She was beautiful. Her silver hair framed her face just right. She had deep lines around her face from years of laughter, her best feature in my opinion. Her laugh was deep and hearty, such a big surprise coming from such a small woman. I remember her laugh as if she were sitting next to me laughing right now. It revealed such a deep joy. She had big, strong hands and was proud of the ability to palm a basketball at the age of 70 (my hero.) She often wore pearls and always told me that you shouldn’t wait for a special occasion to wear them. I wore hers on my wedding day. She was the most kind and compassionate person I ever knew. She wasn’t supposed to have favorites but it was clear that I was hers. We were the best of friends. We spent nearly every Wednesday during summer exchanging candy between fits of laughter and mischief. She would bring me an apple pie, my favorite, and I would buy her some disgusting boston baked beans or burnt peanuts, her favorite. Amidst our laughter we had many conversations about life, faith, friendships and anything else. She shared all sorts of wisdom with me, like, never withhold a compliment, always be kinder than necessary to someone in need and always tell someone when you love them. I heard her say those three words more times than I could ever count and never once did I question her sincerity. I try to live up to those things as best as I can. I realize I remember only the best version of her. Mom says she swore like a sailor but I secretly like to chalk that up into my favorite things about her as well. Even when she had surgeries to fix her back and other things, I still thought she was invincible.
I walked into the kitchen one hot summer morning. I’d slept terrible and hadn’t bothered to change out of my oversized pajamas. Everyone was sitting around the kitchen table looking somber. It was obvious they all knew something I didn’t; either that or I was in trouble again. They had all known for awhile, since the night before when my entire extended family had been over mourning together, when I had obliviously retreated to my upstairs bedroom to play obnoxious music and be a moody teenager. No one could bear to come get me, fearing what my reaction would be. Mom refused to look at me, so I laughed at all of them and sarcastically remarked, “Who died?” Dad looked up and told me, his voice shaking and his eyes full of big sloppy tears. It felt like someone had emptied all the air out of my lungs and I gasped loudly between sobs as I beat my dad’s chest calling him a liar. I cried until it felt like my tear ducts had dried up; until all I could do was sleep. It was the first time I ever felt broken, the first time that I couldn’t think of anything to do to mend myself and I mourned for a long time. I refused to acknowledge the reality and I haphazardly masked the pain I felt. It took a long time but I healed and eventually grasped on to reality and tried to start walking in direction that she so often instructed me.
On Christmas Eve we watched home movies. It wasn’t until I heard her laugh half-way through that I realized she had been filming. She was laughing at my hopeless attempt to steer a go kart around the kiddy track at Okoboji and cheering me on. Hearing her laugh on tape was the best gift this year. I’ve recalled it to mind often since then as I did this morning on my drive to work. It brings forth stronger emotions than I’m sometimes ready for but I love it, it’s the best sound.