When my son was born until he was about five, we lived in an apartment building in St. Paul on Fairview off Grand Avenue. The landlords, Pat and Harold Hamm — the two kindest Angels of my early adulthood — had taken us in as their adopted family. We were invited to Sunday dinner, to sit with them on the curb in the evening, to share their air-conditioning on hot evenings. But mostly Pat, a large woman, made sure we were eating properly.
“You kids are too skinny,” Pat would say as she whisked my son away to get his special treat; green Jell-O.
She was the only one who could make him green Jell-O. If we made it for him, he wouldn’t touch it. Pat would give him a whole bowl and a big spoon, kick her husband out of his favorite Lazy-Boy and my son would sit in their air-conditioned living room, eating his green Jell-O in front of the tv. Even during Hamm family reunion dinners, she would make green Jell-O and nobody else was allowed to touch it.
When my son was about fifteen, he visited with Pat toward the end of her life when diabetes has claimed most of her limbs and several strokes had taken the rest of her. She could barely see or hear, but when he spoke and touched her arm, her face lit up with a smile ear to ear and she said, “green Jell-O” in the happiest voice I’d ever heard.
She died two days later.
When my daughter was in kindergarten, she found a pair of bright yellow rubber boots on the clearance rack in some shoe store and decided they were the perfect shoe that went with everything from jeans to shorts to pajamas. She wore these boots to school almost every day throughout her entire kindergarten year. When we asked her if she wanted to wear something else, she always had an argument why those boots were the best.
More than a few times, her teacher called a bit concerned. She may have been more concerned we didn’t have money to buy her more shoes. “Is she learning and socializing well?” Yes, but…
Eventually, she outgrew the boots.
She is now 20 years old and her taste has grown beyond yellow rubber boots, but still leans toward the eclectic. Whenever she pairs something like denim shorts with a peasant top and black combat boots, accessorized with a rhinestone-studded Fossil watch and asks me if she looks ok, I see a floppy head of blonde curls, a gap in her smile where her brother knocked out a tooth and bright yellow rubber boots.
But most of all, I see a young woman who is not afraid to be who she is.