“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.”
Joan Didion wrote that on the first page of her book The Year of Magical Thinking, about the sudden death of her long-time love John Dunne. The bewildering sadness of losing a spouse that Didion wrote about is something Deborah Lucas knows as well. Her husband, Elio “Leo” Lucas, the gregarious proprietor and chef of former Old Town Clovis eatery Trelio, passed away in 2005 from a blood clot in his lungs, likely linked to the prostate cancer he’d been diagnosed with a year and a half earlier. Asleep in bed one night, Deborah recalls that her husband woke unable to breath. Thirty minutes later, he was gone. Thirty terrifying minutes rolled into one life-changing instant that brought to an end 29 years of marriage.
But just as life is full of inauspicious twists and turns, so too is it full of glorious moments that come out of nowhere. Often, these instances are ones in which a person meets a great love. For Deborah and Leo, their moment happened at a Fresno disco club in 1975. She was a shy, 20-year-old single mother sneaked into the club by her girlfriends; he was an outgoing Greek boy working the room in platform boots. Deborah and Leo hit if off right away that night. Six months later, they were married. When Deborah talks about that first meeting with the man who would become her husband, who was at the club that night to be set up with her friend, she remembers how he seemed to know everyone there. What you’ll notice about Deborah today, is that she is the same way.
Over their years together, the couple raised Deborah’s son and had two daughters of their own. They also raised a restaurant. Trelio was Leo’s brainchild, but it was a family business. Deborah would come to the restaurant each night after working her day job in the Fresno courts system, to take care of the front-of-house operations. Leo manned the kitchen, whipping up avant-garde cuisine and custom dishes. If Leo had the ingredients and a customer requested a it, he would make it. The kids were involved as well. And customers were treated like cousins, aunts, uncles. Employees like nieces and nephews. Everybody was family.
Many of the close bonds the Lucases formed while running Trelio remain today. One of the restaurant’s former waiters, now in real estate and the founder of this very website, has taken on the task of selling the home Deborah and Leo shared for most of their marriage.
Deborah let Leo design the multi-level Mondrian-esque home tucked into a hillside in Tollhouse to his every specification. Ten years after Leo’s death, with Deborah spending more time in town, and her kids worrying about her making the long drive home at night, she put the home on the market. It’s really just about convenience, she said. If she could pick the house up and move it, she would.
She may be a widow, but the word just doesn’t seem to fit Deborah. And while there is no one way to grieve the loss of a spouse, Deborah sets a good example. When talking about her “hubby” she laughs and cries in equal measure. After Leo’s death, she was scared at the prospect of going out alone, since she hadn’t done so since she was 21. These days, there are 21-year-olds who probably couldn’t keep up with her social life. She has a Harley, six tattoos (a cross on each forearm honor Leo and her fight against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), likes “blingy” jewelry and has a wallop of silver hair she only lets her son style. A 61, Deborah has definitely committed to the choice she made after Leo died: to live.
As for if she’ll ever remarry, she says she won’t settle for anything less than the sparks she had the first time around. Those sparks may just be out there, trapped in an ordinary instant yet to come. But it’s safe to say that whoever causes them to ignite won’t be wearing platform disco boots.