her “someone you would always hope to have at a party.” Hey, she was a party.
I sent the essay to friends and family and their replies made Nancy seem even more alive to me because I remember so many examples of: how loyal she was to her friends; how every animal was like her best friend; how her actions spoke louder than her words which were pretty loud; how great an athlete she was; how she influenced so many people…
A dear friend wrote: “I was an intern with Nancy when your relationship with her was just blossoming. I distinctly remembered her telling me about you and how she was smitten. As you know, the rest is a wonderful love story.”
It was a wonderful love story because she wasn’t the only one smitten. Wow, it’s been nice having her around for a while. I’ve been thinking about her so much lately that I don’t know when she left my mind. She always disappears just as she appears, suddenly like a water goddess, walking along the ocean’s shore, and, “voila” she’s gone.
And now I’m in possession of new precious memories.