She always had time and smiles. Not expensive gifts, perhaps, but they were just what I needed. Her smile transformed her whole sun-browned face, crinkling her kind eyes, and she seemed to radiate joy.
I was an awkward, lonely thirteen year old and she was an adult who actually listened. When I was bemoaning a world where no one understood me, she came close, just by opening her door and listening. I spent hours in the dining room with them under the guise of "studying", actually eating popcorn, drinking Sunkist, joking, talking, laughing. We'd take the dog for a walk, smiling at the way his stubby tail wagged and the way he got mud on our pants when he jumped on our legs. I laughed endlessly when we discovered that she couldn't say aluminum. She nodded in understanding when we explained the bullying of junior high. In my loneliest days, I counted her among my friends.
I got older, taller, busier, but she remained my friend. She came to football games, tennis matches, band concerts, and showchoir competitions, supporting not just her son, but all of us. She was small, but her hugs were enormous, enveloping. Her laugh danced through the room, tickling everyone until they giggled along.
She loved horses and dogs. She grew up in my hometown and told stories about her youth there. She cared for people and greeted them with a friendliness that made them feel immediately at ease. She lived the command to love her neighbor. And she taught me to do that, too.
I miss her.