I never knew Wynona, and probably wouldn’t have recognized her if I’d seen her at the grocery store. But I knew of her. She was a Holyoak, and my best friend growing up was a Holyoak. Kammy often spoke fondly of her “Aunt Wynona,” and I knew that Wynona’s daughter was the proficient teenage horsewoman Carolyn Dalton (now Noyes). As a little girl I wanted to be like Carolyn, though I’m sure she never knew that. I wanted to have a corral full of beautiful horses and a house full of silver cups and colorful ribbons won on the horse show circuit.
As the decades ticked by, other of Wynona’s progeny grew into notable community members. Her son, Kent Dalton, who I also have never met, has been one of the most influential members of the Grand County High School faculty, teaching hundreds of kids how to use their hands and build things like furniture, electrical switch boards and even houses. I do recognize him but he doesn’t know me. He’s been a teacher to my son, and could very likely be responsible for helping him to choose a career path. Kent’s wife and grown children hold key jobs in service to this community, and after a fashion, are at least partly responsible for keeping this town running.
Carolyn’s daughter is the sunny face I see at the bank. She holds people’s trust with poise and professionalism. She is part of the third generation of Wynona’s kids; she and her cousins are now raising the fourth generation in that lineage.
I probably noticed Wynona the most at local sports activities, as she and her husband of nearly 60 years watched from the front seat of the vehicle whose license plate bore her name. From afar, I have observed the various members of their family, and in their time of recent sorrow, I have thought about them and not envied their grief.
This week, the grief is heavy on my family, with the untimely and shocking death of my nephew, who died March 13 in a rappelling accident near Moab. I and my family are in immense pain from losing our dear Zach, and it seems as though the holes in our hearts can never heal. The sweetness of his free and patient spirit, his helpful and loving presence in the world, his keen wit and humor, and his global consciousness and ability to simply be a good and nice person, were hallmarks of Zach’s essence. Our burden will be to let that essence glow from within us.
My family is amazed and indebted to the search and rescue personnel who worked unselfishly throughout that dark and horrific night. They put their lives on the line, as they so expertly have done in this so-called adventure capital, to recover Zach and to safely bring others in his group back to their homes.
Right now it’s my family’s turn to be in the focus of a tender and compassionate community. The outreach is overwhelming and humbling. It causes a pain of its own in my heart. It causes me to see, from near and far, that I am surrounded by an immense collection of people who share my family’s grief and who will inevitably, in a small town, be wrapped in comfort when they need it most.
Country music artist Miranda Lambert’s popular song, “Famous in a Small Town,” is pretty much true. “They say life is so much sweeter through the telephoto lens of fame. Around here you get just as much attention cheerin’ at the high school football game ... Every last ... rural heart’s got a story to tell... Everybody dies famous in a small town ...”
When the Dalton family lost their dear matriarch, my heart broke for their pain, though I had very little connection to them. This week, with the loss of Zach, I am feeling a thousand other hearts breaking for us.