Thursday, August 5, 2010

For Emily

Yesterday, I made a gift for a special young lady with an encroaching birthday. This is Amy's "No-Cash Wallet," and it was a joy to sew up. I made it from the front of a button-down shirt, though you can't really tell that from the picture.

Emily is a friend's daughter, my flower girl, for her entire life the youngest person on my gift list. This is an important role. But she's important for bigger reasons, too.

When I was in high school, her father was my freshman year global studies teacher. I was smart though mostly friendless, and miserable. He was a remarkably caring and generous human being. He gave me books to read. The Bearded Lion Who Roars. Snow Falling on Cedars. Memoirs of a Geisha. He showed me applications for essay contests, scholarships, poetry competitions, and anything else that crossed his desk. He encouraged me to write an essay entitled "America's Role in the 21st Century," which won me a $1,500 scholarship and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC, when I was seventeen. Gradually, self-esteem began to seep its way in, as I learned to stand in front of 500 people and a microphone without my knees clanking together. Firmly and patiently as steering a ship, he guided me towards affirmation. He kept a file folder full of newspaper articles and announcements of my achievements.

I remember the day he told me he and his wife were expecting. How happy and blessed he seemed. I babysat for a three-month-old Emily, walking around and around their creaky townhouse with a sleeping infant on my shoulder. He moved away; I visited. We chatted on instant messenger while I was in college. Instead of high school cliques and cafeteria lunchtime, now he helped me navigate the treacherous waters of Politics 324 and my first boyfriend.

Relaying the news of his passing on to me was maybe the hardest thing my mom ever had to do. Like an atomic bomb dropped in the middle of my junior year, my first boyfriend, and Politics 324, a phone call from home, late at night. A car accident. With life and its conventions whirling around me, I could hardly pause to be sad.

All the hurt is buried now, mostly. It's been nearly seven years. There's times when I imagine a conversation we might have, and what wisdom he'd offer me now, on the loaded topic of marriage. There's times when I grieve that he never got to meet my husband, but I can't go too far down that path before all the other "never got to's" come pouring in. Keeping in touch, keeping his wife and daughter close in my thoughts, is the most I can do. And making things, taking small stitches one at a time, sewing a button on a birthday present for his daughter is the best enactment of my love.


Becky said...

Sweet, sweet, sweet!

Anonymous said...

A lovely tribute to an extraordinarily lovely person. I've read it twice, 3 hours apart, and both times cried. I hope Mary (his wife) reads this.

Kristina Strain said...

Thanks, mom. :)

Karen said...

what a beautiful remembrance. thank you. i'm sure emily will love it.

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