I’m sitting in a Starbucks writing (#stereotype). As I watch my oldest daughter working behind the bar I really want to take a picture of her, but know that will lead to the ‘really mom’ look. I’m in her hood and hanging out waiting for her to get off work. On my own and straight from the train that brought me here I’m a bougie bag lady today. The inevitable happens, I have to go to the bathroom. So what does any good bucks writer do? I look around for the friendliest person to watch my stuff. And so there is, a nice lady who simply knows before I ask. She simply says, ‘It takes a village’.
This statement rings true, and prompts me to write and overdue homage to one important member of my village. A dear woman I lost this year to a rockin’ 92 years old. My foster mom June, who I always called Duchess (an inside joke as she called me Queenie). Many loved ones in your world live long and rock it, and she was one of them. But my heart feels a bigger loss than others. Because before the term was spouting off from podiums and coffee houses she walked it out by being a significant blessing in my life, my village.
Like many 16 year old practicing adults I had some trouble brewing. Mine was that of a home that was unsafe. And with previous hurts stirring underneath I was at a point in my life where it was no longer a place I could be. In the middle of the night before the era of cell phones I left it, with one bag of what I thought was essential and included underwear and a curling iron. With the shirt still on stained with dried blood from the earlier incident I left it all and walked out, up the hill, down the street and found a pay phone to call my half sister. She in her own right and family dynamic took me in that night but could not help my living situation. And at the time my broken father chose not to assist as well. I was left with the decision to go back or go to the streets. Until Duchess stepped in.
She was the mom of my best friend Jill at the time. And my friend shared my dilemma with her mother. It was offered that I stay there and I did. And then one thing led to another and I stayed there two years. Duchess and her husband (the ‘Duke’) of Robinson became foster parents and became family to this angry, hurt and scared little girl who was pretending to fake it and try to be a grown up. Because of their love, their generosity and their compassion I was able to have a stable home to finish high school, continue with sports and music and drama, apply and be accepted to colleges, and, ultimately attend one.
I’m sure that my life would have turned out differently and been so much more scary without their love and caring eyes that saw me, so lost, and brought me into their village. I really don’t even want to think about it, but know that I was lucky. Because they didn’t just give me a room, they brought me into their family. They included me in everything like I was raised there. They cried with me as she said, “keep smiling” and laughed a laugh only you can imagine unless you’ve experienced it. She sang silly songs and woke us up for high school tying my socks together, playing bagpipe music or singing, “Oh how I hate to get up in the morning….”
I remember having a particularly hard day one day, Jill got home before me and most likely let Duchess know. I was greeted at the door with a boisterous ‘hello’ from Duchess who was wearing underwear on her head. Then out comes Jill wearing a pair as well and holding one for me proclaiming that according to the Ziggy calendar on my wall it was national wear underwear on your head day. And when the Duke got home he wore one too, as we all sat and ate dinner together wearing (clean) underwear on our heads. All for me, because I was sad. That was the heart of Duchess. That is why I tear up with happy memories and sadness today. But if she were here I know she would give me ‘that look’ and tell me to keep smiling.
We lost the Duke too soon and Duchess lived on smiling. Loving her family and her village. In later life she developed dementia and ultimately cancer that took her life this past March. But what a life it was. May of last year I went and visited her and I’m so thankful I did. Though she didn’t know me anymore, she knew the song, “Oh how I hate to get up in the morning…” as we laughed and sang it. And at the end of the visit I hugged and kissed her. She surprisingly whispered in my ear, “I know you.” Words cannot express the moment that was. Because again, at a crucial decision making time in my life these past two years have been, she again blessed me. The picture included is one Jill took of her hand and her mothers. We use the term hand of God and this visual comes pretty damn close.
A couple weeks ago I received a thank you card from Jill and her sister on behalf the 4 children Duchess left behind. They thanked me for being there for them, officiating her service and for dropping everything to come to Seattle from California. Though their sentiments were genuine I didn’t blink an eye. How could I not? Not only mourning my own loss of this wonderful woman in my life, but being there for her by being a part of her celebration of life. And, holding the hand of my dear Jill, to tell her to keep smiling.
How can I thank you Duchess for all the love and generosity that you’ve given me? The only way I know how is to be a part of your legacy. By being there when needed, to instill the crazy strength in my own 4 children. And when seasons come to be that mom that someone else needs. To laugh when I want to cry and to live each day to its fullest as much as possible. And, to forgive a lot and remember that like me, everyone is imperfect.
So rock on Duchess and I know you are partying in heaven with the Duke, with of course a flower in your hair while you sing and laugh. Know that I will always love you and attempt to the best of my ability the daily challenge to live my life to the fullest. And when some days are tougher than others to keep smiling. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Words cannot compare to the feelings. But may this small testament honor your legacy, challenge mine and hope to bless someone else.
As my daughter continues to work (#proudmom) and the nice lady who watched my stuff leaves, I smile and tell her to have a good day. She does the same. One moment, one second, I had a chance to bless her with a smile and she with me going to the bathroom. It made a difference. One moment, one smile and one choice you changed the course of my life Duchess, that I continue to live out. May I always remember that one person can make a difference, to create a ripple effect. So as I ride this wave, I think of you and I’ll keep smiling through my tears.
PS: I’m going to now take a picture of my daughter and laugh as loud as Duchess would. (And I know she is laughing with me somewhere.)