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The Lady and the Cowboy: There’s always time for true love

Levi. Photo by LCGross

Magnetic attraction. Easy companionship. True love late in life. This is the love story of Mary Testa and Levi Lertique, written in memory of Levi and the love that he and Mary shared. Sadly, Levi has passed on, so the story is told mostly in Mary’s words:

In late May 2012, Mary walked into the Globe library and saw a man she had never seen before.

“I was taken by surprise,” she remembers. “He had an aura about him that was so up lifting. It was like sunshine all around him.“   

The man was Levi Letirque, librarian on duty that day. He might have been a wearing a cowboy hat; for sure, a big smile. 

Levi returned Globe, his hometown, the year before. He returned with three things on his to-do list:

  1. Go to the state fair (something he couldn’t afford growing up)
  2. See a diamondback snake
  3. Go to the Grand Canyon

But first, he must meet a lady. She was in his library, chatting with another man. Levi joined their conversation.

“What a nice man he is,” Mary thought, pondering meeting him again.

Mary was born and raised in Plano, Texas; she speaks with a genteel southern accent. Once married, wealthy and well-connected, she traded society pages notices for something more.

The mother of two daughters, she served youth symphony, and started her own catering business.

After her divorce, Mary moved to Globe to be near family. It was hard at first. She didn’t like the desert, but she came to love it. It was hard to find a job, but a job found her. 

And it led her into the Globe library, looking for a movie. She found what she came for, and left.

Mary Testa with the walking stick . Photo by Patti Daley

Mary and Levi met again, at the library. And again, and again, talking two hours at a time. Their meetings moved to the evening shift, when there were fewer people and more hours to talk.

“We found each other very, very interesting,” Mary remembers.

Levi grew up in Globe. He left home in 1963 to serve in the U.S. Navy. He worked as a physicist, got married and divorced, loved his children, was offered a promotion, quit his job, and got into ranching.

And, all his life, he had always wanted to be a cowboy.

It was late August when Levi asked for Mary’s number. They made a plan for three weeks out, in mid-September.

But the night before their date, Levi spontaneously invited Mary to a movie downtown. They met at the theatre. 

“I parked, and he was already there,” Mary remembers. “I could see as I got closer, the smile coming and coming.”   

After the movie, Levi walked her to her car, and they hugged. 

“It was so nice because I knew we both felt this feeling, this magnetic feeling, drawing us to each other,” she remembers. “It was… wow… it just… I’d never felt like this in my whole entire life, and here I am, 67 years old, and I feel giggly and happy and… like I’m walking on a cloud.” 

“He said later, he felt the same way,” she adds. “It was magic.”

The next night, Mary was full of excitement for their first real date.

“Oh my God, I did not think the time would ever get there that day for him to pick me up,” she says. 

As they took off for a drive to the Valley for dinner and movie, Levi turned to Mary and said, “If it’s alright with you, I’d like to ask you questions all the way down.” 

Mary agreed on the condition that she ask the same questions on the way home.

He learned that she likes to dance. She learned that he liked to camp. 

They got to the movie a little early. It would become their routine. 

“We’d eat our treats, and when the movie started, he would always lift the arm and scoot over next to me. It was so sweet.”

When Levi brought Mary home, she invited him in. 

“It was a beautiful night. So we went and sat on the patio. And we were talking. Of course that led into one thing and then another…” she says coyly, “and we were together after that.”

“I don’t know what connected us like it did, but after we met and knew each other, I think that we respected each other so well,” Mary remembers, adding that she didn’t have that in her marriage. 

“We talked and talked and talked, and he respected what I said, whether he agreed with me or not,” she says. “I was not used to that.”

“I was born in the South where women were raised to be ladies and take care of their husbands,” she says. “And then, things changed.”

She pauses.

“It was I that changed,” she adds. “I wanted more in life.”

Since Mary wanted to dance, Levi danced with her. Not the cha cha and rhumba, though. During those songs, he would gallantly hand her to her dance partner, George.

Levi loved to camp, so Mary went with him. She saw the beauty of the desert. She learned about horses.

When Levi went horseback riding, Mary went hiking.

They were in love, but given their age, the two had no intention to marry. 

“I’m not going to do your laundry,” she told Levi one day. “I only cook when I want to. And I don’t keep my house spotless”.

“I will wash my own clothes,” Levi responded. “I don’t care if the house is clean or not. Food? I can cook. Or we can go out. And you’ll go with me.”

Mary imagines it was she who first suggested living together. 

“He said that he would really like that if I was sure,” she says.

Levi moved in, and a couple of weeks later, he went to the 2012 state fair in Phoenix, with Mary. 

He could check the first thing off his to-do list.

“We took care of each other and we cherished one another,” Mary remembers.

She remembers how they went to sleep holding hands and woke up holding hands. 

They kept doing the things they loved ‒ camping and dancing and making meals together.

Levi loved to read. According to Mary, he always had four or five books he was reading at a time. He also loved movies and the opera, but most of all, Levi loved his horse, Flash.

“He always said I was his second love,” says Mary. “Flash was his first love. And that was okay.”

One sunny day, back from a morning ride with Flash, Levi sat on the back patio, relaxing with Mary.

He turned to her and said, “This is what I’ve wanted all my life.” 

“So nice,” thought Mary as she sipped her iced tea. “Me too.”   

One day, as Valentine’s Day drew near, Levi asked her, “‘You’re not one of those who expects something special on Valentine’s Day, are you?” 

“Of course I am!” she said.

She didn’t want holiday-priced flowers or fancy dinners. 

“You tell me you used to write poetry,” she said to him. “That’s what I want, a poem from you.”

So he wrote her poem for Valentine’s Day ‒ a poem she still has to this day. It reads:

“Three roses: white, yellow and red. The white represents my thoughts of you, pure, uncomplicated and they enhance my life… The yellow represents the glorious emotions I feel each time I think of you. It is sunflowers experiencing a burst of sunshine on a spring day… The red represents the passion each time I embrace you touching your lips to mine, feeling the heat as it rises from my very being to engulf me…”

On their last trip at Roosevelt Lake, Levi didn’t ride his horse on Sunday as he always did.

“We don’t spend enough time together,” he told her. 

They went for a walk together instead. On the trail, Mary stopped Levi. There in front of them was a diamondback snake. Levi could mark number two off of his list. 

Eventually, Memorial Day came in 2013. Levi, who had been bed-ridden for a week, was up.

“You know, I feel really good today,” he said to her.

Mary suggested a shave and shower. He agreed.

They walked down the hall. They kissed, and Mary went back to the kitchen. 

Suddenly, there was a loud crash. Levi had fallen. Mary ran to him.

“That’s when I knew there really is a soul in our body because I saw his eyes, and he wasn’t in there,” she remembers.

Mary and Levi at the Bernstein's fundraiser for the Safe House in 2015. Photo by LCGross
Mary and Levi at the Bernstein’s fundraiser for the Safe House in 2015. Photo by LCGross

Looking up for his soul, Mary wept. 

“Come back, don’t go. Don’t go,” she pleaded. 

But Levi was already gone.

Mary anguished in her loss. But she did not lose her spirit. 

The first Christmas after Levi’s death, Mary made a tree out of old fence posts and rope. She adorned it with greenery, lights, and all cowboy boot ornaments.

She kept dancing, but she cried when the pretty songs came on. 

Sometimes she wonders if Levi could have lived if different choices were made. But she doesn’t hold on to those thoughts.

“I do believe, when it’s your time, it’s your time,” she says. “I do believe that.”

Mary returned to Roosevelt Lake to choose a place to scatter Levi’s ashes. The place was deserted. Her friend found a piece of wood.

“Oh, it’s a walking stick,” her friend said, “God left it here.”

“God may have had a hand in it,” Mary said, “but Levi left it there for me.”   

Mary took the stick home. Her cousin carved two hearts on it. She has yet to take it walking.

“It’s lonely, because I don’t think anyone could ever fill those shoes,” she says. “But I’m grateful for the eight months. That was a gift. 

“But when I’m down… I miss the touch, the human part of him being here,” she adds. “Sometimes I hear him, sometimes I smell him, sometimes I feel him.  I truly believe he’s always with me. 

It’s been almost five years since Levi died.   

Levi’s shirts still hang in the closet, but the wall once covered with his pictures have a fresh coat of white paint. 

“In all my life, I’ve never had a white wall,” Mary says. 

She now has a single picture of Levi, an American flag above it, in a quiet corner of Mary’s living room, honoring his memory, his service, and his love. 

“It let me know that there is something so wonderful in life,” she says.   

About Patti Daley

A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.

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