When I was sixteen, I ran away from home. The reasons why are complex, and mostly centered around my teen-aged angst, and undiagnosed depression. Suffice to say I wasn’t that easy to live around, and my own mother wasn’t that easy to live around either. What matters here is not why I ran away, but that I had a safe place to go. I spent that summer at the Souter house, sleeping in Clark’s bed as he was with his father up on some river dredging for gold. I had been to the Souter house often, I was good friends with their son Justin, but that summer was the time I got to really know Mary. Without complaint, or even a bat of her eye, she made a place for me in her house. I was always welcome. She made this clear. Not just with words, but with deeds. When I was at my lowest, she held out her hand to me. It’s the kind of debt one doesn’t forget.
Since that time Mary has been like a second mom to me. We shared inside jokes, argued politics, and she even told embarrassing stories about me. For instance, I used to call her and in my fake Posh accent ask to speak to the Queen. She would return the accent, playing the part of H.R.H. Mary with style. Even now I can hear the way she would clear her throat before putting on that voice. “Oh, hello. This is the Queen speaking….”
After both her sons moved from Clovis to LA (along with an adopted son) Mary, always the dutiful mother, packed her bags and followed. Practically every time I came over to visit Clark, or would see her at one of her son’s (or grandchildren’s) birthdays, Mary would look at me and in her sweet voice say, “You know there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask.” This would be immediately followed by something like, “If Bill Clinton is such a good president, then why is he so corrupt.” And off we’d go into yet a mother political discussion.
Mary was a cheerful and dedicated Republican. We used to joke that if the Devil himself ran on the Republican ticket she would vote for him (he did, and she did). Whenever this was she would smile and approve. If you dropped her in a room full of liberals, not a hard thing to find in southern California, Mary would smile and carry on, not at all phased by other’s beliefs. And yet never once can I recall her not liking a person because they held different political views from her own. The very idea would be revolting to her. In this day of FaceBook and people left and right unfriending over politics, Mary was a true original. She would find the whole anger thing absurd, and more than a little distasteful. Politics were for fun, but friends were serious business.
And practically every time we got into a discussion around strangers Mary would bring up the time she was my substitute teacher when I was in the 4th grade. This happened long before I met her son, and at a time when we lived on the other side of town. Each time she told this story, and I must have heard it once a year for the last 20 years, it gained more in the details, and was embellished each time with more fabrications. It got to the point that it was almost painful for me to listen to. Every time she told this story it embarrassed me. But once she started on it, there was no derailing her. Only now, that I can no longer be embarrassed by the story do I realize it was her way of making me feel a part of the family. After all, it’s practically an unwritten rule that every mom has to tell embarrassing stories about their kids. To her, I was just another son.
When it came time to purchase our home, we knew who to call. Mary the super agent came to our rescue time and time again. I remember telling her we wanted, “the ugliest house on the prettiest block.” The look she gave us was priceless. She’d never had anyone quite describe a real estate transaction that way. We were working under a very short time window, plus Teri was 9 months pregnant, yet she shouldered on with us as we looked at well over 60 houses. If you haven’t purchased a house in LA let me tell you, Some of the agents around here are real sharks. Mary managed to keep a smile on her face in the teeth of some real assholes. Not once did she complain, not once did she say a mean thing about the other agents. When the lady who owned the place we live in now suddenly ended up in the hospital, while we were in escrow, we instructed Mary to go and get her signature, even if she’s on death’s door. To her credit, Mary got us through, even as the selling agent dragged his feet.
Mary Souter was by far the best Toy finder in the universe. Several of the toys she purchased for Trevor lasted far longer than any other toy, from any other source. I remember a set of interlocking cups she bought for him that made bath time with a toddler so much easier. And a stuffed bunny she bought for him when he was around 3 still makes it into his bed every night.
So today we got to go to her memorial. She had a lot of friends and family that she touched, and everyone always had a kind word for Mary. She was that kind of person. Though she will be missed, we were blessed by her passing.
Pease be unto you dear Mary. Be well wherever you may go.