Lou was so short she could have passed for a tall midget. She was a first generation Pole transplanted from Chicago to the deserts of Arizona that chain smoked Pall Mall cigarettes and liked cold Olympia beer. She could out cuss a sailor, was as tough as a bag of nails and as fearless as grizzly bear on meth, and she was a mother to a herd of displaced and lost young men.
Life hadn’t been easy for Lou and it showed in her stooped walk supported with a cane, and in the scars and lines in her face that made her look seventy at age fifty. But she always had a smile and seldom spoke of the past. To this day I have no idea how she ended up in Kingman, Arizona.
Regardless of the offense that brought you to her door with a request to borrow her couch for the night there was never any condemnation. Of course you also would be hard pressed to find tolerance or acceptance of your actions, just a welcome without question and a hearty breakfast the next morning.
Kingman was still a small town in those years and the wild bunch was a tight knit crew. So, when one knew Lou we all knew Lou.
Her kindness was always repaid when we had money, with a barbecue, something she loved, at her house, or by stocking her refrigerator with beer, sausages, and cheese. She didn’t own a car but was never without transportation.
There were two big events in Lou’s world, St. Patricks day, for reasons unknown, and any time the Quiet Man with John Wayne was on television. The first was reason for a big celebration and the latter was the only time you could be thrown out if there wasn’t absolute reverent silence.
But the best was always Thanksgiving dinner. She lived behind the butcher shop and had found favor with the owners who always gave her a ham, a turkey, or sometimes both.
Her tiny apartment would be packed and there would be all manner of food from gas station burritos to a beautiful turkey and ham. Everyone brought what they could and Lou was an excellent cook.
No one was turned away and as this dinner was well known among the wild bunch and their associates that lived in the netherworld of street people, it was always a colorful assemblage. Hitchhikers, and various members of the wild bunch, Indians just released from jail and street people, Circle K clerks without family for the holiday and hookers. Of course there were always visits from those who had broken free from the destructive downward spiral and became somewhat successful as a result of Lou’s kindness and tough love.
She was always there to scrape up the last few bucks towards making bail when one of the wild bunch went just a bit far. To ensure repayment she always knew someone that needed work done or a yard cleaned and it just wasn’t possible to say no to Lou.
She would poke and prod us on to the right path when ever we began to drift. Sometimes it was with a fiery and colorful tirade, on other occasions it was with a gentle talk over a warm meal.
In time the wild bunch began to part ways. A few became guests of the state for long stretches of time, a few checked out far to young, and for the blessed few of which I was one, we moved on to begin the climb from the mire and muck.
My visits to Lou’s decreased but she was never forgotten, especially on Mother’s Day. Few things speak about a persons life as much as the legacy they leave and who shows up at their funeral.
Some funerals are empty as the tomb itself. Others are gala extravaganzas where attendance is the social event of the season. For Lou it was a manifestation of the love she had given and the lives she had changed.
Lou was a one of a kind. She was a mother to one and all.