I wanted to write a tribute-of-sorts to someone lost way too soon, 6 years ago this Saturday, the day before Easter. Few people have had such an important role in my life, and she’s the only one I’ve ever lost to tragedy.
Grief is a strange thing that can affect us in many different ways, for many different reasons. I had been sad over other deaths of distant relatives before that day, had watched others grieve and hurt, but this was not like anything I had ever faced. There was no time to prepare for it. In a single moment of time, on what seemed to be a normal average Spring day, my best friend slipped into eternity, most likely not even having a chance to realize what was about to happen.
Some days are just molded into your mind forever, for whatever reason, and this was one of those days. There aren’t enough words out there to describe my friend Cozy Starr. Words alone cannot do her justice, but her name is a good start and it says a lot about her right there. Cozy was a unique, bright shining star in many lives. She was cozy, comfortable, unpretentious, and lived every day as though it were her last.
A mom to three sons, it was when her oldest son Josh, and my oldest son Charley were one-year-olds that we would meet. How many people could say they met their best friend in Walmart? Well I can 🙂
We were instant friends, very different in many ways but similar in spirit.
Cozy was much more laid back than I, always willing to forget chores, willing to head out for something spontaneous and fun. Not a worrier, Cozy never dwelled on wrongs that may have been committed against her. If Cozy felt she had inadvertently made an enemy, there would be no rest until she had done everything possible to restore it. When I asked why, she would always say, “I just like to keep the air clear, that’s why!”
During the first years of our friendship, I lived only 10 minutes away, and most every day of the week, we talked on the phone while I stood over a sink washing my dishes. At least once a week or more, we had lunch at one of our houses and it was always something we had added up calories on first. Cozy always struggled with weight, affectionately referring to me as the diet police because I kept her accountable in that area.
Cozy was a wonderful cook, who could pull food out of that big “deep freeze” on the patio like Mary Poppins digging goodies out of her bag. No matter what time guests stopped by, she had something homemade to offer. I always teased her about making so many different dishes for one meal or why she would have spaghetti with pork chops on the side. Bottom line, she wanted everyone to have something they liked to eat at dinner and however many dishes it took to make that happen, well, that’s how many she would cook.
Cozy loved sales, so sitting at her kitchen table meant clearing off a spot, moving the grocery sale page of the paper out of the way, and possibly the spiral notepad that she jotted everything down in, from grocery list to things to tell certain people, such as funny stories or things she heard. Although she wasn’t the tidiest person you could ever meet, hers was the house everyone wanted to visit, kick off their shoes and have a cup of coffee. Somehow she knew what was important.
Each morning, at 4:30 am without fail, she was in the kitchen sitting across the table from her husband Sam, a logger, drinking coffee and talking before he left to go to the “woods” as she referred to it. Devoted to him and her marriage, she stayed –whether it was in good times or in bad. Cozy wasn’t a quitter!
She always had time to visit the sick, take food to a grieving family, sing and play at funerals of local people when there was no one else who could or would. Cozy was caring and concerned with those whom the cards seemed stacked against, and she loved to hear of anyone beating the odds.
Cozy loved to drive Cadillacs, go shopping at garage sales, and always had a gigantic cup in her car or in her hand with something to drink,usually Diet Pepsi. She could also pull things out of the trunk of her car like magic ….if you needed an extra jacket or blanket or well…..whatever you might need, she most likely could pull it out of there 🙂
Cozy had a great sense of humor and loved to retell funny stories that she had experienced first hand. When telling really good ones, she would laugh to the point she couldn’t finish talking without taking a break to get over her hysterical laughing. Her laughter and joy were contagious. Cozy was bold, honest and not soft spoken, yet she was one of the most gentle kind caring people I’ve known.
In her 40’s, Cozy took classes to become a real estate agent, and was rather good at it. I can still hear her talking about people not saying real estate but rather “real-a-state” and how it was her pet peeve. Ha! The sky was her limit. Only when the skies opened up to welcome her that March 22, did she stop progressing and moving forward. A wonderful daughter, she was taking her dad on a trip to California to see family, like she did most every year …..but this would be her final trip. Actually it would be her dad’s, and her sister’s last trip as well! Unfortunately, they would only get as far as Needles, California.
I’ll always remember the restaurant, and table where I received the call that would change everything. It was almost like someone had pushed a giant invisible pause button for several minutes as my mind tried to wrap itself around the words from the other end of the phone. I stared across at my husband, children, and daughter-in-law who were sitting at the table with me. Silence flowed from one end of our table to the other, as they saw the look on my face . Then, as though the pause button was pressed to play again, reality hit when I ended the call to face my concerned family.
Even as I said the words “Cozy has been killed in a car accident,” I felt like I was telling some big lie that was all going to be straightened out. Mike put his arms around me and Charley (our oldest son) said “well let’s just stop and pray.” So we joined hands as Charley led us in a somber heartfelt prayer. Cozy would have been so touched by it…..and maybe she was , somehow…..from her new home in heaven.
The rest of the week was and still is a blur. Memories flood my thoughts, like flipping through a photo album inside my head. I’ve always heard it said “new friends are silver…..but old friends are gold.” That day I lost a beautiful golden medallion, meticulously sculpted with years of friendship, glistening with all the laughter it represented, radiant with memories, smiles,plans, and dreams. Our friendship was one of a kind; she was indeed a “golden” friend. But you see Cozy had a way of making everyone feel like they were her closest friend; she wanted everyone to feel special. Yet I’m almost positive she never had a clue how special she was to so many. I can still see the baby blue Cadillacs that carried Cozy, her dad Rev. Whilhite, and her sister Janice Dunkin, to the peaceful little cemetery not far away.
Six years and an ocean of tears later, I’m sitting here writing this tribute. My eyes are filled to the brim with teardrops waiting to fall, but instead I will smile, thinking of the days that happened long before March 22, 2008. That day changed me, but not all for the bad…..I regret not taking more pictures (there were only 2 or 3 of us together). I wish I had made time to return her last call, perhaps tried a little harder to talk her out of taking that trip to California.
I last saw Cozy at her house two weeks before her death. It was the first visit that we did absolutely nothing but sit and talk. For the first time, I made her sit at the kitchen table while I cleaned out all of her cabinets and organized them for her, something I wanted to do so many times but just never did. Our goodbye before I headed back to Oklahoma was uneventful. I never dreamed that would be the last visit , but it was a gift from God— last memories made with my best friend that I would hold close to my heart for a lifetime.
So much has happened since Cozy went away…..life went on without her here, even though I’m still not sure how that was possible. I will always miss her, but I will focus on cherishing the years of friendship, and keep her memory alive in my heart. That Spring, I planted a beautiful yellow rose bush in her memory. It blooms early and lasts long after others have lost their blooms. That plant is the perfect reminder of my sweet friend Cozy who, without even trying, bloomed much bigger than life. Always a step ahead and the last one to leave…..with the exception of that Spring morning in March when she left way too soon !
March 22, 2008
Four people were killed Saturday in a traffic collision involving a wrong-way driver on Interstate 40 near Needles, according to the San Bernardino County Coroner’s office.
The accident occurred about 4:30 a.m. just west of Water Road after a wrong-way driver was spotted heading east in the westbound lanes.
A white Chevrolet Camaro driven by Adam James Misiura, 21, of Tehachapi, and a red Cadillac carrying three occupants — Janace Dunkin, 63, Lowell T.C. Wilhite, 84, and Cozy Starr, 45, all from Norman, Ark., — collided head-on.
All were pronounced dead at the scene.