Letters to Dorothy

IMG_7649I thought of you the other day when I was getting dinner ready and I saw Caroline check out her reflection in the mirrored surface of the oven.  She’ll do that now if there’s a mirror around: tilt her head a bit to the side to see the length of her ponytail.

I thought of you because I remembered one time, I must have been in high school, we were together doing your errands and I stayed in the car while you ran into the bank or the drugstore.  I sat staring at myself in the side mirror, kind of on the sly, thinking that if you came back and saw me, you might disapprove–a vain kid.  I couldn’t help it (I had flawless skin back then!).  Today a teen would fiddle with a cell phone, but then,  I sat, listening to The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” shifting my gaze back and forth: from me in the mirror to the people and cars coming and going around me.

You didn’t see me or say anything about it if you did, but you were with me during those years when I wondered and worried about how I looked.

You’d have turned 79 this week.  The last I saw you, you were 66.  What a blessing that I think of you more these days as a living mom, not a dying one.  For so long after you died, I could only picture your cracking lips, your tiny body lying in a hospice cot in our dining room.  That god-awful image of you doesn’t take over as it once did.

Now when I’m watching a Villanova basketball game with my family, I see you in our old den: you’re knitting, wearing your terry-cloth blue robe.  Masterpiece Theater is on.  Or some sporting event—the Eagles, your Bears, the Phillies, Villanova.

I wonder what you would look like today.  Dad’s gone completely grey, could you ever have imagined?  Doctors did some serious work on his heart last September, but it’s still a bit broken without you.  He called yesterday to remind me that it was your birthday.  And I spoke with Danny.  We’ve all continued living since you left, but I’m not always sure how well.

If you could have just stayed to meet the girls.  We could use you now.  Your brother was in town from Chicago this weekend.  He came to see the house and your granddaughters, and as he was leaving, he hugged me and whispered, “Keep doing what you’re doing”—one of those moments that means a lot more after the moment is gone.  Dave and I are doing it fine, parenting, but I do feel like I’d be doing it a hell of a lot better with you around.

Not that you had all of the answers.

A teenage boy from the area walked out of his house the other evening—he’s been missing for three days.  The internet is awash with cyber-bullying and suicides, foul language “tweets” and stories of disgusting behavior on college campuses.

It scares me to think about my daughters in the midst of all of that.

I’m not sure what you would do with all of this information.  Your way of handling anxiety was smoking, wasn’t it, and look where that got you.

But you were always able to talk me through my own insecurities, and that was when the stakes were lower (I realize that now!)—when it was about a grade on a paper or a friend at school.  Back then, I could come home to you: there was no social media chasing me down at all hours of the day and night.  I was safe and had time to untangle myself from the teenage stuff.  You were there to straighten me out.

Caroline is “anxious.” Lexi is okay, so seemingly, but last night when I held her, tickling her a bunch, when I was paying attention fully, I caught her looking up at me.  I wonder what she was thinking: “Is this you?”  or “Where have you been?”

There are people here that love me, I know, many people.  But not like you did.  I love my daughters like you loved me.  There’s not a love like it.

Angels?  Spirits?  You, somewhere, somehow here with us?  Safety?  Contentment? Good health?  I don’t know and the deal is, I can’t know but still have to live and create a happy, hopeful place for my children.  I have to grab hold of what Dad has so much of: Faith.

We all miss you.  Even Lexi, she asks about you all of the time.  Caroline’s more quiet about it. You’d have taught Caroline Gin Rummy by now.  Lexi?  You’d be singing with her.  Mom, she sings the grocery list.  Give her a few words and she makes it a ditty.  The girls and I are still working on harmonizing.  Car rides.  “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah, His Truth is Marching, Marching On!”  We lose the melody at times, but we’re getting there.

Your life.  It started 79 years ago.  It hasn’t really ended.

This will come clearer to me when the weather breaks, when the girls and I kneel in the damp, rich, dirt and weed around the popping tulips and daffodils, the bulbs we planted together in the late fall.  This will come clearer to me when all of us breathe in spring air—deep, full breaths of hope, and promise, of big-big love, of living.

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10 Comments on “Letters to Dorothy”

  1. Amy says:

    I am sure she is looking down and smiling at all the fond memories. I always think of her in your kitchen – with your brothers running in/out calling her Dot which if I recall she hated…..but always with a smile as she chastised them…. Happy Birthday!

  2. Mark Larson says:

    This is very tender and beautiful, Katie. Each time Jordan shares one of your pieces, I wait till I have some quiet moments to sink into the gentle lilt of your style. This one is particularly lovely. My mother in law passed away in hospice not long ago. You’re right, the imagine of her there is powerful, and it came back as I read. But your essay gently coaxed it away and replaced it with images of her fruitful and full life. Thanks for that. I’m glad you write and share it.

    • Katie says:

      Thank you, Mark! For taking the time to read. It always makes me glad to think that my writing can help other people–it’s not such a solitary craft, after all!

  3. Carrie says:

    So well written.. you always leave me in tears. Miss you Katie, xo

  4. Mags Davis says:

    Thank You Kate. Your writing fills my heart. They are always with us. Happy Birthday Mrs. Regan.

  5. Liz says:

    Wonderful Katie. This spoke straight to my heart. Thank you.

  6. Susanne says:

    Beautiful Katie, thanks for sharing!! ❤️

  7. Paula Osborn says:

    Such a lovely tribute, Katie. Here is to spring, and hope, and flowers! One of my favorite Kazantzakis anecdotes comes from his Report to Greco: “‘Sister Almond Tree, speak to me of God’. And the almond tree blossomed.” All Best Wishes! Paula


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