Nine Lives & One Crazy Cat

Kitten__Linda2.25height“Live life to the fullest!” We’ve all heard that expression before—more often than not, from family and friends who seem to derive great pleasure in dangling it in front of us, like catnip, when they know full well that it’s hopelessly out of reach.

Oh sure! We all stalk the ever-elusive joie de vivre, but precious few actually capture it: Linda Rankin being one of them. In fact, she’s packed enough living into 50 some odd, some not so odd, years that she could fill nine lives and several back issues of Life magazine.

“One Life To Live” began in Bradford, Pennsylvania about 99 miles southeast of Niagara Falls, the ”Honeymoon Capital of the World.” While these majestic falls are famous for barrel rolls and heart-shaped tubs, Bradford, PA doesn’t mean a hill of beans or diddly-squat. Why even the most patriotic townsfolk, like the Rankin clan, readily admit that it means ZIPPO.

Billy Joel made it abundantly clear that “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” Bradford’s largest employer, Zippo Lighters did. Millions of them. Just ask any Boy Scout, chain-smoker or Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. A pretty risky proposition, don’t you think? After all, the Allegheny National Forest is only 12 miles away as the burning ember flies.

Linda The Flower Child

By all accounts, Linda Rankin was a Flower Child of the 60s. Not the peace loving, hitchhiking, skinny-dipping, pot smoking, war protesting type, rather the violet collecting, trillium planting, and mandrake-cultivating variety.

From an early age, Linda loved flowers, a harmless addiction. But what really turned her on to botany was her Mom’s passion for Trailing arbutus and her stash of Time/Life Science books, the contents of which she inhaled on the living room floor. The only thing she really protested was being cooped up inside. Like her counterculture counterparts, she searched for ways to expand her mind…through knowledge as opposed to psychedelics.

Linda The Marine

At eight, Linda was shipped off to boot camp at the Callahan Park Municipal Pool, where her drill instructor (aka diving coach) must’ve realized that she was going through a phase, trading the sweet scent of flowers for the antiseptic odor of chlorine. During those impressionable years, her interests drifted toward marine life: you know, sharks and minnows, cannonballs, and that age-old favorite, Marco Polo. No, SEAL training for her.

Then suddenly, her life was turned upside down, with a half twist thrown in for good measure. And yet, somehow with her cat-like reflexes, Linda always managed to land on her feet.  Unless a particular dive required her entering the water headfirst, then she obliged by knifing through the surface with deadly accuracy.

By the age of 12, she had had several scrapes with, not the law, but the local diving board. While attempting to execute a reverse dive or gainer, her fingertips inevitably scraped the end it. Ouch! A free manicure wasn’t the issue; however, the prospect of receiving a not-too-complimentary facial left something to be desired. So Little Miss Not Quite Perfect walked away from diving for good.

Well, things only went backwards from there. Her friends claim Linda spent countless hours staring blankly into space or at the ceiling, depending on whether she was indoors or out, as she honed her backstroke skills and dove into a swimming career, which extended well into her college years. Semper Fi.

Linda The Mathematician

Despite her life-long obsession with biology, Linda’s biological parents—Malcolm, a chemical engineer at Kendall Motor Oil and Helen, a former telephone operator for Ma Bell—convinced their daughter that biology was, in so many words, a game of Trivial Pursuit and steered her toward physics her freshman year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

That lasted about a nanosecond. According to Linda’s new Theory of Relativity, her GPA quickly entered a free fall while her interests gravitated toward mathematics. So much so, that after two years, she crossed the Pond to Scotland to finish up her Mathematics/Applied Numerical degree and sample some haggis. “A’m sairy! Did’ a tell ye Linda‘s ½ Scot? After she finished—her degree, not the haggis—she returned stateside to earn a master’s degree from the University of Maryland at College Park.

Linda The International Spy

With her vast experience converting digital algorithms into analog accuracy data, Linda was lured into the intriguing world of underwater espionage for one reason alone—her ability to make “sound” decisions that could help the Navy detect the whereabouts of suspicious Soviet subs two miles beneath the ocean’s surface. Think “Hunt for Red October” with a $200 billion production budget.  Apparently, the threat of Armageddon wasn’t challenging enough; so Linda spent the rest of her waking hours as an undercover electrical engineering student, picking up a master’s degree from Villanova in the process.

Linda The Locksmith

When the naval contract went south, Linda headed north to Cornell for post-graduate work in MicroBIOLOGY. Ah, yes! After a 15-year odyssey, the “circle of academic life” was complete. She accepted a post doctorate position at UTD, which involved setting up a new lab with a professor who recently joined the faculty from Georgia Tech. There, she learned to sweat the small stuff: single cell microbes with thousands of receptors.  Assuming the role of a genetic locksmith, she searched for a key to unlock the mystery of several debilitating diseases.

Linda The Professor

Convinced that “It’s a Small World After All,” she caught the teaching bug in 2009, and with her infectious smile, began spreading her knowledge of germs and microbiology to students at Eastfield and Colin County Community Colleges. Her message to future generations: Every little bit helps…paint the big picture.

Linda The Rower

First impressions of Linda are that of a shy, petite unassuming woman. In fact, she didn’t come out of her shell until last Saturday, after four grueling hours chasing and beating the living daylights out of a bunch of kids twice her size and less than half her age. Hey, that’s the life of a competitive rower! Or, at least the one we all know. By the way, did you know that she distinguished herself this past summer by earning a coveted bronze medal in U.S. Rowing 2011 Masters National Championships? It’s no small wonder that this 5’1” dynamo’s been affectionately dubbed “The Hemi.” She’s got a huge, powerful engine that just won’t quit. Want proof? Check out the emotional carnage she’s left behind in her wake.

Linda The Ring Leader

It only seems fitting that a mathematician with a towering intellect—my words, not hers—and a limitless towing capacity would adopt change ringing as a pastime: pulling a two-ton church bell in a series of mathematical patterns or algorithm for hours on end. Linda more than pulls her weight around here. And her handiwork can be heard the world over, from the Old North Church in Boston, the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and St. Paul’s in Dundee, Scotland to the east coast of Australia and neighboring New Zealand.

Linda The Brewmeister

Another outside interest of hers that’s taken on a life of its own is home brewing. (Admittedly, she missed the lab work after finishing her postdoc at UTD.) While most domestic types are content to whip up a fresh batch of Betty Crocker brownies in 20 minutes, Linda the mad scientist spends weeks, even months bringing her creation to life: a case or so of thirst-quenching homebrewed beer. Her yet to be named microbiology microbrewery has produced an impressive stable of beers that would put the King of Beers and all the king’s horses to shame. Her private reserve includes stout, porter, Belgian style and India pale ale, as well as wit, hefewiezen, brown ale and saison – making her the life of the party at change ringing festivals and our St. Patrick’s Day Feast.

L’lguy The Crazy Cat

Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten the crazy cat part. With his distinctive clerical collar markings, “L’ilguy “ the cat was Linda’s ordained Minister of Mischief, mesmerized by swirling drains, enraptured by dangling shoestrings and consumed by foolish pride for his impressive collection of trophies (i.e. dead mice). Sadly, he’s no longer with us. (That’s Mandie Burris’s main squeeze in the photo.)

Nine lives might suffice for most folks and Linda’s dearly departed, but this Episcopalian has her sites set on a loftier goal that’s well within reach: eternal life. Which might explain why Wonder Woman here has made her presence felt in the life of our church, whether it be calling Christians to worship, baking fresh bread for newcomers or supplying a refreshing round of beer. The name Linda Rankin rings true forever.

[Author’s note: My sincere apologies to the reader for the length of this piece. It’s hard enough trying to tell someone’s entire life story in 500 words or less, let alone nine of them.]