Thursday, February 16, 2012
Of course I got the email on Valentine’s Day. I’m sure the person who sent it didn’t mean to stir up a kettle full of emotions. She was just sharing her heart. And it touched mine in one of its deepest places, on this day that revolves around hearts.
Her name is Mrs. Knowles. She pleads with me to call her ‘Marie’, but when I was a child, she was one of the moms in our church. No matter how old I get, it’s hard to address her in such an informal way. I’ve just recently found her, through connections on Facebook, of course. After we became online friends, she offered to read my book manuscript. I’m always open to new eyes, so I promptly sent it to her.
In the course of our conversations about the manuscript, she’s become very special to me. Her encouraging words give me a lift that only a mom’s words can. A long time ago, when I was a very young child, she was one of my mom’s good friends. We all lived on the same street and my mom did normal friends things with her - shared a cup of coffee, talked about their kids.
Then we moved out to the country, about the time I started school, and started taking in foster children. My mom no longer saw her friends beyond waving to them across the aisle at church. There were always weeds to pull in the garden, endless loads of laundry to do for as many as 14 kids at a time. She lost her social circle.
But it turns out they never forgot her. Mrs. Knowles was at the hospital the night my mom was brought in after suffering a stroke. The new pastor of the church had called her for support, since he was still getting to know all of the church’s members. Mrs. Knowles recalls wanting so desperately to try to get across to him how special my mom was.
Because she remembers my mom as a friend first. Not as the woman with the van full of kids.
On Valentine’s Day she sent me an email about the manuscript, and added a paragraph in the middle about my mom. Personal stories and reflections about what a good friend she was, and how heartbroken she was when my mom died.
It touched me deeply. My mom died 17 years ago. It was devastating to me to lose her when I was still in my mid 20s. I wallowed through the grief and life went on, as it tends to do. Now that so many years have passed, I sometimes feel like all I have left are my own scattered memories, which tend to get more fuzzy, the older I get.
Occasionally an old friend who is my own age (usually one I’ve found through Facebook) shares a memory with me. Something my mom did that they remember, or snapshots of her warm, loving character.
But for some reason Mrs. Knowles’s walk down memory lane touched me deeply. I so rarely hear about her from people who knew her as ‘Jane’, not just ‘Mrs. Johnson’. This is someone who knew my mom’s heart at one time. This is someone who had a grown up relationship with her; the kind that I so craved to have once I was a mom myself. But then she was gone.
Mrs. Knowles provide me with something more valuable than gold. She gave me an intimate look back at this woman I longed to know better. The details of her stories are so tender and loving that they force me to go back to that place, the place where I let myself think about the fact she’s gone, and all that I’ve missed in the past 17 years.
One of the memories Mrs. Knowles shares is of how my mom was so creative and crafty. I’d forgotten that side of her. In the years of my growing up she was distracted and busy. But even then she always made a point of having a latch hook rug set up on a card table, for any of us to stop and work on if the mood inspired. She sewed many of our clothes, and year after year taught the kids in our 4-H club about basic sewing techniques. Then, in the few years she had after all of the foster children were gone, and her own had left the nest, she made western style bolos and key chains out of colorful beads.
I have a couple of them, tucked in a box of special memories I have of her. I cradle them in my hands, taking comfort in the fact her hands also touched them, and crafted them, once upon a time.
I read the email from Mrs. Knowles, then a minutes later found myself in my kitchen, gearing up to make dinner. A long chain of construction paper valentines dangled in front of the sliding glass door. Special decorations I made to help my children know how much I love them on this, and every Valentine’s Day. As the sun reflected off the twirling pink paper, tears fell down my cheeks.
She was crafty. I am crafty. It’s yet another way I still carry on her legacy.
My siblings and I each miss her in our own ways, according to our own relationships with her. I sometimes feel like I was the most like her. I have an endlessly deep heart for anyone who is suffering. I would adopt every orphan child on the planet if I had the resources. I love nothing more than being home, taking care of my family. I am so like her that it makes me miss her, in a way that I feel I’m still a part of her - and she of me.
I look for any way I can these days, to feel close to her. It gets harder and harder as the years put so much time between today and the last time I shared her company. But treasures like the single paragraph in a simple email do a world of good. They bring tears, but not unnecessary tears. Large wet droplets of gratitude and love…longing and grief.
Thank you, Mrs. Knowles. Your gift to me on this special Valentine’s Day will be remembered for a very long time. I’ll re-read your words, a hundred more times, and every single time they will bring me relief.
But also much, much relief. So much more than you’ll ever know.