Thanks for Timothea and the Blues

A year ago today I was being kicked out of a FEMA room while running a holiday toy drive for New Orleans musicians' children.

The hotel manager made us bring our credit card down to cover the room, then we headed out to collect toys. My husband called WGN with the story, and by the time we got back the hotel manager tried to get us to stay until March. But we left the next day. Thanksgiving in an Illinois snowstorm.

I was still thankful enough that we had lived through 8/29 and our families were safe and healthy that I wrote a letter to the editor in Lake Forest thanking the people we had met for their hospitality. A realtor later read the letter and offered us a free home for a year.

That was the day after we moved into our current apartment. A glimpse into how my timing's been working out.

A year later, and it's Thanksgiving again. I've heard friends from New Orleans come up with the thinnest excuses for thanks in the last year, the pinnacle was, "I was lucky. Not everything got wet." In the face of that, you lose your capacity not to find room for gratitude.

I'm thankful that my husband wrote a note on the inside door saying, "I am crazy, I am here and I will shoot you" with a stick figure being shot in the head by a giant gun. Then he nailed the door shut from the inside with 2 by 4s. All this seemed excessive at the time, but the neighbors got looted and we didn't.

That's what's hard. Everything you're thankful did not happen to you did happen to loved ones. There is no schadenfreude.

This Thanksgiiving is grim because of jazz siren Timothea. NOmrf had given her grants to get north, then to get further north. I talked with her for a story in the fall, but was waiting until she felt better to finish it.

The last time I talked to her she had just called FEMA asking for help but was told she didn't qualify because she wasn't back in New Orleans yet. She said, "I told him, I'm not back because I got sick. I said, so you're just gonna let me die? He said 'there ain't nothing I can do about it.' He was the meanest man I ever met in my life."

Touring at 12, two kids before the age of 18 and an appearance in "Down By Law," Timothea came by the blues legitimately. She was excited about finishing a new film score. She called to say, "I don't want to die. I'm only 55. I got so much more music in me and this whole great movie score and I'm not just saying it because I wrote it."

She had Hepititis C.

"When I get better, I'll speak and tell you how bad it can get," she said. "Nobody ever told me it can enter your lungs. They won't give me a lung transplant until the liver one. It's just the challenge of living and living calmly."

I talked to her about trying to rest, but probably wasn't much help because we were both crying for most of the conversations.

"I've been an independent woman all my life and I want to continue it. But you can't if you have 10 dozen worries on your mind. I'm homesick like everybody else, but I can't go home. I've got to stay inside. And I don't have portable oxygen anyway." I told her everything would be okay.

Timothea died waiting for her liver transplant. She never did make it home.

Bluesman Bryan Lee came through Bloomington Saturday and we were able to pass along WGLT's replacement amp built for him. We told him about losing Timothea and he played some smoking blues. It helped a little.

I'm thankful for Bryan. I'm thankful that a talent like Timothea was in this world.

But to put it in New Orleans terms, I'm not quite ready for Thanksgiving, me.

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