The book I hadn't written had a chapter that ended only yesterday. Themed as a love story, compiled by the chapters of couples who lived by and with Tar Creek running through their lives. The titles of each chapter bring back to me the lives of people who allowed me to understand the deep and lasting loves for each other that intimately in some way tied their lives to what we have come to know as Tar Creek or her superfund site.
What day was it, when I first met Wanda Couch?
There was a need to put aside fears of inadequacy and walk up to the audacious set of double doors and knock. Having no answer, I knocked a number of times but did not pound before I heard off in the distance the padding of feet on a hard smooth surface. As the footsteps got closer to the door, a woman's voice asked who was there. I replied with my name. A woman repeated my name, adding only, "the infamous woman."
She opened the door and it was like meeting a person I had longed to know but never had.
I explained to her what had brought me to her door. William Andrews who had been working with USGS in the 1990's had done some testing in Tar Creek very close to her current property line and students from Emporia State University wanted to do a follow-up study at that same site and they were requesting permission and I was there asking Wanda for those students and she said yes.
And today while at the Farmer's Market, another friend called to give me the news that she had passed away the day before. It was like the lights went out all over town. Surely, you all felt it, a light with such passion and love of life, when it is relinquished we will find the world is truly different.
We had a poster on our table entitled: We flooded enough, we won't take it anymore. The page was not fully filled out leaving room for yet more signatures when moments after that phone call, a pair of women stopped to read it and paused when reading Wanda's name and perhaps cautiously pointed out that she had died only the day before, to inform me if I hadn't known. They joined in signing and their names and all the others we have gathered over the last 2 years will be on display, you can bet at the Town Hall.
Wanda named me the "Infamous Woman" never knowing that the title would end up being woven into a song sung off-Broadway by the young playwright and song writers who came to meet her and enjoy the exuberant joy she shared with them.
To me she was the epitome of cool. And what I was later allowed to know was how long and how deeply she was loved, by her daughters and by her husband Jim who had built her a palace over looking that free flowing stream.
The 24th annual Tar Creek Conference will be held this year in October. The first one that was held brought speakers from around the country so we deemed it a National Conference and that has been its designation all these years. One of the speakers who was invited came from the Harvard School of Public Health and we anticipated his topic would be lead poisoning and the long term effects both to children and to the adults they grow up to be. But that is not what he talked about. He was looking at new research that was being conducted about the relationship of heavy metals, like the ones we have in abundance here in the Tar Creek Superfund Site: lead, manganese, iron and their relationship with conditions that manifest in the older adults, in particular, Parkinson's disease, which can also be hereditary.
This evening, with the news of Wanda Couch's death, I longed to find the long lost notes from Dr. Robert Wright's presentation, there at the NEO auditorium, explaining as a researcher the cold facts of the progression of that disease and feeling he was totally missing the boat with us and OUR people. Parkinson's? Who gets that here?
We left it on the list when LEAD Agency conducted a health survey with 587 households in Miami and the mining towns north of Miami in Ottawa County. We didn't expect to find Parkinson's. But we did.
There are serious issues that we cannot ignore. What lies in our dust, what flows down our creek, what floods our yards, fields and homes is not only water, but contains metals we need to pay attention to.
Though these chapters are not yet put to paper I hope they will come to inspire us to seek and not settle for a lesser, perhaps easier life, but to follow those true loves and show the world these relationships are real and inspire future generations to keep looking for real love as it can exist, I have had the pleasure to know this to be true.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim