By Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News
Hopeless romanticism plagued my childhood. On a random day I’d wonder if that day was my true love’s birthday. At Christmas I’d stare at the snow outside and wonder what my true love had found under his tree. I was convinced that a “great love” would be mine. The one. The ONE.
Part of it came from watching my parents and hearing my grandmother talk about her deceased husband. He was the grandfather I never met. She never took off her ring, because she was still married. That was a love for all time.
But really, I fault Mary Epperson. She’d been my piano teacher since before I knew that letters went past G. (What?! There’s no S sharp?!)
She and her husband Jack came to Alaska in 1954. They set up a homestead still known as Epperson’s Knob in Homer. It’s hard to imagine what Homer would have been like had they settled somewhere else.
I spent as much time as I could at Mary’s Etude Studio. By the time I was in high school, I had my own key. Mary never asked for it back and it still lives in my jewelry box.
That studio was Grand Central Station for the arts scene in Homer. Folks stopped by during lessons to get tickets to whatever Pier One Theatre was producing: Dave Brubeck concerts, the symphony, choir … You get the idea.
Mary had her little bag of events; as Homerites would come through her door she’d report on ticket sales and how rehearsals or opening night had gone. The Homer Council on the Arts ran the town, as far as I was concerned. I loved my front row season tickets to everything about Mary.
When I asked her how she could do so much, she told me, “Jack takes good care of me.” What got me weren’t her words, but rather her smile when she said them. I wanted to smile like that about my someone someday.
She and Jack had a love Nicholas Sparks wishes he knew to write about. Think of the greatest love stories — but without the drama.
I knew Mary first, and then Jack. That was when I started to better understand Mary’s endless energy for our little town. Jack taught me a lot about healing — about breaking a cycle of violence and patching holes in auras. He talked to me in boat talk because it was what I knew.
He explained — when I was quite young — the difference between energy and matter. Tesla vs. Edison. That matter and what matters were two entirely different things. How the universe worked and my place in it.
He said what we really are is the action of our matter. He believed that love was stronger than anything — greater than jealousy and revenge. He said looking at the beauty of the mountains would feed me.
Even when he lost his sight he still saw all he remembered. Many people went to Jack to be healed. It wasn’t magic — it was him.
Jack died this month. Everything he taught me rebels at that last sentence. He’s not dead, he’s free. He’s part of all the wonder he recognized when so many others were blind to it.
I was lucky to see the love between Jack and Mary. They were married for 70 years, and faithful witnesses to each other’s lives. They depended on each other in the best way. Not codependent in an ’80s sort of way, but together. One picked up the slack when the other faltered, and lent strength to the other’s weakness.
I realize now that regardless of how we each live our lives, we are always teaching the people around us. Some of us teach what to be. Some of us teach what not to be.
Mary taught me music. Jack taught me to hear it. Together they taught me what it means to love.
I think that’s a fine epitaph for anyone.