[SWP: Behind the Book] In Memory
Contributor
Written by
Marni Fechter
January 2015
Contributor
Written by
Marni Fechter
January 2015

The morning of January 10, 2015, Lindalou Richards quietly took her last breath. Her contributions to this world were enormous, though, like the billions who never had the good fortune to enjoy the deep belly laughs that surrounded her like an announcement, she never seemed to appreciate her own value. 

The illegitimate child of a WWII USO jazz singer and a soldier, Lindalou never met her father. At the time of her birth, a child out of wedlock was an embarrassment. For much of her early life, she was kept as a secret. She was sent to a boarding school at three years old, and rarely picked up or visited. Though she evolved into a wise, kind, and incredibly creative woman, the wounds of her early dismissal didn’t seem to heal completely. The biggest secret seemed to be the one that always eluded her: she never understood the extent of her own virtues and talents, which were so apparent to everyone who met her.

Lindalou was a great beauty. Both men and women were mesmerized by her high cheekbones, aristocratic nose, and sparkling cobalt eyes. Her lips were always, always adorned in a coat of red lipstick, worn like a uniform. On her elegant face, it was impossible for the red to look cheap or vulgar; instead, it appeared sophisticated and cheery. The pop of red was as natural as a cherry on a Sundae. Her daughter Jessica is the only person I know who can wear red lipstick with the same ease and finesse.

Most women this stunning are intimidating. They seem to pull all the light in the room to themselves as a personal spotlight. But Lindalou was a spotlight, beaming light on everyone around her. While unaware of her vast capacity for love and generosity and her own limitless artistic talent for interior and graphic design, painting and photography, and later in life, her jewelry making, she had the enormous ability to see gifts in others and project her own beauty and light on everyone she encountered.

The two women who shone most brightly in Lindalou’s light were her daughters, Jessica Gilliam-Valls and Eva “Gucci” Gilliam. Lindalou and her husband split up when Jessica was five and Gucci was two, so Lindalou mostly raised them by herself. Jessica and I met my freshman year of college, and I became an honorary member of this tribe of extraordinary women almost immediately. Lindalou called me “daughter number three,” and I became a recipient of her encouragement and love. But the greatest tributes to her are the women who carry her torch, the beacon of love that she handed to them.

The biggest miracle of Lindalou was how she instilled astounding self-assurance in her daughters. I marvel how she gave her daughters what she didn’t possess herself. Like a breathing alchemy stone, she was able to turn their insecurities to the golden light of confidence. Jessica is a double bassist. When we were at Oberlin College, we had a professor who claimed that Jessica had “the soul of a bull-fiddle.” He may have been right. Jessica’s relationship to music is like a mammal’s relationship to air—she breathes it. She plays all genres of music—classical, chamber music, jazz, blues, tango, honky-tonk—and performs avant-garde spoken word with bass pieces with a majesty that can only have been inherited from her mother.

The first time I met Lindalou she had driven ten hours from New York City to Oberlin, OH to see Jessica perform. She drove with an impacted, infected molar. By the time I met her, she was pounding her head against the wall as a distraction from the pain. Literally. Let me repeat that. She was pounding her head against the wall as a distraction from the pain. But she was not going to miss her daughter’s performance. Who couldn’t shine in that light?

Jessica not only performs now, she is a passionate teacher. I know that all her students carry a love of music and confidence that only Jessica can instill because it is a gift that her mother not only gave her, but nurtured and encouraged until it grew like a magical tree that once planted and watered and cherished, blooms the most gorgeous and fragrant flowers imaginable, flowers that never die and change their hue daily. Jessica shares this love of music and amazing self-assurance with her three children, who adored their Nana. 

Gucci, meanwhile, astounds me. She has transformed the confidence her mother gave her into many forms. She brought it with her to rural India, where she volunteered as a teenager to bring vitaminized milk to school children every day. She brought it to college, where she performed with a comedy improv group. She packed it in her rucksack when she worked as a carpenter’s helper at the South Pole. Here she sang in a cover band to bring in the new millennium. A shape-shifter, she brought this confidence from the cold of the South Pole to the heat of the Congo, where she worked for the UN setting up radios stations during the first transitional government. She brought this confidence to graduate school in Cape Town, where she studied film and television production, and it fit neatly in her bag whenever she covered stories for Reuters and Unicef inSomalia, Kenya, South Africa, Tasmania, and twenty other countries. Did I mention this confidence is multilingual? Gucci often covers stories in French, and lived in Havana for a while to write a story about African medical students in Cuba. For many years, Jessica was the principal bassist of an orchestra in Sao Paulo Brazil and needed to learn Portuguese. She continues to take on freelance projects, but has also opened a beach kiosk in Cape Town called Toasted, where I am sure she shares her mother’s warmth and love of home-cooked comfort food with all whom encounter her.

These three extraordinary women are noted in the acknowledgments of my book. And, without the three of them, this book wouldn’t have been written, because as briefly mentioned in the book, I got to know the character that inspired Royal Entertainment because of Lindalou, who I refer to only as my “friend’s mother.” That is a role she loved: the supporting role of mother. She was always so impressed with her daughters’ accomplishments, never seeing herself in them. She loved her girls fiercely, with a dedication and devotion that, regardless of whatever surface choppiness may have presented itself, was deeper than any ocean. It’s a divine coincidence that I find myself comparing Lindalou’s love of her children to the ocean as when I first met Lindalou, she told me she had been reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and was contemplating this passage.

 

Suppose that this great earth were totally covered with water, and a man were to toss a yoke with a single hole there. A wind from the east would push it west, a wind from the west would push it east. A wind from the north would push it south, a wind from the south would push it north. And suppose a blind sea-turtle were there. It would come to the surface once every one hundred years. Now what do you think: would that blind sea turtle coming to the surface once every one hundred years, stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole? It would be a sheer coincidence, lord, that the blind sea-turtle coming to the surface once every one hundred years, would stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole. It's likewise a sheer coincidence that one obtains the human state.

 

 I’m so delighted that Lindalou obtained the human state for 68 years. And I cannot express the gratitude that I have to have known her and have been her “daughter number three” for twenty-seven of the miraculous years she graced this earth. While I was not with daughters number one and two as they cared for her and were at her bedside when she died, I know that she died surrounded by the love, compassion and dignity that only these two women could provide. After all, they are their mother’s daughters.

 

Marni Fechter is the author of Royal Entertainment.

http://www.amazon.com/Royal-Entertainment-Marni-Fechter/dp/1938314522/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_t

 

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Comments
  • J. Dylan Yates

    Thank for sharing this wonderful woman with us!

  • Pamela Olson

    An incredible and beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. What an amazing family that you were so lucky to be a part of.