Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Remember Ellen, Part II

It's been a little more than two weeks since Ellen passed away. Today, I got a beautiful thank you card from her daughter, Terri, and it really touched me. She thanked me for the food I had made and for the story I told at the funeral (see my tale of rootbeer floats below). Terri also wrote something that tapped into my heart immediately:

"It was amazing how easily you slipped back into my family...It felt like home."

The Allen home was a second home to me. Every one of my siblings left home the day they turned eighteen. I decided to stick it out a little longer, and I made it 8 months longer; to my freshman year of college (January), when I decided I'd had enough of 9 o'clock curfews, arguing, etc. and the Allen family welcomed me into their home. This was such a gift to me, because while I was technically an adult, I still needed the nurturing of a family, and the Allens provided that to me. I will always be grateful for that.

Terri and her sisters treated me like a sister, and Ellen; like a daughter. She hated my dad (an alcoholic) with a passion. While everyone else went along pretending there wasn't an "elephant in the livingroom," Ellen called a spade a spade. She couldn't stand Dad, and the feeling was mutual. She always took my side in every argument I had with him, and I loved it. She was the only woman I knew who wasn't afraid of my dad, and that made her a hero in my book.

On hot summer nights, I sometimes snuck out of the house after my parents went to bed, and Ellen encouraged it. But not for the reasons you might think; I'd crawl out the basement window and run to the road, where Terri and her mom would be waiting in the "get-away" car. We'd drive to A & W Restaurant for rootbeer floats and then cruise the rich people's neighborhoods, admiring their homes. Sometimes we'd go back to the Allen's house to hang out. Later, Ellen would drop me back off at home. (I told this story at the funeral, my own mom sitting next to me; she got a good chuckle out of it and told me she give me my "spanking" later! :)

Although I was madly in love with my high school "sweetheart," Ellen couldn't stand him, either. She was always cool towards him (he rarely came inside, but would pull up to the curb and wait for me to come outside) and was openly critical of him. If he did come into the house, Ellen wouldn't say anything to his face, but you could almost hear her growl. She was right; he treated me like dirt, but I couldn't see that at the time. I had an argument for every criticism she leveled of him, but that didn't keep her from speaking her mind. Even though it made me uncomfortable (I just knew she was wrong about him), I appreciated that she thought he wasn't good enough for me. (I eventually figured that out on my own, but it took a while.)

When Christmas or my birthday came, I received modest gifts at home, but Ellen made sure I got special things, too. She bought me my first clock radio (because I needed one), my first pair of cool clogs, and pretty underwear and socks. She went out of her way to give me rides to work, and she never complained about having to pick me up after a later shift. The night of Worst Date #2, it was Ellen I called. When I went to a wedding with my parents and my dad got too drunk to be driving home, it was Ellen who drove the 45 minutes to pick me up.

At the time of her passing, I hadn't seen Ellen in year or more. Every couple of years, I'd stop by the house and say hi. There would be a little bit of awkwardness at first, but soon we'd be caught up and comfortable again. She was not open with her emotions. If I hugged her, she accepted it, but I always sensed that she was slightly uncomfortable about it. (I hugged her anyway.)

I never heard the words, "I love you," from Ellen, but I didn't need to; she showed it often. When I went away to college, it was she who sent "Care Packages" to me. She made the best brownies ever, and they'd still taste delicious when they arrived. I don't remember anything else Ellen sent in those boxes, but the feeling I got opening them and knowing it was her way of showing she cared for me has always stayed with me.

I know I was blessed to have Ellen and her family in my life. I've never taken that for granted, and today I celebrate the gifts she gave me; all of them.

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