Back in 1992, when I was a young pup of (your guess here) years, I had a job with the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado. Being somewhat young and able to carry large quantities of luggage, as well as the proud possessor of a valid drivers' license, my job was to plan and staff trips throughout the Southwest, where we would visit archaeological and cultural areas of interest. To put it bluntly, I was a glorified van driver, but a van driver who had to know a whole bunch about the Indian Southwest, its people and its history. So, a highly educated van driver. Those of you who know me will be nodding vigorously and saying, "Sounds perfect. Just throw in that he needed to eat Cheetos while he drove, and it would be the ideal job." I didn't have to eat Cheetos, actually. I could eat Doritos if I wanted to--but I digress.
One day, during a staff meeting, I was told that I was going to be a driver on a trip called Art and Archaeology, which differed from most of our archaeologically based trips in that the main focus was on visiting living artists at their homes and studios. The main attraction to me was that after months of living on minimum wage, I would get to spend three days in Santa Fe with a Crow Canyon expense account and eat well; a close second was meeting up close and personal with some of the artist whose work I had only seen in books. The trip would be led by a woman named Martha Struever, whom everyone called Marti. She was married to the president of Crow Canyon, and was supposedly one of the big experts in this kind of thing. Sounded good--good art with a knowledgeable guide, and meals that didn't come in a Styrofoam box. A dream gig for me. But then came the kicker: my boss told me that the trip leader, this Marti, had a heart condition and was in delicate health. So, the main part of my job would be to carry all her luggage and make sure she didn't die. Yippee. I could just see it--the company president's wife, who also happened to be a big shot in a major industry in the Southwest, dies on my watch and I don't ever work in the Four Corners again.
It was with more than a little bit of trepidation that I waited at the gate for Marti's airplane to arrive (back when you could still wait at the gate.) Since we had never met, I hoped that my Crow Canyon t-shirt would be enough for her to recognize me, though from what my boss had said I was sure I would recognize her y her wheelchair. Imagine how surprised I was when an impeccably dressed woman strode briskly up to me and introduced herself as Marti, then left me in her wake on the way to gather her luggage (which, by the way, was just as bulky and numerous as I had feared.) Not what I had expected at all--hardly an invalid, though her health form on file at the office had clearly stated her heart trouble.
Over the next week, I was constantly amazed by her knowledge, her energy and her huge circle of friends and colleagues in the Southwest. We zipped from place to place, from Hopi to Kayenta to Farmington to Santa Fe, stopping along the way to meet artists and dealers who all seemed to know Marti as well as their own families. And her delicate heart? No problems at all, partly because I was the one lugging her giant suitcases throughout all of the Four Corners states. In later years, when I got to know Marti as a colleague and friend, I often thought of asking her if she had brought along extra stuff because she knew someone else would be carrying it, though I never did. But I did often remind her of her "delicate" condition on that trip, and we had a good laugh about it.
We got the news this morning that Marti had passed away, and were saddened to hear it. But we, as everyone else who knew her, should be glad that she lived her life the way we all should--doing what we love with interesting and talented people at our side, even if they are only talented at eating Cheetos and driving a van. And carrying heavy luggage. Thank you for everything, Marti, and rest in peace.