All four of us, Mike and Carol, Rick and I, shared a love of photography. The men designed, built and stocked a state-of-the-art darkroom to print both black-and-white and Cibachrome. Every Friday night for 25 years or so we would all go out to dinner and then back to the darkroom where over hot tea and diet Cokes, surrounded by a swirl of large dogs and growing kids, we talked and laughed and tried to produce a really good print or two.
We took photography classes together. We even went on some vacations together, to botanical gardens and national parks to take pictures we could print when we got home. Often Carol composed their pictures and Mike took them. She had a wonderful sense of composition. In addition to photographs, she made every room in their house--and their garden--a thing of beauty. She could arrange a nest of robin's eggs with a pheasant feather or two in front of a photo she and Mike had taken of a path through birch woods inlaid with golden leaves and you felt at once both that you were in an art gallery and that you were totally at home.
Whenever Mike and Carol went on vacations of their own, she would always find some object of delight to bring me. A butterfly etched on glass to hang in a window. A illustrated book of church cats. A Royal Copenhagen plate picturing an owl on a snow-covered branch under the full moon. Corals: red, white, and blue. And shells. Marvelous shells: a chambered nautilus. A Cloth of Gold Cone, a Pink Conch. And an encyclopedia about shells. (She knew the Latin name for every shell and every plant.) I still keep these things on display around the house and they still remind me of her. Once Mike overruled her and brought me a huge Victorian pitcher and basin painted with blue Chinese figures. But she was wrong for once. I love that, too.
Carol was a National Merit finalist and had gone to Catholic school from kindergarten through Creighton University so she had had a top education. She was so well-read and had so many interests, everything from gardening to art to literature to theology--that we had wonderful times together. I think one thing that made me feel comfortable in their home was that, despite the fact she and Mike were committed to the Lord through their Catholic faith, there wasn't one out-and-out Catholic symbol in their house--not one rosary, not a single panel of an emaciated Jesus gazing dolefully upward from the cross.
She could discuss anything without feeling threatened. In discussing Catholic doctrine, she made such fine distinctions, between venerating Mary and worshiping her, for example, that when she had shared what the church taught I could see that it was much closer to what we Protestants believe than I had thought. I doubt if most Catholic laypeople make such fine distinctions.
Although she was really, really bright and really articulate she was laid-back and enjoyed discussions. She didn't get het-up by them or defensive about ideas, as I did. (Fortunately we were both pro-life.) I'd pace around, arguing things, getting louder and louder, waving my arms and starting to call the Catholic position on a given subject "stupid" or "insane" (as I write this, I realize that is exactly what my father did, exactly what he would say about anything he didn't agree with). She would sit in an arm chair in their wonderfully appointed living room or den, one foot tucked under her, nursing her ubiquitous cup of hot tea in one hand while stroking the ears of one of their also ubiquitous dogs with the other. When I was ranted out, she would point out something I'd missed or misunderstood--amiably and with a touch of her marvelous humor.