As a little girl I sat beside my mother as she wrote letters to Aunt Dorothy in California - her big sister. Mommy must have told me stories but I don't really remember any. I just imagined her as a movie star and drew a picture of how I thought she might look.
In the summer of '67, a year after my mother died, we traveled west and stopped to see her. The instant I saw her I said, "you look just like my mommy" and she did. Her eyes, her nose, the way she moved and the quiet way she spoke. Through the years she wrote, nearly always sent Dates for Christmas and she moved from place to place with her husband Gordon, that I never met - even during that visit.
Each time she moved, Grandma made certain I knew and encouraged me to write. I did. Somehow, without saying outright, Grandma let me know that Aunt Dorothy struggled somehow with life. About 20 years passed, Grandma was gone and I learned that Aunt Dorothy had come back to Pennsylvania close to home. This time, she somehow found me living across the state.
We wrote and I sent audio recordings of stories for her about my travels. Soon, I too moved closer to home and we planned to meet at the group home she now made home. I sat waiting for her to come out not knowing what she now looked like. A little grey haired woman passed. 'Aunt Dorothy' I wondered, but no - she passed on by. And then she emerged with a huge smile and dancing brown eyes. "Who do I look like now?" she asked. It took my breath away and I could not stop tears. "You look just like Grandma," I said. As we hugged, I knew I was holding Mommy and Grandma all at once.
She pulled out the picture I had drawn of her so many years before. "I didn't wear glasses." she laughed. And she said she played my audio recordings over and over for everyone.
Over the next few years we spent precious but too little time together. She did indeed struggle with life. She helped me understand some things and left too soon. I miss her but often know she remains with me. I look a lot like her and Mommy and Grandma. I talk a lot like them and hope I walk a lot like them. I don't struggle with life in exactly the same way Aunt Dorothy did, but I believe I understand the heart of life's questions that tortured her. She was a gentle soul in a not so gentle world.