The Thompsons

 * No Quaz this week—long story, can’t explain. But it’ll return next Thursday.

So today I experienced what has become, without question, one of my favorite holiday rituals: I received a card from Warren Thompson.

Warren is the widower of Lynn Thompson, an absolutely wonderful women who allowed me to profile her way back in 1995—when she was dying of cancer. At the time I was 23 and painfully immature. I was working as a features writer for The Tennessean, young and dumb and unwilling to take advice from everyone. The local alternative weekly, The Nashville Scene, rightly wrote “If there’s one cow-pie in the field, The Tennessean’s Jeff Pearlman will manage to step in it.” I screwed up and screwed up and screwed up, and had my bosses wondering whether I’d ever figure things out.

Then, one day, my editor asked whether I’d like to write a piece about a sick woman and her loving husband and their garden. Which I did. Lynn Thompson was marvelous. Wonderful. Strong. Courageous. I knew nothing about life, and she explained it best she could. Dying, she told me, wasn’t as scary as you’d think—it was more the idea of all the events she’d miss. Her children growing up, getting married, having kids. She regretted her inevitable absence and, I think, felt burdened by how it would impact her daughter, Kate, and sons Nick and Brendan. Warren, meanwhile, was the husband I aspired to one day be. When his wife was at her lowest, he was there, caring, supporting, reassuring. He promised to maintain her garden, which led to the headline atop my piece: Lynn’s Garden.

I digress. Lynn passed shortly after the story ran, and for the ensuing 15 years Warren has religiously kept me on the ol’ holiday card list. What I love are the family shots—his kids with spouses; his kids with grandkids; his family expanding. That Lynn isn’t here to enjoy those things still breaks my heart. It’s not fair, and never will be fair. But I have little doubt that, in her heart, this is what she wanted—happiness and joy for her loved ones.

As for me, there aren’t all that many stories that I regularly look back upon. Lynn’s Garden, however, was different. My father mentioned the piece in his toast at my wedding. I’ve told myriad friends and relatives about the experience. And while I can’t say the piece changed my career, it certainly impacted it. You don’t experience the likes of Lynn Thompson and go unmoved.

You grow.

You mature.

You develop.