by Suzanne Hudson
Photo credit: Kevin D’Amico
How do you credibly pay tribute to someone you knew, in the context of a lifetime, for just a few minutes? How is it that a rogue interloper like me would expect to be considered reliable? Just who the heck am I to even begin to attempt to forge the words? Credibly presumptuous, I suppose, but what the hell, I’m a writer. Words to page is what I know. Writing is how I make a kind of sense of things, how I filter the world and its exhilarations. And its hurts. And so:
My husband Joe and I spent our bit of time with Lari White Cannon thanks to an introduction into the Shoe Burnin’ book/CD project by her own husband, Chuck Cannon. And by “time” I mean a magical weekend at Waterhole Branch, a short collaboration, a few performances, a whimsical impromptu concert in a Baton Rouge hotel lobby, a few visits here, a few visits there at The Holler, where she so patiently tutored Joe on the fundamentals (okay, the computery rudiments) of sound engineering, even lending him a better mic than the Mickey Mouse one he had. The goal of her tutorial was to give my husband an income stream that would carry him from an unexpected “early retirement” to social security. Mission accomplished. Thank you, Lari.
And then there was that awful phone conversation, back in November, when Chuck called to give us the hellish news, and we each had a few final words with Lari. She was upbeat, but her voice was reedy, and our “yes, we’ll see you soon” felt hollow. And, indeed, the speed and ferocity of her illness made liars of us, although I sent cards, feeble attempts at being, as I wrote to her, “a B team cheerleader.” Her army of good best girlfriends was the “A team” of course, and I’m sure it was a vast and loyal one. In the last days I sent her a St. Peregrine medal, although I don’t think she got it in time to know my sentiment. Or maybe she does know my sentiment, even now. Yes, I’ll choose that.
As her editor for The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul, my sweet Joe walked her through her truly fine essay for the anthology, helped her see how to massage the language so that it transcended her fears of “putting too much personal stuff out there” and became even better in its subtlety. So she didn’t pull the essay and walk away after all; rather than giving in to anxiety, she rose above it, and consequently her essay rises above many other pieces in the book. I think she was pleased with that final draft, and pleased with Joe’s gentle guidance.
There are things I know for certain about Lari, just from my little time with her. I know this: with her cred—awards, acclaim, expertise, talents—she could have been a condescending diva on our little project, could have been above it all, or an attention hog, or worse. She could have been overbearing and controlling on the one hand or unwilling to help move our crew into a larger limelight on the other hand. But she was most decidedly NOT those things. Whatsoever. She was generous and kind spirited, a team player, one clearly at home with creative collaboration, and she went out of her way and way out on a limb to get our little band of authors and musicians more notice. Sadly, she didn’t get all of the support and appreciation she deserved from all quarters, but with the 99% percent of us who did appreciate her, she rocked. And we will never forget her grit, humor, and sass.
I also know this: you can tell a good bit about people by the children they raise. Joe and I spent a teeny-tiny while with M’Kenzy, Jaxon, and Kyra, each of them smart, creative in their own unique ways, warm, and comfortable interacting with old people like us. Not a whiff of entitlement or teen snit world about them. No vibration that belies codependent world, either, when you suspect the offspring to be dancing monkeys for their messed up parents. They were simply delightful, and we kind of think Lari had something to do with that, as did Chuck.
And finally what I know for damn sure: Lari was one of those people who, when you run into them for a few minutes in life, makes a significant imprint on your own spirit, who truly lifts you up, with their sparkle, their exuberance, their capacity for love and empathy, and their generosity. It’s all they know to do, as the “tear-down” gene is simply not in them. As for Joe and me, plus the other writers and musicians who worked so well together on our quirky little project, all we can do is be filled with gratitude that we were privileged to be a few minutes of presence, in the ever so full life of that green-eyed soul. Lari, your pores breathed talent, your heart held amazing grace, and peace is yours forever. And if your absence is so profound for those of us who merely visited your world, then the heavens are beyond brilliant with love light that follows you from your dearest ones, into the everafter.