It was right there, at the entrance to the garage, that she first distinguished herself from the pack. Up until then she just blended into the unit; one of seven.
But that day I got my first glimpse of her distinct personality. She was doing something out there in the backyard, just inside the open door of the detached garage. It seemed odd for her to be out there in the dusk and the cold.
So I left my vantage point at the kitchen window and tiptoed outside to see what she was up to. She shooed me away at first, but I was insistent.
“What are you doing?”
She finally shifted her body to reveal a stray cat. She was out there feeding it, she had been secretly sneaking it food and giving it shelter.
I found out that day that she had a heart for animals. For strays. And I loved her. My love and my high regard for her were forever cemented in that moment. Even through the teen years when I was terrified to go into her bedroom in the morning to retrieve my sweater – which she had worn without asking – for fear of waking her up and enduring her wrath.
Her wrath didn’t matter. It was scary, but it didn’t matter, because underneath it was the kindhearted soul who snuck food to a stray.
A big bully was chasing me across the playground one recess when I was in the fourth grade. Laura – who was in sixth grade – saw what was happening and grabbed him. In one awesome move she picked him up by his collar and pressed him against the brick school wall. Told him to leave me alone or else.
Whoa! Was she strong! And she had my back. No one had ever had my back before. It felt good to feel protected. I’ll never forget it.
Nor will I forget that time in high school. Laura was already graduated and working in a doctor’s office. I had had a severe sore throat for days – couldn’t even swallow my saliva because it was too painful. My mom wouldn’t take me to the doctor so Laura drove me over to the office where she worked and got me a strep test and a prescription for an antibiotic. I remember laying down in the backyard when we got home – to feel the warmth of the sun on my face – fell asleep and got a nasty sunburn.
Laura’s heart was big and protective and nurturing.
She and her husband bought some land in Harbor Springs. They were going to retire there. The hub and I talked about moving up there, too. Laura and I dreamed of rescuing dogs and building greenhouses and sharing crops.
But now Laura is dying, and her daughter, M, is writing her eulogy. M has plenty to say about her mom being a great mom, but Laura wasn’t just a mom. So M asked the aunts to share some memories. And that’s what I sat down to do this morning.
I spent most of the day yesterday going through old albums – scanning, cropping and enhancing photos. The youngest of us sisters is putting together a slide show for the funeral. We are all busy, in various ways, putting it together now, while Laura is busy dying. It seems strange and awful, in a way, to plan her funeral while she is still alive, but it is good to be busy and we want her funeral to be awesome. We want it to do her justice – if that were possible.
As I was scanning and cropping, I noticed that I wasn’t smiling in any of the photos taken when we were children – except in two. One in which Laura had her arms around my neck, and this one – with her hands on my shoulders. I must have felt protected.
I looked up to her and loved her so much. The pretty, popular, brave, kindhearted, sometimes scary cheerleader.
Number 3 of 7.
I hate cancer.