Eulogy for My Beloved Brother-in-Law, E. Ray Agutter, A Truly Loving and Lovely Person

Yesterday, I was going through old files on my computer and I happened upon the eulogy I gave for my beloved brother-in-law, E. Ray Agutter.  He died back in June 2015 and I must admit that I think of him often and truly miss his effervescence and constant positive attitude.  I went today to find a picture on his Facebook page and saw many posts since his death from friends who clearly feel the same way.  He died on June 19th but I feel compelled to share this today. Ray is on my mind – in the best possible way – and I want to share a bit of his story with the rest of you.  I was lucky to have this man in my life. He grew to epitomize the very essence of love.

My name is Len Leatherwood and I am Ray’s sister-in-law and Jim and Kevin’s aunt.  Let me say on behalf of our entire family that we appreciate that you are here today to help commemorate the life of our beloved Ray.  I am certain everyone in this church has been touched by his amazing spirit and we are grateful that we can come together to pay our collective respects to this wonderful man.

I met Ray when I was nine-years-old, right after he graduated from the University of Colorado as a young engineer and just before he was going to marry my sister Leslie.  I liked his quick smile and gentle manner right away, even though I found his language odd.  Growing up in a small Texas town, I had little occasion to hear any accent besides a drawl and I found Ray’s pronunciation of Nevada (Nuh-VAD-uh versus Nuh-VAHD-uh) and Colorado (Colo-RAD-o versus Colo-ROD-o) very strange.  Plus, he referred to me as a gal and whenever he was excited he would shout out, “Gad!” or “Egads!”  Yes, all of this made my soon-to-be brother-in-law slightly foreign and distinctly unique.  Of course, little did I know then exactly how unique Ray would prove to be, or what a profound impact he would have on my life.

I was the flower girl when Leslie and Ray got married in an all-white wedding save for a single red rose in the middle of the maid of honor’s bouquet.  Over the fifty-three years since that event, I have periodically thought of the symbolism of that color scheme.  The white for me signifies the goodness of these two wonderful people as well as the kindness that characterized their interactions with others; the red rose seemed to portend the trials each would face in the years to come.  And they both did face tribulations. 

Leslie and Ray’s marriage lasted only twelve years; however, in that time, they produced and parented two of the loveliest people I will ever know, their daughter and son, Kevin and Jim.  Over time, Kevin and Jim have created their own families.  Kevin has Scott, her sweet husband and her step-children, Ellery and Derek; and Jim has Karri, his darling wife, and their children, Eli and Sophie, who are two of the brightest and nicest kids on God’s green earth.  These people have been the foundation for Ray’s life and he was exceedingly proud of each and every one of them. 

Ray’s story has many chapters and is one of transformation.  He started out as that earnest young engineer who worked very hard at his job at Chicago Bridge and Iron.  For the first ten years of his marriage to Leslie, they moved to a different city every two years for his job.  Finally, they settled in Salt Lake City, which was Ray’s home, and he worked at Industrial Supply, the company where his father was president.  About this time, his marriage to my sister failed and later he remarried another woman, Mary.  He also formed Agutter Engineering, which he headed from 1979 – 1998, at which point he retired. About this same time, unfortunately, his second marriage failed.  Also, he had been battling severe mood swings for quite some time and he knew he was in trouble.  Ray was a journal keeper and on these pages he poured out his worries, concerns, hopes and dreams.  In one of his journals, he revealed that he felt lost and alone, not sure how to proceed with life.  In another, he wrote out a list of what he wanted to change: 1) To travel more; 2) To gain more meaning from life; 3) To love himself more, 4) To be a better man.  He knew he needed to change; he just wasn’t quite sure how to make that happen. Two things occurred about this time: the birth of his grandchildren, Eli and then Sophie, which helped refocus his life on family, with constant visits and shared activities.  Also, he found Burning Man.

I haven’t been to Burning Man personally, but through Ray’s photos and stories of the thirteen straight years he attended, I feel as if I have a fairly clear picture of how he saw this experience.  Cooperative community, creativity, love, joy, peace, kindness.  These were all words that peppered his accounts of his exploits there.  Most importantly, friendship.  Connection with amazing people from all over the world that was evidenced on a daily basis by innumerable texts, phone calls, emails and Facebook interactions.  “This is an instrument of peace,” he would say holding up his I-phone.  “This single device has the capacity to unite people to save our planet.”  (I am sure I am not the only person who heard Ray’s awe over the unifying power of technology.)  However, I watched Ray’s phone become a conduit of connection for him; a true instrument of change, not only for what concerned him about the planet, but also for himself.  He was no longer lost and alone.  He was on track and connected to a bigger purpose for his life.  To spread love wherever he went.  And he did just that.

Ray made it his goal to be emotionally available not only to his children and grandchildren, but also to his wide network of relatives and friends.  He traveled all over the world and made friends wherever he went.  He cultivated true love relationships with women in his life and is the only man I know who could have five girlfriends come together to celebrate his birthday just this past year.  He also battled cancer with a grace that is hard to describe.  He brought hope, joy, and peace to that process and touched the lives of countless people with his positive attitude and endless optimism.  In short, he transformed himself from an ordinary man to an extraordinary human being and many of us in this room have witnessed this firsthand. 

I believe that single red rose at Ray’s all-white wedding symbolized not only the trials he would face, but also the singular beauty that comes when living a life that is ablaze with color.  And Ray’s life can only be described as one that was on fire with passion, love, and joy.  We are all better off from having known this man; we would do well to emulate his example when facing our own trials.  He would encourage each of us to always remember, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Ray loved Salt Lake City, the Utes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Episcopal church, and the oatmeal at McDonald’s.  He also held in high esteem the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the doctors and staff there.  In addition, he loved his Mind and Body support group at Huntsman, so much so that a group that should have ended in six weeks has continued on for the past 2 ½ years, with plans to continue on in the future.  He referred to all these as “world class,” and, certainly, they all are.

Again, our family appreciates your presence.  Even on this sad occasion, Ray would remind us, “This is the best day of my life!”

My only response is to say, “Amen, brother.  Amen.”

Thank you.

eRay's photo


Repost: Wonderful Red Lentil Salad

For those of you who will be holed up tomorrow watching the Royal Wedding festivities, here is a tasty salad that will add spice and protein to your day.

I first tasted this salad at a friend’s party a couple of Christmases back. It is delicious and different. Full of flavor. It’s easy to make as long as you have all the spices in your cupboard. The blend of these spices along with the red onion, capers and currants creates a taste that is delicate and delectable. The recipe I used did not include cilantro, but I think its addition would only make this salad better. In fact, I was contemplating adding it the next time I made this just because I thought a little more color would be nice. This recipe comes from Epicurious. The one I used came directly from my friend.

Marinating the lentils with the dressing for several hours is ideal. It will allow the spices to reach their full flavor and to meld.

This is a great make-ahead salad for a social gathering. If you use green lentils, you’ll need to cook them much longer than the 5 minutes that is described in the recipe. I used green lentils and cooked them at least 20 minutes until they reached the “just tender” stage. Plus, I think the red lentils would make for a prettier salad.


3/4 C olive oil
1/2 C wine vinegar
3 TB sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp curry powder
2 TB chopped fresh cilantro

1 LB dried red lentils
1 1/4 C currants
1/2 C capers
1 C finely chopped red onion


Whisk together the dressing and set aside. Wash lentils. Cook in boiling water 5-6 minutes or until just tender. Rinse and drain well. Combine with the other salad ingredients. Add the dressing; mix well and let marinate at least two hours. Stir before serving.

Be sure and let me know what you think if you try the recipe. I will be making this again and again. I loved it.

I will be checking in again tomorrow.


Talk with an Old Friend

I had a good long talk tonight over the phone with my old friend, Judy HG, who moved to Ashland, Oregon about nine months ago.  Judy is one of those people in my life who occupies a special slot.  She and I can not see each other for months and then pick up our conversations as if we just ran to the bathroom and are now back. There is never an awkward pause or a moment where one or the other is flailing for a conversation topic. No, we just start out and three or four hours later we have to call it quits, not because we’ve run out of things to say but just because we’re both tired. We talk about kids, families, writing, our pasts, our futures, books, television shows, movies, you name it. We can quickly and easily slide from one topic to another with hardly a pause. I can be open and honest about whatever it is I’m thinking or feeling and know I will not be judged.  That is a good friend and a good feeling.  I have a few women in my life who occupy this slot and I am forever grateful they are there.

Now, I am headed to bed.  It is very late and I have lots to do tomorrow, so I’ll bid you good night.

Until then…

Phone Call Split Screen


Evening Musings

I am sitting in the house alone save for the two dogs, who are waiting patiently for me to walk them.  I just finished a two-hour session with a student who is applying to medical school. We have been working on fifteen short answer questions for his application.  I am tired.  I worked all day on bookkeeping that needed to be done. One of those detail days with a hyper-focus.  Now I am ready to lift my eyes off the page and head outdoors.

Ray and I have been watching The Sopranos. (Yes, I know we are the only people in the US who didn’t watch this series when it was running.)  The writing is very good. I can see what all the fuss was about.  We just finished Season 2 so no spoilers, please.  We watch an episode or two at a time. We’ll be at this for a while since there are quite a few seasons.  I like watching in a focused way like that.  It’s definitely easier to keep up with the storyline. James Gandolfini and Edie Falco are such great actors. It is a pleasure to watch them become Tony and Carmella Soprano before my eyes.

I had a nice long conversation with my brother Sam on the phone today.  He and I are making an effort to talk more often these days, which can be difficult sometimes because the time zones we live in are three hours apart and we both often work at night. Still, we are doing a good job of it and it’s great to be in regular communication.  I am very happy about that.

On that note, I’ll say good night. I hope you’re having a lovely evening, my friends.

I’ll check back in tomorrow.

Sleep well.




Repost: Sarah’s Birth Story aka Always Pick a Midwife Who Really Knows What She Is Doing.

I wrote this piece several years back, but since it’s Sarah’s 36th birthday today and she now has delivered any number of babies as a physician, I think it’s time again for her rather tumultuous home birth story. Besides, it reminds me of how precious this little bundle was and is, my very first baby, and how lucky I have been to see her grow up and become not only a wonderful wife, mother and doctor, but also one of my favorite people in this world. Happy birthday, sweetie pie.

I was 29 when Sarah was born, which means that I was in the height of our antique dealing life, jumping on and off the back of our pickup as we loaded for Canton Trades Days, going to garage and estate sales and auctions, all in pursuit of merchandise to buy and sell.

Our midwife for this birth was named Fritzie and she had an office in Plano. We’d drive down and see her once a month and get the thumbs up on my healthy condition. I was right on target with weight gain and blood pressure and I didn’t have any edema or other signs that might suggest there were any problems. So, up we came to my due date and as is the case with many first babies, that date came and went. Then a week passed, and another, when suddenly I noticed that I was ur…leaking a bit…and I knew this was not from my bladder. A call to the midwife confirmed that we were indeed on our way, but since that was my water that I was feeling, but not a lot of it, then it was time to induce labor.

I remember feeling scared at the idea of going into labor. An experience I’d never had before and one that so much has been talked about. I had a book about birth around the house which I picked up on the day that Fritzie said I had to go buy the two Fleet enemas and the castor oil to “get this baby here by morning,” and the book mentioned British mothers delivering their babies in the dark during air raids during World War II. I remember thinking, “If they can do THAT, then surely I can do this,” so off I sent to the grocery store to get those supplies.

Well, Fritzie was absolutely right about having a baby by morning. In the middle of the night, I was in full blown labor and Fritzie was on her way. She arrived with her little midwife’s bag and was so calm and competent that all I had to do was relax and have the baby. I remember asking her, “But if we have a complication, what will you do?” Her response was, “We’ll get you to a hospital, but, don’t worry, I have never sent a mother to the hospital in distress.” That sounded reassuring to me.

My labor was short considering it was a first baby and only 6 or 7 hours from the first pain, I was pushing. My friend Patricia was there and Ray, of course, and Patricia took pictures as little Sarah’s head popped out. Sarah looked around the room, body still in the birth canal, and said, “Ah uh.” The rest of her arrived forthwith and she was placed on my breast immediately for me to nurse. Of course, this was that wonderful bonding moment that all mother’s long to have.

Except right after this, I started hemorrhaging, which was evident by blood soaking the sheets. Fritzie, ever calm, explained that my placenta had not yet delivered and was still attached to my uterine wall, where it was still connected to blood vessels. More blood arrived and Patricia took the baby as Fritzie kneaded my abdomen, trying to stimulate the natural separation of the placenta. But it didn’t work and more blood poured out. Fritzie gave me a shot of Pitocin to stimulate labor – and detachment – but it didn’t work. More blood. At this point, she said words no new mother – or old mother for that matter – wants to hear: “I have to reach up inside you and manually detach this placenta. Otherwise, you’re going to lose too much blood.” Yikes. This was about the LAST thing I wanted anybody to do since that tender area had just delivered an almost 7-pound baby. But without further adieu, Fritzie reached up and in, sending me almost to the ceiling. She said the part of the placenta still adhering to the wall was about the size of a quarter and it peeled off naturally just as she was about to do so manually.

Ray looked dazed as he watched everything that was happening. We’d been up all night and here it was early morning. He said he kept thinking, “Oh my god. I’m going to have to raise this baby by myself.” He said he wasn’t sad. He felt numb.

As for me, I was lying on the bed feeling more and more relaxed and comfortable and realized that this must be what it’s like to slowly be dying. I didn’t feel stressed or sad. It was as though I was watching everything that was happening from up above. If this was dying, then it wasn’t so bad.

By this point, I had lost so much blood that I was fading. I told Fritzie so and she slapped me hard across the face. “You will not fade!”

I came back around and she immediately gave me an IV with fluids. She also inserted a catheter since I had tried to get up to go to the bathroom and was dizzy and faint.

Fritzie kept checking my blood pressure and my pulse. She had already determined that the hemorrhaging had stopped. I lay there watching, so peaceful and calm. My arms as heavy as wet beach towels.

Patricia changed Sarah’s first diaper. I was regretful I missed that. She brought her back to me so she could nurse. I lay there quiet with the baby at my breast.

Fritzie stayed an extra two hours to verify that I was completely stable. Grandparents all arrived and saw me hooked up to an IV, but no one asked why I was receiving extra fluids. None of us mentioned the complication we’d just gone through. We knew the grandparents didn’t need to know how close we’d come to a disaster.

Just before Fritzie left, I thanked her for opening a medical practice on the scene. She smiled and said, “I told you I’ve never taken a woman to the hospital in distress.” I nodded. I could see how she had avoided that. But then she leaned over and said, “But you should know that I was giving you 2 more minutes and we were going to call an ambulance.”

I was literally – and I do mean literally – a faint green for a couple of months. I was also anemic and had to take iron supplements. But two days after the birth, Ray took Sarah and me to see Fritzie at her office in Plano. I hopped up on the examining table and lay down. She smiled. “If you’d had an episiotomy, you wouldn’t be hopping.” I knew she meant if I had gone the traditional hospital route, which included a routine episiotomy, I wouldn’t be up and about like I already was, even with my odd shade of green.

Even with Sarah’s birth, I elected to have my other children at home as well. Those WWII British moms were to blame. If I hadn’t had them as role models, I might have high-tailed it to the hospital shortly after we started.

The best news, of course, is that this event brought me sweet Sarah, who is special beyond words. So, whatever it took to get her here was worth it. How grateful I am for this fine girl.

Sarah and Her Family, Easter, 2018

Sarah and Family - Easter, 2018

My Friend Wendel’s Book

Today, I received a copy of my old friend Wendel Sloan’s book entitled, Kill a Moose for Jesus: Three Minute Essays on Punks, Poets, Parents, Preachers, Potheads, Parrotheads and Politicians.  Wendel, an award-winning writer, has written a column for the Eastern New Mexico News in Portales for many years now and many of these essays have been selected from those columns.

He asked me to write a blurb for the back of his book and it reads as follows:

From stories about Wendel’s early days with his East Texas family to ones that highlight friends he’s met in his adopted city of Portales, New Mexico, this volume will make you laugh, tear up, shake your head and maybe even learn a few things about life, people, religion, politics, and what it’s like being a liberal surrounded by conservatives. Mostly, Wendel’s sharp, self-deprecating wit will invite you to see the world through his eyes, where friendship, simplicity and kindness are valued over monetary gain or high-flown titles. Best of all, there is a flint-like integrity that shines through every one of these stories, revealing the essential nature of this brilliant satirical writer.

For those of you who can tell by the title that this is a book for you, please consider ordering a copy at  You will get a kick out of the book for sure, especially the very first story that explains just exactly why anyone might want “to kill a moose for Jesus.”

Well done, Wendel. This is a poignant and entertaining read!






Back Home

This morning, we headed back to LA from Ensenada. Unfortunately, we apparently weren’t the only Americans in Mexico this weekend. After spending 3 1/2 hours at the border waiting in line and five minutes at the border gate making sure we were all who we said we were, we were finally on our way back into the US.

Of course we needed to stop for dinner so we did that too. It is now 10:19 and we’ve been home about an hour.

All in all, we had a wonderful time. I am so happy we went.

But for now you must excuse me. I need to go to bed.

Will check in tomorrow.

Flash Fiction, Memoir and Essay

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