More than 80 miles northeast of Whitney in Dallas, Eugene Gates Jr. went to work on a hot June day. He never came home.
Six months later, Carla Gates’ home in Lancaster didn’t have Christmas decorations or the smell of gumbo, her husband’s favorite seasonal dish. Eugene was gone, and so was Carla’s holiday spirit.
The cold, rainy December weather matched the 56-year-old widow’s mood. She misses her husband’s daily text messages and romantic gestures like opening doors for her. She missed binge-watching movies with him on Christmas Day.
Her husband died after his body dangerously overheated in triple-digit heat on June 20 while he was working his mail delivery route. His death made national news, a symbol of the deadly consequences of extreme heat.
“Being out in that heat that particular day, it was a death trap,” Carla Gates said.
It was his first day back at work after a weeklong vacation. He got up at 3:30 a.m., prepared a breakfast of bacon and eggs, then packed his cooler with water, grape juice, and tea, topped with ice from the new ice maker he’d purchased just for his work cooler.