The Best Three Days of Her Life

At the memorial service for Mary on campus April 24, her son Robert shared a story about his mother that epitomizes her strong sense of self and her joy of life, wherever she was and whatever her circumstances. Here is a brief recounting:

Mary and her husband, Stan, loved to explore Baja California and Central Mexico; indeed, they both preferred the simplicity of nature to more luxurious accommodations. On one camping trip, she and Stan and two other couples were on the first leg of a mulepacking expedition in an isolated region in Central Baja. Mary, in her 70s at the time, had had knee surgery some months back, yet was eager to make the trip.

After a few hours on an uphill trail, Mary realized that sitting in the saddle was putting too much stress on her knees. She persuaded the others to go ahead without her. She would be “just fine,” she said, camped on the side of the trail and would await their return three days later. The mule packer, however, knew of a family of goat herders that lived in a palm-thatched adobe nearby. Perhaps she could camp in their pasture. That sounded just right to Mary. Mary and Stan Johnson were avid campers and travelers who averaged 12 trips a year for more than 30 years. Stan preceded Mary in death in 1994.

After being introduced to the family by the packer, Mary was left to cope with her unfamiliar surroundings, aided by only a few pieces of fruit, a canteen of water, and a little Spanish. As she said of the experience later, “I didn’t want to drink their water since it came from a cistern,” not a flowing stream. She was cautious of the food as well. So, she rationed her food and water, taking small bites and sips at a time, and made her meager supplies last for the duration. With her small knowledge of the language, she was able to ask myriad questions and follow the family’s activities, which included milking the goats and making cheese. She had a significant engagement in another culture.

Rather than merely endure, Mary thrived. It was a grand adventure. When the original party picked up Mary three days later, she said, with typical enthusiasm, “These were the three best days of my life!”