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A Never-ending Story | Tribute to Kay Peterson

A-Never-ending-Story

By Cathie Carr #3

Kay’s life is an open book. Its pages are filled with pain and sorrow, triumph and success and wisdom and guidance. The moral of the story is simple. We are the sum total of our experiences—Kay’s, however, may have been more extraordinary than most.

Having beat tuberculosis (twice!), as well as malaria, was only the tip of the iceberg. No matter what challenge she faced, no matter what door closed behind her, it was the light of a new door opening that kept her focused.

She was never reluctant to share the lessons of her life with all of us, and she had a unique gift of weaving them into stories that warmed our hearts and, sometimes, tore at our souls. To this day, her editorials grace the pages of Escapees magazine. They are as timeless as she is.

She once told me about a freelance writer and Toastmaster by the name of Victor Parachin, who suggested people write an “ethical will” in which they could leave behind important life lessons. Since her editorials really served that purpose, she told me she wanted to publish a book, called Thoughts for the Road, that would comprise her favorites, as well as some others that she hadn’t contributed to the magazine.

Her motivational stories were so loved that she later wrote Chasing Rainbows, which was published on her 88th birthday. The final chapter of this particular book was called “Memories.” I am sharing it with you here because it is an excellent example of how she could face any obstacle bravely and with resolve. You will see that it encapsulates a series of snapshots—cherished memories that flashed before her when her life was suddenly in jeopardy. It also intertwines the essence of her philosophy and the rudimentary instincts she used to overcome every challenge she ever met.

Memories
I WAS DRIFTING through the sky in a hot air balloon. Joe and the chase crew were following in a pickup truck. The pilot yelled into the CB radio, “Where the hell are you?”

There was no answer. “They were caught in traffic and now we’ve lost contact,” the pilot said.


He sounded worried, but I wasn’t. I’d been working on the chase crew for a week and thought I knew it all. “They can see our balloon,” I reminded him.

“Not for long. We’re out of propane. We’re going down and God only knows how they will find us.”

Suddenly, the adrenaline was pumping through my body, the same way it did…

when we were exploring a cave in Arizona. The old-timer who told us about it warned us to take a ball of string and secure the end at the entrance so we could find our way out. “There are so many passages, you could be lost in there for days,” he said. “No one goes in there anymore.”

Joe’s lantern guided us as we climbed over boulders and crawled on our knees through narrow tunnels that sometimes ended at a deep chasm. One misstep could send us hurtling down through space into the blackness below.

It was as scary as…
that night in Africa, when the roar of a lion woke me. Joe said, “There’s a lion outside the tent. Go back to sleep.” The guide had assured us we’d be safe as long as we stayed inside the tent. It was one of those times when you just have to…

trust someone…
the way the koalas at the hospital in Queensland had come to trust people. As I held a koala against my chest, she looked up at me with her little black eyes and then wrapped her arms around my neck. Someone had saved her the way…

I wish I could have…
saved the baby in the Rangeland of Florida, when I worked with a mission there. My job was to check on the sick migrant workers and their families. Now I had to tell a 14-year-old mother that her baby died because she didn’t give it enough water in that oppressive summer heat that…

was so different from…
Nome, Alaska, where we panned for gold. My fingers were freezing, but I kept dipping the pan into the icy water, sloshing it around to wash the sand out, hoping to see a shiny pebble or two. Panning for gold is…

the complete opposite of…
noodling for opals in Coober Pedy, where miners live in their mines under the barren desert. Living underground allows them to work through harsh winter winds and summer heat that is so intense it dries the sparse grass enough for you to crumble it with your fingers.

Summer in Australia’s Outback, is not the same as…
summer in the Rhineland of Germany, where farmers raise their grapes on incredibly steep hillsides, and where valleys overflow with wildflowers that turn it into a multicolored world…

That reminds me of the ocean at…
the Great Barrier reef off the coast of Australia. Fish of every color swim up to you and stare curiously with little fish eyes, while their fins caress you…

as gently as…
the kangaroos on Kangaroo Island held my hand with one of theirs while they plucked the food, one piece at a time, with the fingers of their other hand. Their gentleness belied the fact that, if they wanted to, they could rip me apart from throat to groin with one sweeping motion of their hind claws. That knowledge made me…


as cautious as…
when I walked through a cage in Africa, where cheetahs were resting. The keeper had warned, “Don’t step on any tails—it makes them really mad.”

Those and so many other experiences are pasted in my mind’s scrapbook of memories.

I feel sorry for people who tiptoe through life as if the only thing that matters is making it safely through to death.

Don’t worry about potholes or detours on your journey.

Take risks.

Have faith in your ability to handle challenges.

Look for serendipitous opportunities.

Enjoy the wonder, the beauty and uniqueness of life.

Be grateful for new friends.

There is a “pot of gold” at the end of every rainbow and every adventure. The gold is not in coins to spend. The real gold is what your journey has taught you about yourself and about life. So , chase as many rainbows as you can.

 
Kay wrote 10 nonfiction books, including her autobiography, Beating the Odds. I remember being a little reluctant to read it at first, because I had experienced a bit of the pain contained on those pages firsthand during my childhood years.

But, unlike most people who prefer to bury their mistakes in a dark closet, Kay flung the door open wide and let her skeletons dance in the light. By putting flesh on their bones and a heart in their chest, she gave them purpose. She didn’t wallow in her misfortune or get lost in her mistakes. She owned it all. She used life’s hardest lessons to make herself stronger, and then helped others find their inner strength, too.

And, just when you imagined she might settle into that comfy rocking chair and let the bustle pass her by, she surprised us all with a brand new goal—she declared that she was going to write a novel! Selecting a love story that was wrapped in the arms of her beloved Africa was ideal. Her book, 13 Days in Africa, barely hit the store when she started a sequel. In 2016, The Elephant Bond was published. Surprised? Not really. Not even when she rounded that one out by turning the series into a trilogy with When Cultures Collide.

I still remember when she wrote: “Joe’s legacy was his ability to make people laugh. My legacy is helping you understand our humanness.” That was so spot on.

The gifts that Kay and Joe left behind ripple on. The Escapees RV Club and Escapees CARE are legacies that are carried on with the utmost pride, and their philosophy of sharing and caring bonds thousands of us together like a tight-knit family. It is a never-ending story.

We Can All Be “Janes”
Most of us who have attended an Escapade have heard Kay’s story about how she and Joe met when she attended her very first (and almost last) Parents without Partners meeting. I can’t remember exactly why Kay thought she wouldn’t come again. (She was too shy to meet people? Not the Kay we all know and love!) Anyway, as Kay was leaving, a lady (I’ll call her “Jane”) asked her to be a greeter at the next meeting, so she had to come back. That’s when Kay met Joe, and the rest is history.

I was at Rainbow’s End in Livingston, Texas, and I stopped at one of the benches along the walking paths in the park. I sat for a moment feeling completely relaxed, which put me into a contemplative mood. I had just read the March/April 2011 issue of Escapees magazine with Joe’s wonderful happy smile on the cover and was thinking about the huge impact they both had on all of our lives. They have received awards, accolades, hugs, praise and recognition for it all, as well they should.

But my thinking went back a step to “Jane.” What if she had not asked Kay to be a greeter at the next meeting? Do you realize the impact that one little act of Jane’s had on all of us? What if Kay hadn’t returned and met Joe? Think of all that would not be today: All the friends we would not have met if there were no Escapees RV Club, all the RV parks we would not have been able to enjoy and the wonderful mail service we could not use.

“Jane” probably never knew the domino effect her invitation had on thousands and thousands of lives. You never know how far your simple act of kindness, or including someone, will go. I know Kay has often given similar messages at Escapades and in Escapees magazine, but the thought of it all just amazes me all over again! We can’t all be Joes and Kays, but we can all be “Janes” or “James.”
-Joyce Space #61818

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