TUNING IN TO LIFE

Each afternoon, just before the sun went down, Eva Byington, our neighbor, came out to water her lawn and flower beds. She had lived at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Latham for decades.

"The weather is wonderful," she would say. "It was never this good back in Ohio. I am always thankful for that." Eva, already past 80, had a marvelous zest for life. She was constantly busy. She drove to the store in a two-door, white Plymouth which she maintained in top condition. She marveled at her daughter, Annie, who was a college educator and a ball of fire who traveled and shopped constantly.

The only way you could tell Eva was from another generation was that her frame of reference was so different.

One day when I was having car trouble, she recommended the gas station at the corner of Seventh Avenue and McDowell. "There are two nice young brothers who've been running the station for some time," she said. "They always take care of me." The "two nice young brothers" were in their mid-60s. To Eva, Ronald Reagan was a young man from the early days of radio. Her politics were far to the left of Reagan's. She had never taken a job as a spokesman for General Electric.

Christina the Lawyer and I met Eva shortly after we bought the house next to hers in 1980. Sometimes I would encounter Eva in the morning as we were both picking up our morning papers.

"Did you watch the MacNeil/Lehrer news show last night?" Eva would ask. Most often, I had. We would stand there in the early morning and talk politics.

Eva had strong likes and dislikes.
"Do you like Nixon?" she'd suddenly ask.
I would shake my head in the negative.
Eva would smile approvingly and nod her head.
"I never liked the man," she would say.

Sometimes I would meet her in the yard in the late afternoon when I was coming home from work.

She would offer me a beer. I'd go into her living room and we would sit watching the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Eva read the Arizona Republic from cover to cover every day and watched the news shows every night. I am not sure she ever made up her mind whether she liked Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings best. But she continued to miss Walter Cronkite and Huntley-Brinkley.

Over the years, I grew to know who her political favorites were. She favored women in politics. She liked men who had what she called "spunk." "Do you know Steve Benson?" she asked me once.

"Yes," I said.
"I like him," Eva said. "He's got spunk." Time passed. We were all moved out of the neighborhood when the state condemned the land for the freeway.

But we never lost touch with Eva. Two years ago, Christina the Lawyer and I went to Eva's 90th birthday party. It was a grand affair that her daughter, Annie, held in a beautiful garden. There was a big, festive crowd. Eva seemed younger than ever. She was the star of the show.

Not long ago, Eva had reached a point where she could no longer cook for herself. We went over to her apartment, expecting the worst. She was 92. But Eva seemed in wonderful spirits. We talked politics. She remained passionate about the subject.

Finally, it came time to say goodbye. We stood at the door.
She told me she had seen Nixon being interviewed recently on television.
"I still can't stand him," Eva said. "Too shifty." She had discovered an entirely new enthusiasm. Bill Clinton. For Clinton and Hillary, she had high hopes.

Eva never made it to the nursing home. Early one morning, she went outside her door to pick up the newspaper. She fell and broke her hip. Next came a heart attack.

She died several days after Clinton's inauguration, an event which interested her greatly.

"What's Hillary wearing?" she kept asking her daughter, Annie. "Is Nancy Reagan there?" They will hold a memorial service for Eva this Friday. The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour has lost one of its most devoted fans.

 
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