It has been a strange few days in several ways.
I had gotten a letter earlier this week from the daughter of a woman I grew up with. She was a friend of my mother’s, though, over time, she became more a friend of mine.
I had visited her when we were on our honeymoon and went back to my hometown. She was Portuguese in heritage, and an artist. She and her husband owned a little junk shop in the town I grew up in, a place that we visited regularly.
She sold comics and books and I remember taking old ones in and trading them for different used books and comics.
It was in her store that I clearly remember seeing a rhinestone brooch and telling my mother how pretty it would be on a black dress.
I was all of nine or ten and I remember my mother saying, “But you don’t HAVE a black dress.”
I remember buying a hand colored photograph there, which still hangs on my wall in the living room, titled “The Great Wayside Oak.”
It was the first thing I ever bought myself that wasn’t something to read, or wear, something relatively practical. It wasn’t expensive, $1 or less – it was a long time ago, remember.
She was also an accomplished artist, with works in collections all across the west. The first piece of original art I ever bought was by her, a pastel of a Chinatown street at night, in the rain.
I also have a small sketch she did of me, when we both took an art class. She sketched me, as I sketched, and gave me the piece afterwards.
I had sent her a Christmas card this year, as I always did, and her daughter responded to let me know that she had passed away this past fall, two days before my birthday.
Her note was lovely, and said, in part, “Yours is a lovely name and fitting, too, when I consider the ways in which you remembered, visited, and wrote to my mom.”
Mrs. Cooper, Audrey, was the first person to encourage me to make art myself. She mattered to me, and I’m sorry she’s gone, but glad, for her sake, that as her daughter said, “She died in the same way as she lived – on her own terms, in her own way and as nature intended her to go.”
My half brother, Thomas, was born to my father and his first wife, Florence, on February 28, 1934. My father would have been 32 at the time.
His parents divorced while he was still young and my father married again. My brothers were born in 1946 and 1948, and I in 1957.
I never met Thomas, but I corresponded with him over the years. His mother was always lovely to me, far nicer than my mother ever would have been to her, or to her son. She died ten or more years back, and he let me know.
He had graduated from Annapolis, and worked in the space program for a number of years. I was told by one of the other family members that after the Challenger explosion he lost his heart for it and retired soon after.
When we married, I sent him an invitation, really as a notice more than anything else, and a few weeks later, I got a package from him. He’d sent me some silver that was from my family, an old knife, fork and spoon from the 1880’s or so, engraved with the name of a long dead aunt, Alice.
He also sent me a set of fruit knives with a beautiful brocade pattern on the handles, and a set of fruit spoons with lovely faceted bowls.
It was a completely unexpected gesture of generosity, and I was genuinely touched by it.
Each year I got a card from him detailing what he and his wife, Betsy, had done over the year, you know the kind. I always read it, and always responded with a card, letting him know how my two brothers and I were. I sent a photo, usually, as well.
On the 24th of December, he called me and left a message, asking for my email because he’d lost it, and inviting me to call him back, or email.
Those of you who know me will know I emailed him, but kept the message and entered his information into my phone.
I got another email this afternoon, telling me Thomas had passed away on Sunday, the day that was so gray here and was such a difficult day.
So, requiescat in pace Mrs. Cooper and Thomas McColloch. I will miss you both, and I will think of you more often than either of you might expect, often enough, I suspect, to surprise myself.