The magic of the Checkley family touched many in the kiting world. Beginning with Dave and Dorothea and ending with their daughter Liz, the Checkley's embraced the kiting community, sharing their love of kiting and making friends throughout the world. We will miss them all.
On one of my first trips to Japan, Liz Checkley was one of many people “on the bus” and having known her mother Dorothea, and father David, I wanted to get to know her as well. Little did I know that she would be the catalyst for one of my most memorable moments in Japan.
Liz had traveled to China and Japan, so had a keen eye for unique objects, be they art, kites, literature, or toys. On this particular trip she had made a mad dash into a toy store – one of her favorite stops – and brought her prized purchases back to the kite-bus. I don’t know how long the trip was that day, but as soon as Liz broke out her purchases, it certainly got a lot shorter. She had found the very first “magic eye” posters/cards. (You remember “magic eye,” where you cross your eyes in order to see the unseen image?) She passed these simple black-and-white jumbles around the bus and sat back as each of us deciphered the puzzles. It was so funny and exciting to see each pair of seat-mates try to figure out the images. Shouts and hoots went up when each successive person figured out the game. We were some of the first to participate in this brief and viral world phenomenon.
This quiet sense of humor, often simply observing people’s behavior, was one of Liz’s charms. She seemed to enjoyed groups, not because of the excitement and outward interaction, but because of her ability to observe and comment. She was able to identify the genuine and laugh at our feeble facades. Behind her appreciation for whimsy dwelt a personal fire that made her a notable bead-artist, creating intricate and original designs, prized by collectors around the world.
Liz battled health issues for years and somehow remained positive. For anyone blessed with good health, she was an example; remaining upbeat, never feeling sorry for herself, and continuing to think about others. Her husband Joe remained a faithful companion through all of Liz’s trials and was himself, an example for us all. I’ll miss knowing that Liz is somewhere in the room watching, thinking of something that will make us smile.
I first heard of Liz through her father Dave Checkley. He was visiting my little kite house in1982 as I was making a batch of kites. He watched me for a while and suddenly said you really should meet my daughter Lizzie. He felt Liz and I would get along. I thought sure, sure; I liked being around men more than women at that time. I wanted to hear about wing loading, carbon fiber and lift versus drag.
At the next Avoid the Bowls January Kite Fly, I ran into this tall willowy woman with a pug in her bag. Being a dog lover, but not owner, I had to go over and get my “pets and kootchie koos” in. It was my first encounter with “Liz.” Before I went to the pup, I became entangled in this great big broad smile punctuated by a twinkle in her eyes.
Liz was a bundle of one-liners. She did not monopolize the conversation but she could stop the conversation with just one line topped off by the smile and the twinkle in her eyes. Her words were always slow and measured but well worth waiting for.
In 1989, I felt very honored to be invited to Liz’s wedding to Joe Manfredini, held at St Alphonsis church, which just so happened to be the place where I went to High School years before. I had just met my current husband, Allan Clements, and had invited him along. It was a magical time because we have all have stayed together throughout the years. Liz was about being happy and having fun and her wedding was fun. Of course Liz was married on her birthday, April 15th. What a great idea for remembering her anniversary. She was clever, too.
Liz and Joe invited an entourage of people on a trip to Japan in 1991. I jumped at the chance. Who better to travel with than someone who knew all the nooks and crannies? That was Liz. At that time Liz had gained some weight due to a chronic illness she had acquired early in life. We went to every obscure place in Japan that Liz remembered.
Where ever we went Liz was held with the highest esteem. She constantly smiled and always accepted the honor with graciousness. When we returned home Joe gave us a slide show of the visit. In one photo of Liz, she appeared as a blur running to search out the next treasure. The photo was in focus; Liz was just going that fast.
Liz did not make kites but made jewelry using Japanese Kite motifs. Who can forget her cloisonné bee earring or her enamel bolo ties? When you entered her house you were overwhelmed by the number of Chinese and Japanese kites hanging throughout the house. All part of her father Dave Checkley’s legacy. Liz also was a well known beading artist. Many of her pieces are in art museums. At one of our last visits, Liz was just thrilled that someone in Czechoslovakia had seen her pieces on the internet and would like to have her autograph.
Liz’s beading was phenomenal. She beaded jars at first, selecting the finest and most even seed beads. Pretty soon I saw cows, milkmaids, and whole rooms beaded. Her finest work was a 24” high Our Lady of Guadalupe. The veil was most exquisite, not only to the eyes, but to the touch. Liz was always loading up her long thin beading needles. Perfection was her goal; if she found an error twenty rows before, she would rip everything out and go back to fix it. Liz loved baseball games so she devised a hand held beading bracelet that she could dip her needle into and continue beading even through the Mariners games.
She was hard headed, too. She was hell bent on losing weight. On one of my visits we went downstairs into her studio. There nailed (with big nails) was a pair of her “skinny” jeans hanging on the door. It was her way of reminding herself that she was going to fit into those jeans. Unfortunately a reoccurrence of illness made it possible all too soon.
Liz was a great cook among many other talents. She was always inviting us out to have dinner with her and Joe. Sometimes the table was long and filled with people, other times it was just the four of us. It was always set sumptuously. The fare was gourmet. Liz was well trained by her mother whose personal friend and frequent guest was Julia Childs.
One always had something new to tempt the palate at Liz’s dinners. One of our last dinners was spaghetti. After satiating ourselves, Liz looked at me and said “what did you think?” I replied it was really tasty. Liz replied that she had substituted Spam for the meat. I know my eyes must have bugged out, but it was classic Liz and I know she saw what she was looking for in my face. Besides she had just returned from Hawaii. She always brought back a bit of the local culture.
The thing I remembered most about Liz was her total acceptance of everyone. Liz collected a wide range of friends from the toughest looking bikers to followers of the Dalai Lama. All her caretakers became part of her family. She took care of everyone and understood their problems. It did not matter what Liz was going through herself, she always had room in her heart for others.
Her memorial was on November 12th 2011. A sit-down dinner was what she would have wanted. The best gift was her farewell video. She was so well prepared to move from life to spirit. She left us with the gift of her smile, a twinkle in her eye and the message: “The purpose of our lives is to be happy,” as said by the Dalai Lama.