Lawson, the charming fellow smiling above, moved on to the Next Big Thing one week ago today, just one month shy of his 97th birthday. He was the Paton family patriarch and a damn good one at that.
Although they were first cousins (their fathers were siblings) my mother considered Lawson the older brother she never had. When she was seven, she acted as ring bearer in his wedding. "I remember he carried me over a mud puddle, so I wouldn't get dirty," she said, smiling.
Thus, we booked ourselves immediate flights way, way up to the northeast corner of North Dakota, just a few miles shy of the Canadian border, to honor Lawson and say goodbye. Best of all was getting together with Paton family to tell stories about this adorable man who was such a life-loving character.
My favorite parts about Lawson were his famous smile, mischievous wink, emphatic hugs and fluffy, white hair - very Kramer-esque in its natural altitude. He was also a big fan of his own hair - present and past. Any and all visitors to Lawson's house would also be shown the contents of a small, white box which contained the thick, golden curls from the head of Boy Lawson. (Keeping curls was some strange Scottish custom - Mama Iva still has hers.) I seem to recall the curls were tied with a small, blue bow and I was never sure what to say but then again, what's to be said? The man knew his curls.
In fact, when we visited with Lawson's son, Roy, (one of Lawson's four kids) one of the first things he said was: "We've decided that the curls are going in the box with him," he said, "That way, we know exactly where they are."
Lawson was born on April 20, 1913 in rural Neche and lived in the area for the rest of his life. He married Jessie Sanders on November 10, 1940 and they were married for 66 years, until Jessie's death in 2006. Together they raised four kids - Luverne, Lyle and twins, Roy and Royce.
Though Lawson was a die-hard North Dakotan ("It's a pretty nice day," was his observation, no matter what the weather), he didn't exactly stay home all the time. In fact, He and Jessie visited us quite a few times in SoCal. During one Xmas gift unwrapping extravaganza, I recall that Lawson was only too happy to model my new wrap-around corduroy skirt. I thought he looked pretty cute in it.
Lawson and Jessie explored all 48 continental states in their trusty motor home but were always happy to get back to North Dakota. After all, Lawson had geraniums to look after...lots and lots of geraniums. He loved them so much and their blatant optimism reflected his personality to a 'T.'
(As I type this, I realize that I have a giant, happy geranium plant on my desk that I've coddled for about two years. I'll now think of Lawson every time I tend it or kiss its fuzzy leaves. Yes, I do this - not even kidding.)
Now, folks are made different in North Dakota. Not sure if it's the air or the dirt or what but they are just made better and therefore, last longer. Even though he was 96-years-old, Lawson was still able to pop down on one knee if need be. He daughter, Royce, told his about him wolfing down his dinner the night before his passing. Dude was sprightly. Even better, his brain not only contained the original set of marbles but a few more even; Lawson's memory was legendary.
Lawson was a huge help to my Grandpa Wilbur (his uncle) and helped run the Paton's Isle of Memories, the museum that Wilbur created honoring turn-of-the century rural life. When we donated much of the collection to the Icelandic State Park a few years ago, Lawson was again, right there the whole time.
The family all agreed that Lawson's demise does not qualify as a tragedy. His long, happy, fruitful life was something to be celebrated. And his quick, painless death after a joyous near-century here on Earth stands as the ultimate success. We should all be so lucky to score both.
Lawson Paton will be missed but I'm so, so glad our lives intersected. His life reminds me that our turn on this blue marble should be embraced and greeted with gusto, right up until our number is called. But more than anything, he taught me that I definitely ... DEFINITELY ... want my own golf cart. And more geraniums.