In a photo of my sixth birthday, you are there in the background. You are sitting on the edge of our back porch, your knees bent, your mouth open in laughter. Your hair is wavy and blonde and your teeth are big and white. In this photo, I am wearing a yellow dress and a big floppy hat covered with roses. I am surrounded by torn wrapping paper and my six-year-old friends. We are oblivious to the row of smiling adults on the back porch. We are unaware that we are being watched. It warms me now, to look at this photo and know I was held in such a loving gaze.
I remember many afternoons spent at your house working on projects. Some days, we'd weed your garden, or set out plants, stopping now and again to sip mint tea poured from a big jar. You'd run your fingers over the velvety leaves of scented geraniums and hold them under my nose so I could guess. Rose. Lemon. Chocolate.
Other days, you'd melt a big chunk of beeswax in a small aluminum pan saved just for this purpose and we'd make batik paintings. We'd work our way from the lightest to the darkest colors, always ending up with purple hands. With the damp paintings hung on the line to dry, we'd eat cookies or visit with your dogs. I'd throw sticks for Ralph, the floppy black mix with the sweet eyes, while being careful to avoid Tina, the white German shepherd. When our batiks were dry and stiff, we'd sandwich them in newsprint and flatten them with a hot iron until the wax melted away. I drew hippos and cats and birds and took them home to my parents while you painted birds and fruit and flowers and sold them in arts and crafts fairs around town.
For a time, you drove my school bus and I always sat in the front seat just behind yours feeling important because I knew you.
Your pale yellow VW station wagon was named Tulip and you kept an Ouija board under your coffee table. I remember once coming to your house with my Mom to eat a pot of chili and watch a wildlife special on hyenas. We turned out all the lights and sat close to your small television. Every so often you'd adjust the wire hanger to improve reception. We all gasped when the hyenas devoured an antelope.
You built your own house, first one room, then another. A doll house with a loft for a bed and a pull up bar across the back door. With the cookstove loaded with logs, the house warmed so much the windows wept moisture on cold winter days and nights. At Christmas, you served posole from this stove and opened a tin of cookies sent by a friend.
"Butter," you said. "It's the secret. It's the best."
When we visited your house at night, I'd try not to drink too much, try to hold my pee because I was afraid to make the trip to the outhouse. It wasn't until you'd lived in the little house for twenty years that you built a bathroom. By that time, I'd conquered my fear of the dark, but I was glad to avoid the cold wooden seat.
When my Dad was ill, you invited me for breakfast and made BLTs with lettuce and tomato from your garden. We sat at your sunny table and looked out across your yard. When your mother died, you planted a rose garden. I remember knowing that day that my father would die and I wondered what I would do. You are one of the people I looked to for answers. You are one of the people who had been there and could show me the way.
At Dad's funeral, you held my week old son and looked at me with tears in your eyes.
"Can you believe you were ever this small?" You said.
You are my Godmother -- chosen for me by parents who didn't really share a conventional relationship with God. I think they saw a way to give you a name, a place of prominence. They were choosing their family, deciding who should be in that watchful and loving circle. They chose well.