It would be the last time that we would visit with our former art instructor and beloved friend, Steve Heckman. It would be the last time that we would see him alive on this side of heaven.
It was a balmy day when we arrived at the apartment complex where Steve lived. We were on a whirlwind trip that took us through Liberal, and we called to see if he were home, and if he were available for a visit. We had done this many times since my employment had taken us away from the area.
Steve was standing out on the porch of his apartment awaiting our arrival, his hair mostly gray now. As we came up the walk he said “What strange wind is blowing today that brought you to my door”, and I replied that it was the wind of the Holy Spirit. He agreed that it must have been. He gave each of us a hug and
invited us into his small but comfortable living room. It had become such a familiar place to Dee and I.
We talked about many things, the love for art that we shared, his view that we were on the short list of his best art students, our experiences in life, that he was nearly blind now due to carbon monoxide poisoning and a hard fall down the stairs and was no longer painting, and the fact that he had made peace with the Lord. Time seemed to stand still as the afternoon and the words flew by. The coffee, conversation and familiar fellowship would be forever imprinted in my heart. It brought back to remembrance the many hours I spent sitting with him in his studio as he painted and we discussed the meaning of life, he was a young teacher and myself a 17 year old student. As the time came that Deanna and I should depart and continue on our journey home, Steve asked us to wait a moment and disappeared down the stairs into his basement studio. He returned with a cardboard tube, putting white plastic plugs in the ends. He said in his oh so familiar voice that he wanted to give us something, and all he had available were some proof prints. I took the tube, and we thanked him as we walked out onto his porch, somewhat reluctant to leave. We exchanged hugs, good-byes and waves. He stood and watched as we got into our car and drove away. It was an enjoyable drive home, reminiscing and talking about the beautiful signed artist proofs of two of his works that we received. Treasured memories.
It was a cold December evening those few months later as Deanna was checking her email on our high-backed dark brown leather sofa in the sitting area of our small house. Her voice took on a strained and muffled tone and her eyes filled with tears as she read me Steve’s obituary that had been sent by her father.
“Royce, Steve died” was all she could say. I couldn’t find tears, I couldn’t find words, I was stunned, I still am. Steve, Deanna and I always joked about growing old and grey together and talking about art back in the good ole’ days. That flashed across my thoughts. It would not happen that way. At a young 59 years of age, Steve would go home to be with our Lord.
I got on the telephone and called Janice, his ex-wife, with whom we were well acquainted from years gone by. She filled me in on the details of his last moments and unexpected death. She told me of the service that was planned for the next morning in Liberal and hoped that we could be there. We then called our dear friend and fellow art student Maxine, in Alaska, and shared our grief at the loss, and recollected the good times that we had all been a part of. It was agreed that we were all blessed to have been a part of his life.
It was an all night drive from our home in Manhattan to Liberal. We hurriedly packed some clothes, snacks and our new puppy (that was too young to fend for herself) in our large and comfortable but aging Cadillac and made the long, tedious and dreary trip to Deanna’s hometown of Liberal. Home of Seward County Community College where we studied under Steve, met each other, fell in love (with not a little encouragement from Steve and Janice) and would become forever friends with this talented artist.
We changed clothes at the Methodist Church where we were once members, then went to the memorial service in the theater of SCCC, shared hellos and good-byes with his two children (grown now) and Janice, then made the long trip back home. It seemed such a hurried event for someone we had known for 31 years, but isn’t that how life seems to be. We struggle with our hurried lives, trying so hard to get ahead, only to get there and realize we missed so much.
Steve was a dear friend. The memories of our friendship came flooding back as I looked at the Pentecost (The picture in my header) this morning. Deanna and I saw the real painting in the Louvre, in the early summer of that same year. We shared the experience with Steve on our last visit, and our disappointment that we couldn’t stay longer or see more, and I can still hear his voice as he replied, “But you were there.”
I can’t help but look at some of the sunsets and think to myself, “God must have let Steve help him with that one.”
Terry Steve Heckman, died December 14, 2004.