Here is installment 2 of my February series:
“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” That line from Shakespeare always makes me think of Dorothy. She stood 4 feet 10 inches tall in her prime. She shrunk a bit with age, but she claimed her full height all her life. Her personality could rival those of men twice her size.
Dorothy was a nurse in the World War 2 era, worked hard, loved her parents, and was devout in her faith. She spitefully told the story of how she was born left-handed, but the nuns in her Catholic school tied her arm behind her back until she learned to use her right hand. As a senior citizen, Dorothy would joke around with her priests, but give nuns the side-eye…probably a little grudge held from those early years.
She wasn’t afraid of hard choices. In the prime of her life, she took in children and raised them as her own. One of her good friends had a rocky marriage and Dorothy agreed to give some of the kids a place to stay for as long as needed. At least one of the children stayed for the long haul…my grandmother. Dorothy loved her as her own child, and became a “grandmother” and “great-grandmother” over the subsequent decades. I never knew my grandmother (she died young), but I knew Dorothy.
Oh, Dorothy was a force. She had zero tolerance for crap. She spoke her mind freely. Most of the priests in the archdiocese knew of her…and grew to love her. Inside that tough old bird exterior was a heart of gold. She had a soft spot for the rambunctious and rebellious kids, whether in church or within our own family.
My favorite thing to do with her was bingo. If she didn’t have a ride from a friend, we’d take the public bus to the parish or the Knights of Columbus. I learned all about the ritual of bingo. People are serious about their cards, the set-up of their lucky troll dolls, and the quality of the snacks for sale. I preferred the Knights of Columbus because they sold pizza and the sodas came out of the tap. She rarely won money, but the social aspect of the game was a big part of her life.
When I spent time with her, we didn’t do a lot of “kid” stuff. She lived her life and I tagged along. I got to observe her independence, tenacity, and unconditional love. She stayed in touch with in-laws, exes, and step-relatives long after other parts of the family cut them off. No one dared give her a hard time about it because they knew they’d get a tongue-lashing or one of her infamous stares.
Dorothy lived on her own until the day she left this earth. She never had a spouse and she once jokingly referred to her hope chest as the pit of despair. I’m sure she had lonely moments, but she never regretted her life. She built a family and a rich legacy of love. She didn’t have much money, but Dorothy volunteered and served throughout her life. She taught me not to waste a minute because there’s always someone who could use some help.
When I decided to throw myself a 30th birthday party, I remembered the twinkle in her eye when she was up to something. That night I gave a tribute to my grandmother who’d passed the previous year, but there was a also a subtle tribute to Dorothy. The event took place in that old Knights of Columbus hall where she taught me all about bingo. I had a soda from the tap just for her.