Friday, May 21, 2010

Good night, Sabrina

     My sister-in-law, Sabrina, died of a massive heart attack at or around 5 p.m. May 17. She was 54 years old. Jerry found her body on the floor of their bedroom bathroom apparently long after any attempt at resuscitation might have succeeded. My mother called me Monday evening with the news, and I — and everyone else — have been in shock since.
I was honored to present one of two eulogies. With a couple of key additions and deletions at Jerry’s request, this is what I said.
     Sabrina Elizabeth Jett Hawthorne was born on July 18, 1955 to J. D. and Bobbie Jett. J. D. was a short, round, bald Cajun from Sour Lake, Texas, an aircraft mechanic and a tailgunner on a B-29 Superfortress based on Saipan in the Pacific during World War II. Bobbie was a vivacious brunette with a P-51 personality. They were so devoted to one another that they were married — to each other — four times.
     Sabrina spent several years of her childhood living in an oilfield pipeline camp in Silver, Texas, an unincorporated hamlet south of Colorado City in northwestern Coke County. J. D. worked for Sun Pipeline in what was then known as the Jameson Field.
     The oil field began to play out in 1960, so in 1961, the Jetts moved to Gregg County, and Sabrina attended White Oak schools where she was — I am told by someone in a position to know — the bossiest child in her class. She was headstrong and sassy and smart.
    As a 13-year-old eighth grader, she met a skinny freshman boy with a Mona Lisa grin and a mop of hair like fur — my brother, Jerry. If you look at the high school yearbook, he was the guy in the back row of the marching band group photo, flashing a middle finger. Their first date was the 1969 band banquet. It is rumored that before that date, J. D. showed Jerry a rusty knife and told him he knew how and when to use it.
    Sabrina was an honor roll student, a student council class representative and drum major her senior year. She won a pile of UIL medals and trophies for twirling and qualified for state in solo-ensemble as a clarinetist.
     She and Jerry dated pretty much throughout high school, and the Hawthorne and the Jett families became fast friends. We spent countless Saturday evenings together, playing UNO or cards or dominoes, frying fish, and listening to Merle and Willie and George Jones. You knew the evening was nearing its end when J. D. sang, “This night won’t last forever.”
After graduation from White Oak, Sabrina attended the University of Texas for one year, where she and I and a few others drove her roommate, DeeDee, out of higher education and most likely into a Dominican monastery.
     We spent a good deal of time at a small club on Riverside Drive — the Back Room — drinking pitchers of Lone Star or Pearl and listening to Dan & Dave sing just about every good country western song ever written up to that point.
     Because we’d spent all our money on pitchers of beer, we had nothing to spend on food, so Sabrina strong-armed me into pretending to be her husband so we could enjoy a free steak dinner at a fancy Austin restaurant, hosted by one of those outfits selling parcels of Hill Country real estate that are probably worth millions by now. We didn’t buy one because we could barely afford the gas it took to drive to the restaurant. Afterwards, we stopped by the Back Room and drank a pitcher of beer.
     In July of 1974, she and Jerry married. The ceremony was held at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church and the reception at the Contessa Inn. It could not have been more fun.
Jerry went to work for Sun Pipeline and Sabrina graduated from the Kilgore College School of Nursing in 1978. They moved briefly to Snyder in West Texas with their 1-year-old daughter, Skye Nicole. They hated the dust, the isolation and the barren landscape and returned to East Texas in 1986. They must have celebrated a bit too much because Rance was born about nine months later.
     Sabrina worked as an emergency and critical care nurse for 29 years — in Marshall, Tyler, Lubbock and Longview. Along the way, she earned a bachelors degree in business administration and suffered her first heart attack. At that point, she started rethinking her life, started substitute teaching at White Oak High and found she loved it. She earned another bachelors degree — in education — from LeTourneau in 2003 and spent the last eight years teaching health science technology at Hallsville High School.
    Everyone knew she’d be a fabulous teacher — and she was. She was passionate about learning, and she infused this passion in her students. She was uncompromising and demanding and she didn’t tolerate fools.
     She told me of an encounter she once had with a hot-shot varsity quarterback, who make the mistake of asking her, “Do you not know who I am?” She quickly informed him that she didn’t give a damn who he was, who he thought he was, or who anyone else thought he was. In this classroom, there was one quarterback and one head coach and they were the same person, and it wasn’t him.
     With her students who weren’t cocky jerks, she was fair and funny and wise. This post on Sabrina’s Facebook page pretty much says it all.
    “The impact you have had on not only my education but outlook on life is tremendous. My freshman year was your first at HHS and the relationship we have developed over the years has definitely been special. Your words of wisdom will carry on through hundreds of students for years to come, and because of you we will go far in our careers. I will never forget you, and because of you I will be one amazing nurse.”Melissa McGuire
     Sabrina loved many things: Willie Nelson, armadillos, American Idol, country home nick-knacks, spaghetti and arbitrarily rearranging the living room furniture or the kitchen cabinets, much to Jerry’s consternation.
     Her hobbies included Macramé, knitting, decoupage, needlepoint, latch & hook, scrapbooking, reading, mosaic tiles, genealogy and blogging about family and friends. She loved games and interesting conversation.
     She was a member and active participant of Longview Christian Church, a sponsor and supporter of the White Oak High School Band, and a dedicated fan of White Oak Varsity Volleyball Team.
    But more than anything, Sabrina loved her family and showed it in about a billion ways — large and small — every day. She and Jerry had a home full of noise and activity, of kids buzzing in and out of the house at all hours of the night and day, of endless rounds of sweet iced tea and Lay’s potato chips and the television blaring and the three dachshunds barking incessantly.
    She loved Jerry. She must have to have put up with him for all these years. She loved her parents. She loved my parents. She loved Kay and Terry, Bonnie and Neal, Martha and Bernie. And so many others.
    But even more than that, Sabrina loved Skye and Rance. No mother has ever loved, has ever cherished, has ever been more proud of her children than Sabrina was of you, and there’s not a person in this room who doesn’t know it. That’s what makes her love for you so special. You will miss her every day for the rest of your lives, but there won’t be a second that you won’t find strength in the warmth, the depth of her love for you, and that will sustain you. The joy of knowing this will eventually exceed the pain of losing her.
    Sabrina was so proud of the young man and woman you have become — and of the two people — Chris and McCall — with whom you’ve chosen to share your lives and our lives.
The rest of us —in-laws, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, friends, colleagues, students — will miss her too.
    As J. D. used to sing, “This night won’t last forever.” For whatever reason, it didn’t. The party ended much too soon. But thanks to you, Sabrina, it was fabulous while it lasted. We will love you forever.