27 November 2021
2021 put all of us on the defensive. Trying to navigate trauma — a pandemic, violence, racism, careers, and, of course, personal letdowns.
On January 14th, Bob O’Connor left our world. When I paid tribute to my principal, my friend, and my mentor on September 26th, I shared, “Eric Green said that losing a starting linebacker is like losing the heart and soul of your defense.”
With Bob in it, the world felt a little safer. We felt a little safer. Bob stood up for us — his teachers, his students, his staff, and his family.
Dwight Hooker died on January 3rd, 2015. A week later, there was a service for him in Salt Lake City. That’s when I saw Kenneth Thomason for the last time. Kenneth left just over 15 months later.
Not particularly welcome at the celebration for my first husband, I hid in a back room with Kenneth and my daughter-in-law, Bonnie, drinking High West whiskey. I remembered Kenneth, at 24-years-old, my age, kneeling next to Dwight after Tommy died. Kenneth spoke to Dwight with the wisdom of the ancients. They talked about “the black dog” of depression. Kenneth knew and communicated something I will never understand. He connected to Dwight. He was gracious.
On that Saturday at the funeral home, Kenneth told me about the cancer he’d been battling. He told me about his love, Cara. There was a lot left unsaid — no words about his father (who ultimately came into the back room to disrupt our conversation), his siblings, or, his life in between kneeling next to Dwight and January 10th, 2015.
Kenneth lives in my heart as the “kindest of the Thomason family.” Kenneth is the one that knelt beside Dwight and cried over the loss of Tommy. Kenneth is the one that saw my discomfort and sadness and tried to make it better. Kenneth is the one that showed up when no one else would for his sisters and his mother.
Now, at the end of 2021, the year that took the heart and soul of my defense, I’m here, in my home, with the treasures Kenneth left behind. Not the guitars, not the art, not the furniture — the real treasures, his words, his writing, his story. I am the keeper of his the portrait with him writing. It sits next to Jeff Metcalf’s silhouette and Dwight’s pictures.
Somehow, after 30 years and 34 months with the Thomason family, I am the keeper of Kenneth’s journals. I am the keeper of Donna’s photos. I am the keeper of the secrets.
I am the one who Kenneth trusted to tell his story, to tell the story of his “family.”
Just as I was both humbled and terrified to speak about Bob, I am both honored and afraid to be tasked with Kenneth’s story. After all, he was the writer.
But, rereading his farewell note, he promised, “I’m running defense on the other side.” Even for me, someone he knew very little, but saw at the most devastating moments, he ran defense — he pulled Dwight out of a depression and he made me feel like I mattered when no one else did.
My line of defense is strong.