Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mary Lou Stahl: in memoriam

Today I went to the funeral/memorial service for Mary Lou Stahl. I wrote an article about Carmine, her husband of 57 years, which appeared in the Feb 2007 Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine (Papa Stahl). He is a truly remarkable man. He was a Methodist minister for many years, and then when he retired he became a naturalist at Jesse Jones Nature Park in Humble, Texas. I had met him a few years back when he and I were volunteering on biological surveys with Legacy Land Trust (a nonprofit that sets up conservation easements on forest and other wild land around Houston). I just love Carmine. He is so sharp, and so interesting. He loves edible plants, like Matt does, and wrote Trees of Texas. Anyway, when I met with him to interview him for the TPW magazine piece, Mary Lou came with him as well as his daughter and her husband. The photo to the right I took that day at Jones Park. Mary Lou has suffered from Alzheimer's for the past few years, and she found great comfort in having Carmine always near. They were married for 57 years - that is truly amazing. I was blessed to listen to the stories people told today at her memorial. I really enjoy their family - they are down to earth, kind and wonderful people.

Mary Lou's son-in-law read Carmine's beautiful tribute during the service, and it brought tears to my eyes (and his!) He clearly loved her so very very much. We spoke by phone before he came down to Houston and it was clear he was heartbroken. I know with death even when we expect it, it's not something that we can ever prepare for. It reminds me of the opening of Water for Elephants when Jacob, who had been married for many years, describes his grief. (I wish I had the book here to quote from but I listened to it on CD). Anyway, I only met Mary Lou late in her life but from hearing everyone speak about her I sure wish I could have known her longer. I look forward to hanging out with her in heaven! Her son-in-law said there were two Mary Lous. The quiet, soft-spoken woman, and the one who stood up against injustice and was a force to be reckoned with. He told a story about how Prairie View College wouldn't allow black students to vote and so at a meeting with the college President, she would raise her hand and ask, "When are you going to let the black students vote?" and he avoided the question, so it became a refrain and she kept asking it. Then whenever anyone else raised their hand, they started to ask the same question. And everyone started asking it. "When are you going to let black students have a vote?" Soon after that, the college started letting black students vote.

The female pastor at Hosanna Lutheran, where the Stahls attended for many years and where the funeral service was held, spoke of Mary Lou and mentioned that they both were Democrats and made the joke that it was rare in her field :) (ie in Christianity). I got a laugh out of that one! Mary Lou was part Choctaw and part Cherokee. She authored the book, The Ones That Got Away: a Choctaw Trail of Tears, a family history of the Mississippi Choctaw who chose to leave the tribe to avoid confinement in reservations. I read the book when I was writing the article for TPW magazine and really enjoyed it, and her spirit and humor.

There were many more stories told there, and it was a loving tribute to a remarkable woman, mom, author, wife, friend to many. I put up a reprint of a self-published book that Carmine wrote called Papa Stahl's Wild Stuff Cookbook on the Spring Creek Greenway website, which I designed. It has a photo of the two of them and is a neat little site.

Even when life is long, life is short. Gives lots of hugs, and tell everyone you love them! :)

No comments: