I lost one of my best friends last week. Laura Crawford, beloved teacher, children’s book author, daughter, sister, aunt and funny, feisty friend to so many, died last week after a five-year battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Only 46, she wasn’t ready to die.
“I don’t have time for this. It’s not supposed to be this way,” she volunteered a few weeks before she passed, when we discussed the possibility of her death. “I’ve got more books to write, more kids to teach. What time is it?” She asked, as she glanced at the clock on the wall of her hospital room. “Right now I’d be telling little Johnny (name changed) to … ” she reflected, her voice trailing off.
A reading specialist and literacy coach at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School, Laura wasn’t well enough to return to her classroom this fall. But oh, how she wanted to. Teachers are a special breed, but this one didn’t stop working with “her kids” when the bell rang.
At her wake, her dad, Jim Crawford, recalled a story about a child Laura tutored over the summer, whose mother’s checks she quietly refused to cash. That doesn’t surprise me at all. An educator for 20 years, she’s the kind of teacher that students came back to thank many years later when they graduated from high school. Sometimes Laura and her former students even met for lunch. She didn’t stop loving and teaching them just because they left her classroom.
But the kids she most adored were the children of her dear sisters, Linda Fogg and Maureen Walrath.
Laura was like a second mom to Madilynn, Lauren and Brooke Walrath; and Jack and Riley Fogg. They were the light of her life and she talked about them constantly. When Maddie played soccer (she played on my daughter’s team, which her dad, George, helped to coach) Laura and I got to watch a few games together. These days Maddie is a rising star on the cross-country team at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia and Lauren plays soccer. Laura was so proud of their efforts.
I happened to be at the hospital one afternoon when the girls arrived to tell their aunt about their latest endeavors. Lauren was looking forward to another soccer game that weekend and Maddie shared that she had just done well at a cross country meet.
“And what do you do?” Laura asked, turning her attention to me. Realizing that she was momentarily confused, I played along.
“Oh, well, I don’t run, Laura. Bad things happen when I run,” I said, laughing, but Laura knew that.
When she was well, we walked. Along the Fox River on the bike path, and, later, when that became too taxing, around my neighborhood. We walked and we talked. About everything. She was thoughtful, generous and strong. Boy, was she strong. Writing teachers often say, “Write what you know,” and she did.
A longtime member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and a network representative for the Geneva network – which I joined when we met eight years ago – she’d already published seven nonfiction picture books, including “Benjamin Franklin from A to Z,” “Postcards from Chicago” and “In Arctic Waters” – my daughter’s favorite.
She’d also written manuscripts about strong women with pivotal roles in our country’s early years. Laura knew all about strength. In fact, she never did give up her fight against cancer. Miss Maddie must come by her endurance quite naturally, as her devoted aunt, who wanted so badly to stay and watch her and the others grow up, fought to outrun cancer right up until the very moment it took her.
An inspiring cheerleader to the end, Laura never gave up working on her own and others’ “book stuff,” either.
For example, when I described how much I enjoyed swimming with the sea turtles during my family’s recent trip to Hawaii, she said, “There’s a book there.”
“You’re amazing, Laura. Here you are, stuck in this bed, and you’re still lighting a fire under me!”
“I see books everywhere,” she whispered.
“You’ll be happy to know that Holly and I were just at the library and picked up a pile of books about sea turtles,” I said.
She loved research. She’d also be happy to know that I also already returned those books, and before their due date, too. (I’m pretty sure “Wanted” posters bearing our names are hanging in libraries throughout the county.)
I also mentioned our award-winning writer friend Lori’s latest manuscript.
“You know how some of her stories are about animals?” I asked. “So yeah, there’s a farm and these turkeys, and, you know, something about acorns. Acorn pie. Yeah, that’s it,” I added, shaking my head. I’d just read the dang thing the night before but for the life of me, weary and worried, I just couldn’t conjure it. “Well, just take my word for it,” I said, exasperated, “It’s AWESOME.” Laura smiled.
“Cute,” she said, closing her eyes against the fatigue. “We could get together here [in the hospital] and [critique],” she immediately suggested, no doubt wanting to help poor Lori with her apparently messed-up book. We never did get to do that.
The night she died, I called Southwest to change a flight I’d had planned so I wouldn’t miss her funeral. Someone named “Laura” took the call and didn’t charge me for changing the flight. Several hours after the funeral, when everyone finally stood up to get off the plane, I realized that out of the hundreds of seats available, I’d picked the one directly behind a guy wearing a jersey bearing the name “Crawford.”
Laura’s still with us, I think, and will live on in her books and in our memories. In an effort to keep them alive for her nieces and nephew, Laura’s family is compiling a book of notes written by those who will never forget her.
Since some of Laura’s books were written in postcard format, the Geneva Public Library is helping with this effort by making postcards available at the Youth Services desk through Oct. 18, which will be forwarded to the family. People can also send feedback about her books or recollections of Laura, a.k.a. “Miss Crawford,” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well done, dear friend. Rest in peace.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at email@example.com.