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“Look at that!”

Steve Richardson was a sculptor who made his living as a butcher. I have to say was. Two days ago is. Now, was. He was cremated today, but I don’t believe it. Can’t take it in. Not yet. Say it again. Steve Richardson was a sculptor who made his living as a butcher. He was about my age, and he loved being alive. His neighbor found him dead on his couch Monday morning, probably from a heart attack. Steve lived a working-class life in the working-class town of Rosenberg, Texas, and most of the people in Steve’s life couldn’t see the value of his work. He didn’t care. He made things because he had to. Because he loved making.

To Steve, an old doorknob was a thing of wonder. Was. (Every time I use past tense, I believe it a little more. I don’t want to believe it.) Was. To Steve, an old doorknob was a thing of wonder, and so were rocks, rolls of wire, buttons, warped planks of wood, rusty faucets, and pieces of metal from old cars. Every moment of Steve’s life was full of possibility. He’d bend over and pick up a hunk of metal lying in a parking lot, and he’d say, “Look at that!” and chuckle with pleasure. “Look at that!” He found art wherever he looked, and he spent his life looking. His head was always jerking left, right, up, down, panning, scanning, looking for things to love. He especially loved things he could hammer together, glue together, wedge together, sand, paint, or mount on a pedestal. He created juxtapositions that called attention to the joy of things—the shapes of things, the heft and rhythm and texture of things.

I met him in 1999. By then he’d quit drinking and using drugs, and he was busy making amends to the people he hurt when he was sunk in addiction. (Was is easy there. That life was gone long ago.) I only knew him sober, “straight,” with gray hair and a gray beard, chuckling with joy to be alive. He loved to give things away. He was willing to work himself to death to make enough money to give away. He always bought me a Christmas gift, though I never got him one. He never needed much. His uniform was a tank top, some baggy shorts that stopped just above his knees, and sandals. For his third wife’s funeral a few years ago he borrowed a Mexican wedding shirt and a pair of long pants. He needed a woman in his life. He courted Marta, his fourth wife, on the phone. She was in Honduras, speaking Spanish, and he was in Texas, speaking English. Initially they had a go-between. Later they just said what they wanted to say and listened to each other’s tone of voice; they stroked each other with words, and the meaning of the words didn’t matter to them. Somehow, one word at a time, he asked her to marry him, sight unseen, and she said yes, and he bought her a ring and a suitcase full of gifts and went down there and married her. When was it? A year ago? No, two, I think. She was his angel; he carried her picture with him everywhere. He projected all that was perfect in a woman onto that picture, and he loved her obsessively, passionately, fiercely. He loved loving her. He was happy loving Marta. I feared what would happen once she got here and they had to live in daily reality. All his friends cautioned him, “Steve, you know, she might not be what you think.” But he was in love, and he was happy. He spent the whole last year trying to get her into the USA, making his house ready for her and her son, dreaming of the life they would have. She was going to arrive in April.

For Steve, there were no ordinary things, ordinary people, ordinary days. “Look at that!” he’d say, as a hawk wheeled around the sky. “Look at that!” as he stopped to pick up a blown piece of tire tread on the highway, or a bottle cap, or a rusty bolt. The whole world was a playground full of surprises for Steve Richardson. I wonder what will happen to his work. If I had my way, it would end up in waiting rooms in hospitals, jails, detox units, women’s shelters, probation offices, and halfway houses: places where people who are going through hard times can look up from whatever their pain is, and say, “Look at that!”

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-1 responses to ““Look at that!””

  1. John says:

    Ah Kendall, I am sad that the world has lost Steve Richardson. I wish I had known him. What a blessed tribute. Thank you.

  2. Steve Jr says:

    Thanks for the wonderful write up of my father. I will be attending the memorial service on March 3rd at 12:00 in Rosenber.

  3. admin says:

    Wonderful, Steve! I look forward to meeting you. I’ll be there too.

  4. Nacho says:

    Kendall, very touching and nice post on Mr. Richardson. I wish I had met him also. I love the way you speak about his not finding things just “ordinary.” To me that translates into finding the wondrous even in the things we deem most mundane — finding the dharma everywhere. Coming to your blog is that and more, and hearing your voice, and your emotion here, is also wondrous. Thank you. My thanks for the tribute as well.

    Remember Orson Scott Card’s “Speaker for the Dead?” Thanks for speaking about Mr. Richardson. We all need that voicing, we all have lives that need that telling. Thank you.



  5. Marilyn Richardson Eddy says:

    Thank you for writing such a great article about my brother, Steve. You truly captured his spirit for life. A spirit that will always remain with those of us who loved him.

    I look forward to meeting you at the memorial service.

    Steve’s “Sis” (Marilyn)

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