When I got the word that Wes had slipped over to the other side of things (one of the ways I like to think of death), the force with which my stomach leapt into my throat surprised me. I haven’t talked to him in so long, but the tears came immediately, and I instantly remembered how much I cherished this man.
I remember so much of the kind of man he was: his spirit, his heart, his passion, his courage, his sense of humor, and his humility and kindness. But the first thing that comes to mind is his infectious laugh. Wes, my old friend, teacher, and mentor (though he probably didn’t know I still think of him that way) from Abilene, died last Friday, and as always in these kinds of moments, I’m just amazed that he’s gone. I’ll miss him, though we weren’t close over the last decade. Life has a way of moving on, and Wes and I fell had fallen out of contact, but as I said, when I got the news, his presence flooded into my awareness all over again.
Wes had passion, and open-heartedness that mixed with a crinkly, ever-bearded smile. Witty, bawdy at times, and effervescent with mischief and good humor sure enough, “Mr. Odell” could be tough, anger flashing, backbone strong. It was a good mix for a teacher, and as I read through his obituary this morning, it’s obvious that those skills kept serving young people in more recent years. I took some sort of humanities class in high school from Mr. Odell, and I remember him encouraging and challenging us, somehow making room for us to do the work we were capable of. Laughing one minute, fuming the next, it was obvious how deeply he cared about his students.
Later, I went to work for Wes at Child’s Play, an upscale children’s toy store with all sorts of educational and progressive goodies, and we got to know each better. He moved from teacher to boss and then on to friend, and I increasingly began to look forward to the time we’d spend together stocking or doing inventory, putting together a swing-set at a customer’s home, setting up a large scale train around the base of a customer’s Christmas tree, or playing nerf basketball when customers weren’t around. He told me jokes I remember to this day (one in particular that I just can’t bring myself to repeat out loud, but if I let Wes tell me again in my mind’s eye, I bust out laughing just like I did the first time he told it), but it wasn’t the jokes that struck me—it was always the delight he got in telling them. (In my mind’s eye, we laugh together.) I remember his remarkably small hands making the Baylor Bear claw, and the giggle that came right after the growl. I remember his eyebrows rising when he became frustrated or angry—maybe sales were off for that month or one of the suppliers hadn’t delivered on time, and I remember so well the light that would come chasing back into those eyes the minute LeMoyne (his wife) or Ketrin or Lauren (his daughters) come through the door. I came to cherish Wes enough that when it came time for Anjie and I to marry, I asked Wes to be one of my groomsmen, and he graciously accepted. I was thrilled to have him standing with me that day.
And then there was his beautiful wife LeMoyne. To this day, LeMoyne remains one of the most singularly delightful people I have ever known. I loved her forthrightness, her doggedness, and her great energy and spirit, and from the few times we’ve spoken over the years since the days at Child’s Play, that spirit seems so resilient still. These have no doubt been hard, hard days for LeMoyne (and Ketrin and Lauren), and that great spirit of hers is leaning in grief just now. All of us who knew Wes are leaning under the weight of that grief alongside her. The memorial service was this morning, and seeing that I was a couple of thousand miles away, I thought, I’ll just have my own little time of remembering, and write a bit about my friend Wes, and what he brought to my life.
The world will miss him. We will miss what I call his Wes-ness. That would make him laugh. I can hear him now.
I trust the grace of God in these moments. It’s’ all I know to do. Trust.
Go in grace and peace, Wes. Rest…