The wind blew too strong that night outside Las Vegas on Highway 95. Arlene Keefer and her husband, Bob, were driving home to Payson from visiting a friend, and the wind blew their Chrysler into the path of an oncoming semi-truck.
Airbags knocked both Keefers unconscious. Arlene woke up first, but Bob was still unresponsive.
Luckily, an emergency medical technician driving behind the Keefers saw them and immediately hooked Arlene up to oxygen.
“I wouldn’t be here,” she said. An ambulance rushed the two to the hospital, but Bob never did recover. He lay in the hospital for four months, but eventually Arlene had to let go.
“Finally my son told me, ‘Mom, they’re just keeping him alive.’ Every now and then he would seem like he was lucid,” Arlene remembered. One day she told Bob, “you’ve got to hurry and get better to go back to Payson.” He shook his head no, and she asked where he wanted to go. He pointed to the heavens.
After four months in the hospital, Bob died. “He came home to me all in one piece from three wars and he got killed in an auto accident,” Arlene said.
Her desire to live diminished. She wondered how she would survive without her husband, wondered how she would eat alone at the table the two had shared every night for the past 50 years, imagined herself wandering around in the big house the two of them had built together in 1986, and were growing old in, together.
“I like people and I don’t like being alone,” Arlene, now 87, said. A fractured disc in her back relegated Arlene to a back brace for months, and she couldn’t shower.
A nurse detected Arlene’s melancholy, and told her, “you need to change your attitude.”
“I laid there and I thought about it,” Arlene said. She thought about her growing grandchildren and how nice it would be to see them graduate school, get married and start careers.
And although she grieved after the accident, now a decade past, Arlene again embraced life and her zest slowly returned.
Arlene is not a dark person. She’s slight and nimble, practices yoga and can bench press 30 pounds. She also loves dancing Friday nights at Tiny’s, and can twist all the way down to the floor. One other gentleman in his 50s is the only person who can join Arlene in her descent.
She and Bob met on a blind date when she was 17, and he 18. Their respective Ohio high schools were intense football rivals. They wrote letters to each other during World War II, while Arlene moved to California for a year and dated other men.
They broke up for a time after a miscommunication-driven spat, but eventually married in 1948. Arlene moved straight from her parents’ house to an apartment with her new husband.
Over the years, they brought three sons and one daughter into the world. Their daughter and oldest son share the same birthday. “He said he wanted a football and he got a sister,” Arlene said. “My husband said we’ve got to stop celebrating our anniversary.”
In 1986, they built a house in Payson. An old Marine Corps buddy of Bob’s lived here, and the Keefers loved it.
“I am so happy that if he had to leave me, he left me in a place like Payson,” Arlene said.
The first night she returned home after leaving the hospital, she sat down to dinner with a conspicuously vacant chair.
She looked at the chair and lost her appetite. She moved to the front porch and remembered the old love letters that Bob had written her and decided to dig them out, reading a random paragraph.
“Even though we have only been married eight years, I really do believe it’s ’till death do us part,” the paragraph read.
Arlene felt Bob in her heart and she was comforted.
Since Bob died, Arlene has re-built her life. She continued to volunteer at the hospital, and started helping at the food bank.
She works with St. Vincent de Paul as their social secretary, organizing Christmas parties and picnics, and has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and the Senior Circle.
Most of all, Arlene’s health is strikingly good for an 87-year-old. She recently had surgery on her back, near where the accident fractured her disc. Otherwise, she remains active.
“I’m not ready to go dancing yet, but I’m going to be soon,” she said. “I tell young people when I see them working out, ‘you keep it up so you won’t have to take a lot of pills when you’re my age.’” Perhaps Arlene’s deep-seated joyousness has also contributed to her good health.
In October, Arlene will attend a wedding, and she hopes to have recovered enough from surgery to do the twist, all the way to the floor.
“I’ve got a little time yet,” she said.
Since the accident, she has seen her grandchildren graduate college and earn master’s degrees. Two great-grandchildren have entered the family.
Arlene wishes she could find the nurse that made her want to live again after her life’s greatest lost. Even in moments of joy, she thinks of him.
Arlene once traveled to Denmark and won $9,000 after spinning a royal flush in video poker. She looked up to the sky and told Bob, “Hey hon, I got one.” Bob liked poker and had always wanted Arlene to get a royal flush because it’s the highest hand.
“I think he was up there clapping, saying ‘yeah, that a way to go.’ I can just see him,” Arlene said.
Friends have since set Arlene up with Howard Johnson, 91, and the two greatly enjoy each other’s company.
But she still misses her husband’s big blue eyes, which visitors can see in the picture that hangs in the foyer. Arlene rests in Bob’s arms, the sun creating a heavenly glow around them that will last past death.
Memories, thank goodness, are eternal. Maybe Bob is still watching over Mrs. Robert Keefer, as a local phone book lists Arlene. After 50 years of loving someone, you never really stop.