In the very early hours of Friday, July 12th, my life changed forever. At exactly 1:19 A.M. my mother drew her last breath and fell asleep in death. There was so much about her life that brought tears to my eyes, but one thing that we often talked about made her eyes light up and a smile break out on her face. Bats! She was a grand supporter of these tiny little creatures before it was “cool” to be a supporter. She entertained some of the most well known “bat people” in the world over the years. A documentary about bats living in places besides caves was filmed at her home where bats had found residence in a big tree house that my stepdad built for my little brother. Biology students from Boston University found their way here every summer and she fed them hearty meals and visited with them....sometimes throwing in some “motherly” advice. That bat lady mentality rubbed off on my youngest daughter, Melissa. Melissa became The Eckert James River Bat Cave steward eleven years ago and held that position for three seasons until her health forced her to give it up...but not before forcing me to apply for the position.
When she asked me if I would consider applying for the position, all that I could think about was that I was old and fat....there was an uphill climb to the cave...it was hot.....there were “creatures” that also lived on the Preserve...and it stunk!! I did get the position eight years ago and when my mother’s life ended my mind was immediately drawn to the bats and our conversations that we had many times shared about them. My mother always had a very deep desire to visit the cave “just one more time”, but it never happened. She was the victim of the most horrid disease that I have ever known, Alzheimer’s. We were in a store over ten years ago when she forgot who I was. It took quite a while before she forgot who she was, but she NEVER forgot the bats. I would visit with her and start talking and it wasn’t long before the bats were brought up. I would look into her eyes that were open but for so long were lusterless and cold but with the first mention of the bats, a gleam like a shooting star blazed bright and her eyes just danced. Mother never got back to see the bats because she literally did lose her vision and became very weak. Even with her being blind, I could see her eyes light up when we went over the details of what was happening at The Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve. She was proud of me for what I did...just as I was proud of my daughter for her role in the education and protection of these tiny mammals! That pride gives me strength during this time of letting her go. Her love and respect for these majestic bats has allowed me to continue fighting her battle for life. She has lost the battle for her life, but I can do what I am able to do to assist others and share something of value at The Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve....appreciation of life! Showing people how important these bats are to not only people in Mason, Texas, but to the whole world makes me happy. Through all of the sadness for so many, many years of watching my mother lose her eyesight, her strength, her ability to walk, and her ability to think, I can be happy for whatever years I am left on this earth just knowing that she gave me a focus on life that I will always appreciate and strive to continue. My mother is gone now, but before it is too late to come out “just one more time”, do it. Put visiting The Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve on your “bucket list” before you have to carry that bucket. Let me show you how something so tiny can become a very huge thing in your life.....thank you Mother!!
Opal Ruth Eckert: July 17, 1926-July 12, 2013