I remember the very first time I ever set eyes on Terri Hubbard Cooper. How many people can we say that about in our lives?
I was standing at her mother’s desk, in the old Newton County Board of Education building. I was there to pick up Spirit masters for the ditto machine. Those things were lethal and they didn’t hand them out to just anybody. Picking up a monthly supply from Ann Hubbard — Terri’s mother — was one of my primary duties as editor of the Ram Speaks, our high school newspaper.
I was a haughty high school junior, and was amused at the tall young girl who had come over to share with her mother the exciting news that she had made the E.L. Fiquett eighth-grade basketball team. She was wearing a fuzzy white coat over her P.E. clothes and stood there, chomping on gum and twirling the fuzzy belt that went with her fuzzy coat.
I never imagined that one day she and I would become the very closest of friends. We were never boyfriend and girlfriend, understand, although there were probably times when we were on the periphery of that. We bonded in high school and college and those first treacherous years out of school and were always there for one another. I was her go-to guy if she needed an escort to an event and she was mine. We went over some hurdles together and under some others. A friend like Terri is a rare commodity indeed.
Terri met Steve, I believe, while living in Griffin, home of Bill Hastings and a lot of my daddy’s kin people. He was a great guy and a Christian, and I didn’t hold the fact that he was an old Kentucky boy against him. I was very happy for Terri when they got married, although I couldn’t bring myself to attend the wedding. She sang at mine, but that’s another story for another day.
I wasn’t around Terri and Steve very much, but when I was we were always able to pick up like it had been days since we’d seen one another, instead of months or years. A friend like that is a rare commodity, as well. The more I was around Steve the more I liked him. He was quiet. Most people are compared to Terri — and me. Thinking back, he probably felt a little awkward when we were all together because Terri and I were constantly reliving the old days, days of which he had no knowledge. To his credit, he never showed it.
When I was calling myself a photographer Terri and Steve brought their two sons, Drew and Kyle — and their dog — over to our studio to have a family portrait made. I don’t recall the dog’s name, but he wore a blue bandana for the picture. It is still one of my favorite shots. What a wonderful family!
Steve became a great friend to me and helped me out more than once when I really needed it. He was a jewel of a human being. He was what God must have had in mind when he created Adam. I have said that about a few people — but only a very few.
Steve was very witty, in a dry sort of way. Every year, when I got his hilarious family Christmas letter, I begged him not to quit his job as a State Farm executive and become a columnist. I didn’t want or need the competition.
I am sure you’ve picked up on the fact that I am using the past tense to refer to Steve. About four months ago I got a call from Terri telling me that Steve had been diagnosed with cancer. It was bad.
I wanted to go immediately to Jacksonville, Fla., where the Coopers have lived for the past 20 or so years, and try to do whatever I could to correct this grave error. He couldn’t have cancer. He was too good a person. I know, however, that cancer is no respecter of goodness or faith or courage or anything else. Cancer is an insidious, horrific disease — so I prayed and offered encouragement and shared the details of my own battle.
After the initial shock had worn off Steve rolled up his sleeves and went to work, fighting his cancer. He read and studied and went to the best doctors and took his treatments and did everything he was supposed to do. We all thought he was on his way to winning his battle. I received an email from him Friday morning, telling me about his surgery which was supposed to be the week after Easter. He sounded upbeat and ready.
Then Saturday morning I got a call from Terri and knew immediately that cancer had claimed another victim. Suddenly, unexpectedly, without warning.
I am a person of faith, but I don’t know why Steve Cooper got cancer. I don’t know why the answer to the people who prayed so fervently for his healing was not the answer we were looking for. I don’t know why his two sons have to face their future without the greatest dad in the world or why my dear friend Terri is such a young widow. I don’t know why I am still here. I don’t know anything about any of that.
But I know that I love Terri and her family and I loved Steve and I know that Steve loved the Lord, as does Terri, and I know that we will all be together again someday. Until that day, I hate cancer. I really do.