Speak My Name

We stood in the middle of the street in Teasdale, Utah and said, “Gail Larrick, Gail Larrick,” and Betty filmed it and later Gail wrote me in an email, “That corner is where I used to live,” even though there was nothing on that corner.

Betty and I were in the early days of a long journey back east that went through Utah and Colorado and Texas and Arkansas and Memphis and Chattanooga and Washington DC. From there we went to Boston and since Betty had never been to Nova Scotia, we went via Maine to Halifax and north to Cape Breton.

From there we drove to Quebec City. Then on to Thunder Bay over one of the northern-most paved roads in Ontario, and then to Jasper in the Canadian Rockies before hitting the front door of our digs in Boise.

As we traveled south on the first leg of our trek, we posted copious photos on Instagram and Facebook and we shared our travel via texts and e-mails and many of our friends traveled with us, vicariously, of course, and one of them was our good pal, Gail.

We told everyone we would begin our journey by stopping in Torrey, Utah, and spending a few days at Capitol Reef National Park.
When Gail saw where we were headed, she sent an e-mail telling me to go to Teasdale and to please speak her name in that town.

Ken Rodgers Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

On our third day, we’d had enough of the park, so we headed to Teasdale, a small, insular place peopled mostly by Mormon folk, or that’s what Gail had told us. And there we spoke her name. When I said “Gail Larrick, Gail Larrick,” Betty took a video of me and the surrounding location.

It was quiet and no cars or trucks buzzed and pushed and passed; no middle fingers flipped at us even though we weren’t from there.

When we stood in the street and spoke her name, I felt exposed and kind of stupid and it was one of those moments when you think everybody’s looking at you and smirking and giggling with their hands over their mouths.

But when I stopped speaking her name and turned in a three hundred sixty-degree circle, I didn’t see anyone except Betty.

But I still felt dumb, like what I had done was…was…fake? Or false? Or….

The Apaches have, or had, a tradition of “speaking with names” that, as far as I know, relied on the use of a place in the landscape to explain things they wanted their people to understand. By saying the name of a place where something significant had happened, issues of a social nature or some other kind of quandary could be recognized, acknowledged, and possibly understood. In that context, I think saying the name carried a spiritual power.

So maybe the fact that we spoke Gail Larrick’s name standing in the middle of the Street in Teasdale, Utah, toted some kind of spiritual weight.

Speaking names might also help us recognize our place in a family, a community, a connection, and maybe Gail watching a video of me saying her name somehow tied her into her past, her friends in Teasdale.

Some spiritual folks believe that there are things that own power that don’t necessarily jibe with science, and that the speaking of a name, whether a place or a given name like Gail Larrick, or maybe a flower like a Sego Lily, or a mountain like Mt. Shasta, may have power or may convey power.

Me not being particularly spiritual, I might scoff at the notion that a word or two has power. But then again, I write, which is a verbal form of art, of communication that carries a lot of gravitas: speaking and understanding language being perhaps the most powerful and unusual quality we humans possess.

Gail passed away a few years ago and I am glad we spoke her name in Teasdale, Utah. I think she got a big kick out of us standing out there, saying “Gail Larrick” again and again and again.

Gail was an extremely intelligent woman who had a background in editing, photography and writing. She’d lived in the wilds of Utah and in the wilds of San Francisco and when we knew her, as a writer, she lived in Sonoma County, California.

Once she shared a powerful essay with me. It was about her time in Teasdale and how she and her fellow female roommates lived there among the Mormon folk. Evidently Gail and her roommates got along famously with the local women.

I don’t know about the men, she didn’t say too much about them, but she suspected, with all the truth that swelled in her heart, that it was men who burned her and her friends out.

I met Gail sometime around 2006. I was teaching online writing classes and she signed up for several sessions. Later, but not much later, Betty and I traveled to Sonoma County, and one night we had a get-together where I grilled carne asada for friends and acquaintances.
Early in the evening, one of my compadres came into the house where we were meeting and said, “There’s a lady outside who’s looking for you. She said you saved her life.”

I remember feeling mildly shocked by that notion. When I think back on my life, I can’t really identify any specific moment where I saved anyone’s life except for an event at the siege of Khe Sanh where I dashed after a squad of Marines who were mistakenly veering into a barrage of friendly incoming that would soon make those men friendly WIAs and KIAs.

I am not sure what I did to save Gail’s life—she never told me and I never asked, but as the years moved on, we grew close in a friendship unlike any other I’ve had.

When she passed, it shocked me, and it felt like there was too much about life that we still needed to investigate together.

Maybe now, almost eight years gone, the name we spoke there at the intersection, “Gail Larrick, Gail Larrick,” remains floating in the ether, draped over the tops of the trees and along the eaves of the old homes in Teasdale. Haunting, like a spirit, or a ghost, and not a nasty one because Gail was a woman of sublime attitude. And when the wind gets up, or a zephyr sneaks around the corner of a house, they also speak the name we left there.

And what would be even better is if she—wherever and if she still exists as a persona—hears that name on the wind still speaking to Teasdale and maybe to me, here and now. I think she’d like that and maybe that’s why, at the oddest times of day or night, when I am kvetching or griping or just hanging out, I think of her and smile.

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