Working with seniors every day, I have a crazy quilt of stories to piece together into a book someday when I am retired and have the time. But last week, an occurrence so touching and unlikely took place that I just had to write it down to savor and share with others.
I facilitate a writing group at our community called "Writing Your Life Story." We meet once a week to read aloud a memory we have written down since the last meeting. Over the course of time, we assemble our stories in chronological order into our own personal binders, thus building a history of our unique memories as we go along. It's a wonderful way to fellow with one another, but more importantly it enables the residents to leave a legacy of sorts for their families.
This past week, one of our residents, an accomplished water colorist named Ruth whose work I have long admired and wished I could afford, expressed interest in attending. I welcomed her and asked her to bring a photograph to her first meeting, something to share with the group that was significant to her and would teach us something about her. She did, and when it was her turn to share, Ruth produced a lovely portrait of herself and her twin sister, Hope, when they were about seventeen. She told us stories of growing up as a twin, and shared that Hope had lived most of her adult life in San Diego, but had passed away several years ago. It was clear she missed her sister. I asked Ruth if Hope painted also. "Oh yes," she replied. "Hope was a very talented artist - but unlike me, she preferred the abstract. Her work is very contemporary."
Her words penetrated my consciousness, conjuring up a nearly forgotten incident that literally sent goosebumps down my spine. I had to ask. "Ruth, what was Hope's last name?"
"Because I think I have about seventy-five or eighty of your sister's paintings. I purchased them five or six years ago at an estate sale somewhere in Fort Worth."
"Oh, I doubt it. There would be no reason for her work to be at a sale in Fort Worth. As I said, she lived in San Diego until the last few years of her life, and then she came and lived with me."
But my memory was clear. I had purchased a group of greeting cards with very contemporary original water colors decorating them. The were a number of different groups of paintings with names like 'Red Series,' 'Blue Series,' or 'Joy.' Each one was titled and signed "Hope Wilts." Among the group were some larger prints, collages and paintings, also signed and titled by Hope. Some bore the words 'San Diego' on the back. The next day I brought them to work with me to show Ruth. As she approached the paintings laid out on the table she was clearly skeptical, but when she bent to examine them, her face flushed pink and tears appeared in the corners of her eyes.
"Oh my, these really are Hope's work." She looked up at me. "Why didn't she give these to me?"
"Perhaps in this way, she is. You must have them."
I anticipated an argument, but there was none. She leafed through the collection hungrily, running her hands across each painting as if she could channel Hope through her fingers as she caressed her work. In the end, Ruth insisted I select one from each series and invited me to visit her apartment to choose one of her paintings, as well. I am delighted to have them as I am clearly drawn to both sisters' work. But I'm not sure anything will ever eclipse the feeling I had watching this amazing woman reconnect with her beloved sister.