Dearest Rachel –
It’s something of a shame, but it sometimes seems that it requires a special occasion for the family to get together at a restaurant after church these days, when that used to be a weekly tradition. Then again, this is the second week in a row that we’ve been able to do that, so maybe I shouldn’t complain so much. And it’s not like last week had any such special reason to get together, apart from checking out the newest restaurant in the neighborhood (which happened to be in the place where one of my parents oldest favorites used to be, until the pandemic caused the owners to decide they’d been in the business long enough, and to retire). However, this week did contain Bill’s birthday – and the fact it both his and Jenn’s kids will be at college by this time next week. So it’s going to be a long time before the entire family gathers around the table again anywhere.
Still, for all that it bothers me that this is the case now, I can at least take solace in the fact that, at the time, I wasn’t thinking about these sort of pessimistic perspectives. There’s something about a good meal together with family that keeps one from dwelling on such negativity. It’s only in retrospect – especially when I’m sitting around, alone, of a grey and rainy morning like today – that these sort of things cross my mind.
And that’s even bearing in mind the fact that the topic of the sermon (which of course we discuss over the table, since we’ d all just heard it) was particularly somber and hard-hitting. Dad, in particular, considers himself reasonably prepared for the day that Jan and I (and a couple of his close friends – but he’s made it abundantly clear that there are to be no open-mike tributes, not because he fears what might be said, but because they would go on longer than such a service has the right to) have to give eulogies for him. This stands to reason, considering how close he came back… has it really been three years since then?
The rest of us are probably woefully unprepared for our own day; however, we’ve already gone through a season of being caught flat-footed toward a person we’ve lost. And honestly, I don’t think we’ll ever be quite as unready as we were with you. There will always be stories and memories that we didn’t – or couldn’t have – recalled at the time that trickle in at various unexpected times. And it’s one such story that Jenn brought up yesterday that comes to mind today.
Really, it’s the kind of story that, among our family, only Jenn would think about. I’m not sure how it came up even in yesterday’s conversation, but somewhere along the line, the topic came up about fashion sense – probably insofar as Joanna’s is, to put it charitably, unique. Not that she sees anything wrong with it, nor does she find it worth objecting to; Joanna’s not dressing the way she does to be provocative (be it socially, politically or morally), but just that she wears what she likes to wear. And I suppose Jenn sees a bit of our niece’s aunt in her daughter’s attitude toward clothing and style. You wore what you felt comfortable in, and didn’t much concern yourself with other people’s attitudes toward it. All of which is fairly commendable, as a healthy self image ought to be, whether yours or her daughter’s. However, Jenn in particular recalls at least one dress (and I can think of at least one other that she’s told me about – more on that part of the story later) that, while you didn’t mean to be provocative, you were nevertheless, and Jenn felt the need to fill you in on the situation, which you subsequently took under advisement to correct.
It was a fairly simple red dress (and it was at this point that Joanna gasped about you having something in your wardrobe that wasn’t purple; despite having made it your signature color, I think it actually bothered you when people would give you grief, however good-naturedly, about wearing something other than it at various times of the year. After all, you wore red and green throughout December, red white and blue on patriotic holidays, and autumnal colors for Thanksgiving, just to give a few examples), with a handful of little pleat points you referred to as ‘darts.’ It was bright and cheery, and you liked it despite (or maybe because of) its simplicity. But one thing it did have – which, for whatever reason, I never much noticed, but Jenn did – was a rather generous neckline.
Now, how and why Jenn would notice this and not me, I couldn’t say. Perhaps because, as your husband, I’d seen that much of you and then some, so any abundance of décolletage would hardly bother me. Add to that the fact that I knew (even without thinking about it, which neither of us were, I can guarantee it) you weren’t dressing like that to attract anyone else’s eye, and it would have never have crossed my mind to object to what you were wearing, and how. To be honest, I dearly wish I had pictures of you in it at this point, both to remind me of your innocent lack of modesty, and that you were not without a fair amount of womanly charms as well. However, once Jenn pointed out the fact that you were perhaps showing more of yourself than you may have intended, you did not object to her gentle criticism, but rather made sure to pin the dress up going forward.
My sister, the spoilsport.
It wasn’t the first such incident, in fact. Granted, I never heard about it until some time after the fact, but back at college, she arrived on campus at some point – I don’t know if it was to pick me up when the folks had dropped by to meet up with us, or if she was just visiting me for whatever reason during the year or so she was attending Illinois State, just a couple miles to the north of us – but you were wearing a serape-style top that, even then, you admitted to making you look ‘like seven pounds in a five-pound sack,’ but in what a male like myself (if I were paying attention) would have considered a good way. To Jenn’s well-trained eye, it managed to emphasize the parts of you that a girl would want to emphasize, let’s put it that way. And yet, you carried yourself in such a manner that I had to have it pointed out to me considerably later, leaving me to berate myself for not having noticed or appreciated it at the time.
So, even at your most provocative, it was clear that it was never deliberate. While you might not have been considered modest in a conventional sense, you managed to convey the modesty of the innocent child you saw yourself to be. I hardly need to tell you how much I miss that.
But for now, all I can ask is that you keep an eye out for me, honey. Take care, and remember how much I love you.