You taught me to be self-reliant, then begrudgingly smiled called me "Little Miss Independent" when I tartly insisted, "I do it my-sef!" You taught me that I was to respect others; adults, other kids, people I thought were different from me (they weren't, I learned that from you). You treated people as you wanted them to treat you, and I saw that. You showed me the value of sportsmanship and gave me holy hell one day when I showed off after making what I thought was a great play. Well, it was a great play... but you were right. You taught me that cheating myself or letting myself down was the worst kind of cheat, and as long as I did my best, it was plenty good enough for you. You told me no. You told me no... a lot. Thank you for that.
You encouraged me to do whatever it was that I loved. My drawings were plastered all over the fridge, on the walls, stuck in the corners of your bedroom mirror. You read to me, you read with me. You came to all of my games. You knew all of my teachers. You taught me how to dig a volleyball and play shortstop. I never could throw fastpitch like you, but I think the batting stance and swing I picked up from you more than made up for that. You wanted a girly-girl but what you got was me. I'm just like you.
I learned the value of hard work from you, helping you count hundreds of dollars worth of change in tips, every Friday night. We'd sit on the living room floor, you still in your waitress uniform still reeking of grease and fried cod, and me in my jammies. You cleaned offices in the evenings so that you could pay the orthodontist $70 every month for those braces I hated so much.
You showed me I didn't need a lot of friends, just a few really good ones. You let me help in the kitchen, even though it would have been quicker and easier to do it yourself. You left me chore lists when you weren't home. You ran behind my bike, miles probably, until I didn't need you to hold me up any more. You gave me freedom and you had high expectations of me. You taught me how to swim, mostly against my will. I should have known when all the inner tubes were gone from the pool that something was up. The neighbors said they heard me screaming all the way down the street; little did they know it was because you and dad were tickling me under the arms to get me to loosen my death grip on the pool ladder. You taught me to appreciate long walks with the dog, exploring and having conversations that lasted for hours on those walks.
You told me it was beautiful when I scratched and squeaked my way through "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" for the first time on my violin. You made me practice. You came to the concerts. You tirelessly helped me practice my lines and cheered the loudest of anyone in that elementary school gym when I played Annie Oakley. You removed splinters from my butt cheek one by one, after I decided a plywood board would make a neat sliding board.
You and dad sang to me on the porch swing:
You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You'll never know, dear
How much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away
You would have been 72 years old today.
I miss you but I know that you're keeping an eye out for me, still. How else could I explain that despite all the bumps in the road, I'm at the place where I'm meant to be? There were too many people at your funeral to fit into the funeral home. I will never forget a woman I knew only by her nickname who hugged me, sobbing, "She was my hero."
Goddamn it, you left some big shoes to fill. I'm trying.