I have sometimes wondered if Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) might have known our friend Linda. Read on, and you'll understand why.
When Sherrie and I first met her in 1989, her name was Linda Poag. She had just transferred from Dallas to her hometown, Nashville, as our new Norwegian Cruise Line district sales manager. We were impressed with her knowledge, energy and organization, and she brought her background with Sitmar, Costa and Royal Viking to bear in helping us grow our fledgling business.
In little more than a year, she met Jim Tidwell, married him six weeks later, took a honeymoon cruise to Canada and New England, quit Norwegian and went to work for another travel agency here in Nashville, then finally came to work for us as an outside agent. Linda had become a good friend, so we figured we might as well bring Jimmy into the circle, as well.
We took our first cruise together in August 1991, and it was a great deal of fun -- so much so that we invited them to join us and another couple, the Bohans, on a Costa cruise the following December. It was the beginning of a three-couple friendship that mostly you just read about.
Linda's sense of humor and quirkiness became legend. You never let her order first when out to dinner because she was going to change her mind at least three times before the waiter left, as each person's selection, if different from hers, suddenly sounded better than the last decision she had made. Dr. Seuss was right: "Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find, for a mind maker-upper to make up his mind."
And her ability to eat prodigious amounts of food and remain a slender, 5-foot-2 beauty was epic. Once, on a tour of Italy, Linda ordered almost the entire left side of the menu, helped sample and finish dishes for some of the rest of us and commented that she had seen a really neat gelateria a block away as we were walking to the restaurant.
In fact, many of the interesting things we learned about Linda came to light while we were dining.
Like the time Linda casually mentioned a sister who lived in Maryland. By then, we had known her seven years, and in all that time she had never even hinted at the existence of a second sister. Given her sense of humor and all the stories that she and Jimmy told about her (for example, Jimmy steadfastly maintained that Linda had been a birdcage dancer at Whisk a Go-Go in Atlanta), we thought it was another of her tall tales. Except it wasn't. But the contorted explanation of the circumstances of why the sister had never come up in previous conversations had us in stitches.
And sometimes her use of the English language was just as convoluted as Dr. Seuss' when she struggled to find just the right word. She was explaining to us how a friend from high school who was now a midshipman at the Naval Academy had asked her out in November 1963 while she'd been a student at Marjorie Webster Junior College in Washington. When we asked about where they'd gone on their date, she replied, "We went to that thing -- oh, you know, that Kennedy thing, you know, the assassination parade." Our laughter was so loud and long that we had to explain her bizarre description to the people sitting at the next table.
Another time, Linda recounted an episode while in Dallas during which she suddenly felt she had to pull over to the side of the road. She then lost consciousness, and when she came to, she realized she could not account for the previous four hours. She was positive she had been abducted by aliens, though she wasn't clear about whether there had been any probes or tests involved while she was on the spaceship.
Then there was her love of shoes, which was almost mythical. Jimmy once said he was certain that Linda would buy shoes just to keep another woman from having them.
Over the years, there were dozens of other stories, sometimes even funnier.
Then, about a year and a half ago while undergoing an echocardiogram, the technician noticed by sheer chance a shadow on Linda's liver. Referral to an oncologist confirmed that a 2-inch bile duct tumor was inoperable.
Aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatment seemed to keep the beast at bay until it metastasized to her lungs in May.
The six of us hadn't traveled together since the diagnosis, and in July, we settled on a Canada/New England cruise on the Celebrity Summit departing Oct. 5 and visiting many of the same ports she and Jim had visited on their honeymoon.
In August, the cancer spread to her right leg at the hip, then following radiation therapy, her hip broke on Sept. 4. Partial hip replacement surgery the next day seemed to forestall any possibility of Linda's going on the cruise, but she was adamant that she was going to sail.
In a display of sheer will and determination, she boarded the ship with us and sailed from New Jersey's Port Liberty for 14 nights.
It was just like old times, with tons of laughter and great moments just sitting and talking. We noticed Linda's appetite was diminished, and she tired easily, but she'd just had major surgery a month before.
But even that was overcome. Finally, on the Thursday before the cruise ended, she was back to "Bring me the left side of the menu," a generous amount of good red wine and, finally, off to the "Dancing With the Stripes" show, where we had a great time. Linda even line-danced at the end of the regular show. Was the story about Whisk a Go-Go true after all?
On Monday Oct. 28, Jimmy called to tell me Linda had been taken to the emergency room and admitted after experiencing difficulty breathing. A C.T. scan confirmed that the beast had ravaged her lungs. She was sent home with hospice care.
On Nov. 1, Linda went to what Dr. Seuss called "The Waiting Place," where time stands still. But she achieved one final irony in her death: Appropriately, she left us on All Saints' Day.
Charlie and Sherrie Funk own Just Cruisin' Plus in Brentwood, Tenn., and are members of the CLIA Hall of Fame.