While looking for something in my small writing desk early this morning, I came across a beautiful card someone had sent and which offered blessings for my new home. Obviously I had received it the past spring. Having forgotten the sender, I opened it with curiosity, and it was as if a light came out of the card. I swear this was so.
Emotion washed over me as I re-read the short message written in an elderly, shaky hand. She wrote to tell me how much she had enjoyed my book, and that she was glad I was once again back in the eastern part of our country. Such a dear thing to say. Somehow she had understood my need to be closer to what seemed my roots. I pressed the card to my chest, thinking of Frances and feeling quite odd to think that she was gone. She died two weeks ago, just after the turn of the New Year.
I first met Frances, who lived near Winston-Salem, when she felt prompted to send me a card, after reading a short story of mine that had appeared in the Raleigh News and Observer. She explained that she was a distant cousin on my mother’s side of the family.
To understand how this thrilled me, you must understand that tracing the family lineage is both a necessary and favored Southern pastime. One of the first things to come up when two Southerners meet is: “Who are your people?” Thus, my mother and I were fascinated to figure out and repeat that Frances was the daughter of my mother’s mother’s mother’s sister. And if that statement is not confusing enough, somehow, too, she was a double relation, as, if I’m thinking correctly, Frances’s father was my great-grandfather’s brother. Or maybe her grandfather was…oh, well, it is tangled, as are most families.
Over the years, I received many more cards from Frances—at Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, or sometimes just a card to say, “Thinking of you.” Her messages where short, and never a word about herself. I had the sweet experience of meeting her only once, when I got out to North Carolina for a book festival. I always meant to get back to see her, but somehow time slipped away with things intervening. And now the opportunity is gone.
I pause and take up the card again, wondering at what’s going around inside me.
Frances is one of those people for me, one who displayed kindness and grace and cheerfulness, and that is what remains for me as a bright light in memory to light my own path.
There comes the whisper: Who will send me cards now?
And the answer: Frances showed me, and the many others to whom she sent cards. We must send the cards now, to pass on the light.