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In good company if I die on Plains

link Wendel Sloan

Local columnist

For my final nap, I intend on returning to my east Texas roots.

If fate disguised as an irritated reader intervenes and my final breath is on the High Plains, I will be in good company.

Since 1982, I have attended funerals of far too many who awed and inspired.

One was Bud Stephens, a print shop director, who passed away in 1999 at 73.

Bud, short and rotund with hair like mine, seemed gruff. Whenever I needed a print job, the baseball fanatic would complain how difficult it would be, then later toss a beautiful proof in front of me and say with a surly, shy pride, “Do you think this is sorta what you had in mind?”

Imagine my surprise when I discovered Bud was an opera lover.

“I have found in opera a way to discover and understand emotions of all sorts,” he told me. “Opera can sweep me away in ecstasy or fill me with understanding about the saddest of moments.”

The Tucumcari native met his future wife when he was seated next to her at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Bud was 43; the fetching Jeanne Barnes was 29.

Describing himself as “looking more like a monster from a Japanese movie than a handsome Hollywood hero,” Bud said when they returned to their respective California and Portales homes, their shared love of opera created such a bond, and absence from each other such a vacuum, they decided to marry.

They had a daughter before Jeanne, 49, died unexpectedly. Bud spent the rest of his life being “Mr. Mom.”

The last time I visited him, he said of listening to his 50 complete operas on vinyl, “Sometimes I sit up and think, ‘How beautiful!’”

Remembering Bud, I think of Don McLean’s “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” about Vincent van Gogh: “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

Contact Wendel sloan at:

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