“Emma Rose,” read the caller I.D. My surprise turned to dread; Emma, sister to my elderly friend Virginia, would only call if she had bad news. I mentally prepared myself, hoping Virginia hadn’t fallen.
I wasn’t ready for Emma’s words: “Janet, Virginia died last night. She had a massive heart attack at her ladies’ guild meeting. I thought you’d want to know.” I stood still, let the news sink in.
I’d known Virginia for seven years, had loved our visits. We had shared a love of God, books, and sewing, among other things, all of which we discussed over many cups of tea.
With failing vision, Virginia taught me to knit. She taught my girls things too, like how to make little dolls out of nothing but yarn, and caterpillars from egg cartons. We would miss her.
I knew no one at calling hours, save Emma. I waded through the sea of mourners until I stood before the casket. “So it’s true,” I thought, drowning in grief. My tears erupted; I wondered how I would manage to give my condolences to Virginia’s family.
I made my way down the line and soon found myself shaking hands with another teary-eyed woman. Ours eyes communicated a shared pain.
“I’m Christina, Virginia’s niece,” she said.
“I’m Janet,” I whispered. “A friend”
Nodding, Christina squeezed my hand. “I know you,” she said. “Aunt Virginia told me about you and your little girls.”
Several days later I received a card, containing a photo of Virginia in the mail. It was from Christina, who was writing to Virginia’s eighty-two pen pals to give them the news. She thought I’d like the picture. She included her phone number saying to call if I’d like.
I did call. Christina shared how difficult Thursday nights were for her, those being nights she normally spent with Virginia. She quickly accepted my offer to get together and talk.
Over coffee, Christina and I shared Virginia stories.
“Didn’t you love the way she decorated for all of the holidays?” giggled Christina.
“Yes! Even St. Patrick’s and Flag Day.” I smiled remembering how Virginia would take us on “tours” so my girls could see all the decorations- a talking witch, a light-up flag, a Santa that sang when you clapped.
“Oh and what about her dolls? How many did she have? A thousand?”
“Oh, at least!” I said, “And the postcards? She told me she had more than fifteen thousand!”
“Yes,” Christina chuckled. “She began collecting them in the thirties, when she was a girl. She traded them with her pen pals for years. None of us were allowed to go on vacation without sending her one.”
“She turned my girls into collectors too,” I said. “Now, we always have to get some on vacations.”
Conversation turned to something we had both been wondering- what would become of Virginia’s things?
“I know Aunt Virginia would have wanted me to have something,” Christina said, “but she thought she had more time. I’m afraid my cousins will just sell it all off or throw things out. I wish I could have the blue willow plates we used on Thursdays or some of the Christmas decorations to remember her by.” Tears welled up in her eyes again.
A friendship began that night. I told Christina that I would pray for her and we set a date to meet again the next week.
I prayed for my new friend all week. The following Thursday, I knocked on the door of her waterside cottage, blueberry pie in my hand. After hugs and hellos, Christina led me to her kitchen.
“Look!” she said, pointing to a pile of envelopes on the table. “Look at these!” she said again. “This one’s from Australia and this one from Florida…here, look Switzerland!”
Suddenly, it dawned on me. “Are these from Virginia’s pen pals?”
Christina grinned and said, “Yes, but they’re mine now!”
On Christina’s deck, we sipped iced tea, talking late into the night, my little girls chasing her kittens. There were no blue willow dishes and no singing bird clock to announce the passing hours, yet somehow I felt as if I were in Virginia’s kitchen again. She had left us an inheritance after all- a new friend for me, and a world of new friends for Christina.
Our Thursday night visits have continued, our friendship now broken in and comfortable. We couldn’t meet this Thursday though; Christina is camping in Maine. She did, however, send me a postcard.
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