I never knew much of a woman named Dee. Sepia-stained photographs tell me she knew what it meant to stand laughing at life.
Dee. She is a woman I only know from photographs and stories that slip out from behind carved turkeys and cardboard boxes full of ornaments.
You see, I knew Grandma. I knew Boccu. But I never knew the woman with the beautiful brown hair and the burlesque lipstick that shaped a mouth that gave vows to laughter.
When I found Dee, arthritis had crippled her hands after years spent holding flowers and the faces of children who cried and called her, “Mama.” Age had wrinkled her skin. Age had tattered her bones. Age, you are so fierce, can’t you tread easier on the ones who only ache to learn from you?
But the Dee I see in pictures is the Dee who believed that life was fierce. Life was bold. Life was a case for red lipstick no matter where ya’ headed. The grocery store. Central Park. Life was turbulent some days but it will required you to show up and try to laugh. Try to get the sweet sound of release slipping up through your vocal chords.
I want to remember that. And on some days, only that.
I think that Dee might laugh at me. Up to my knees is Must Do’s and Have To’s and Oh Lord, The World Will Fall Apart If This Don’t Get Done’s. I think she’d laugh at me then get real proud.
Her eyes might well up. She might bite her bottom lip, not caring if the lipstick caked her two front teeth, just the way I do.
She might remember the days when she held me, tucked me at her side to watch the Wizard of Oz with a tube of Pringles in my lap.
I was skinny like a rail and my nickname was “Boneyard” and I was never really a Dorothy type but all I really wanted was for Grandma to see me that way. For Grandma to believe that I could be a girl with a beautiful, blue checkered dress and the Most Grand of Red Slippers on my feet. That I could travel deep into this world and really get my Yellow Brick Road. That I could be someone. That I could be someone wonderful like that.
“I’ll see your name on book shelves one day,” Dee used to say. “Books are gonna love the feel of your name on their spine.”
And that is all it took. All it took for one girl to decide she’d grow up and be someone beautiful. She’d grow up and turn the Lives of Others into something really striking and rich.
Dee, if you can hear me, I know you’d care to know: I’m dancing somewhere in the middle of something really beautiful, just like our favorite moment when Dorothy first finds the poppies and she’s trudging in Red. Pure Red. And then the snow comes.
I’m doing something sort of like that lately, Dee. And there are days where I wanna run straight to Oz because I can see it so clearly. And then days where I know just what you would say, “Slow, baby, slow. I know you want to sprint, but don’t you forget that every moment you are running past is a chance to drag your finger across the map of someone else standing in that poppy field and lead them back to love. You’re young. You’re bright. You’ve got the world coming up all around you, slow down and laugh a little, baby. Slow down and treasure it because it will slip faster than you know.
Run at a pace that will let you catch the snowflakes. Let you get the Red all up in your toes.”