Whipcat and I started playing Scrabble on the web between Iowa City and Warsaw, Poland, just before Thanksgiving, 2011. Sometimes two games at once and our scores kept getting higher and higher till they were consistently over 300 points each. I seldom scored higher playing others. But then again, we always brought out the best in each other.
We first met in the early 1980s at Cedar Falls High School (CFHS) where I was doing a Library Science practicum from University of Northern Iowa. Whipcat (nom de Scrabble), AKA Linda Waddle, was a librarian there. From the beginning we hit it off. She took me, a fledgling librarian, under her wing and taught me what it meant to be a librarian.
“If,” said Sir Isaac Newton, “I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” If I ever did a lick of good in the library world, it is because of Linda Waddle. I have truly seen further because of her. She taught me the importance of student access to information, collaborating with teachers, book talks, curriculum development, and technology. Linda taught me how to work with these ideas for the good of students and teachers and I am forever indebted to her.
Early on we started to argue about library stuff. Mostly we were on the same wavelength, however, when you put two strong-willed people in a library they will express ideas. So we argued. But the beauty about arguing with Linda was that it remained professional—it was about ideas, not personalities. Within those arguments we explored ideas about daily work and our profession. In doing so we forged a friendship. I went from protege, to colleague, and over time, to a dear friend.
I made a bone-head move after two years at CFHS and took a job as the director of the Fort Dodge Public Library. A disastrous decision on many (but not all) fronts. Linda grew up in Webster City and she told me that they called Fort Dodge, “Fort Doggy Bow Wow!” Fort Dodge is now and forever “Fort Doggy Bow Wow” for me.
As luck would have it, my successor at CFHS moved on after one year, so one day in May the principal, Dean Dreyer, and Linda, called to ask if I would like to return to my old job. With no hesitation, I said, “Yes!” I remember exactly where I was when they called: sitting at my desk, facing east, toward Cedar Falls.
Linda and I worked one more year together before she took a job at the American Library Association (ALA) in Chicago. She moved to Wrigleyville, just minutes from Wrigley Field. She reveled in being so close to the Cubs. She always loved sports, and now she loved her home team… her neighborhood team.
Even when we were no longer working side-by-side she remained an influence. I became active in ALA committee work for several years because of Linda. When she stopped being a columnist for the now defunct Wilson Library Journal she recommended I take over. I wrote three years worth of columns for them.
Sometimes our Scrabble games were nip and tuck. Other times we annihilated one another. There would be streaks on both sides, but that did not discourage the loser. We were in it for the long haul. Whipcat couldn’t figure out how to send messages via the Scrabble app so she sent this email:
“I don’t know how to use that message apparatus on Free Scrabble. I meant to say ’Sorry–all’s fair in love and war.’
An email from our first days of Scrabble:
“Scrabble playing with you at the international level is really fun!
I’m reading the latest Jack Reacher and can hardly put it down to play Scrabble, but being retired has its advantages–the only time I quit either is to go play cards.”
And how she loved her bridge games. Perhaps more than Scrabble; she was in two bridge clubs in Iowa City, where she lived after retiring from ALA. One club met at an HyVee cafe.
I was once in Iowa City when Iowa State, Iowa, and UNI were all in the NCAA basketball tournament. She had posters for all three teams on her fridge door. She’d sadly take down a team’s poster once they lost. Her love of sports was catholic.
Regarding library work, Linda always said, “Dance with the one that brung us” That dance partner was books and so we “danced” while we played Scrabble.
Here’s an email exchange from 2012.
Linda Waddle <email@example.com>
Looks like we’ll be able to have a few more Scrabble games! I don’t know what happened, but I’m grateful to the good lord or the gods of apps that it’s working again.
Hope all is well in Warsaw–I have another favorite 2011 book–it’s The Art of Fielding.
Matt Kollasch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
ha! guess what. I am reading art of fielding now. …just started; it is great!
I loved American boy!
snowy snowy night here… see you on the board; welcome back.
[The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is a novel of baseball, friendship, college, and coming of age. American Boy is a novel by Larry Watson.]
Our emails show a lot of book chatter.
Her passion for the Cubs was flamed by living in Wrigleyville. My only visit to Wrigley Field was thanks to Linda who encouraged it and got us good seats. She suffered their disappointing seasons with decorum. She was, heart and soul, a woman who loved sports. Scrabble, cards and the Cubs were part of her sporting life. In playing Scrabble we kept a thirty-three year friendship up-to-date.
Whipcat and I played Scrabble—almost daily—for close to four years. I loved having her so frequently in my life. When in Iowa, I would visit her and we’d play with the board and tiles. The last time we played in Iowa City she won all three games (Arrgh!).
In September 2015, back on the app, I was on a merciless winning streak. We both loved the competition, but this time I was beating Linda game after game after game and feeling like the Prince of Scrabble, but then she stopped playing. A break from our word-rich parrying was normal. However, this Scrabble silence persisted. After a few days I used the nudge feature to exhort her next play. No response. A week goes by, then ten days.
Then (yay!) an email from Linda arrived. Great she’s back. She was just tussling (again!) with that Scrabble app!
It was not Linda writing.
Dear Friends and Family,
It is with a heavy heart that our family announces the death of our beloved mother, sister, grandmother, aunt and friend Linda Lou Van Doren Waddle on September 28th. She died at the home she shared with her sister in Iowa City.
What..? Ohno… what?
Linda joined Harry Carey too soon. She would love this year’s team and know everything about them. She’d gush about Joe Madden and have photos of Ross, Baez, and Hendricks on her fridge! We’d talk about the Cubs between Scrabble games. She’d love the improvements to that tetchy Scrabble app!
I think she went blind toward the end. I wonder if that was when she might have given up: No more reading, no more Scrabble, no more bridge, no more sports on TV. Maybe she was just done. I don’t know, but I am certain this all would have frightened her and it hurts knowing she may have suffered . And while I was feeling princely, she was in her decline. Dying. I had no idea, but… damn.
I miss my mentor, my friend, my Scrabble nemesis.
So Cubs, win the Series for Linda, okay?
And Whipcat, too.
The Whipcat Scrabble rack stays on my desk until the World Series ends.