It's Christmas eve and like many folks of a certain age, I miss my mother. She was really my grandmother. I was adopted. This is important to understand the time span. Born in 1915, she lived in western Palm Beach county with her family until the hurricane in 1928 when she and her sisters were left orphaned by the storm.
At 13 she went to live in foster care where the orphans worked as "the help" in the mansions in Palm Beach, and every Christmas the aristocrats gave them presents labeled "boy" or "girl." Everyone except the Kennedys.
Rose Kennedy took the time to learn all the children's names and presented them with a gift addressed specifically to them. So, this year, after losing her family, and feeling quite lost and alone, Rose Kennedy handed my mother a little box with the name "Olivette" on the tag. It was a hairbrush and mirror set.
Mother told this story dozens of times and it never changed. Except, as she got older, and more frail...and, as the world become more difficult and unforgiving for her, her telling of the story changed. Whereas she used to tell the story with a glint in her eye that indicated something like, "and that's how Democrats roll," she came to a point when she could barely finish the story without weeping. It touched her so deeply that someone of such high status -- a Kennedy -- bothered to know her name, at a time when no one else felt it was necessary to pay attention to a dirty little orphan with nothing. No family, no home, no money, no bright shiny future.
But, she had a name. And this, I think, taught her something that she never forgot: that she mattered. She treasured that memory. It was central to who she was. She had long lost the hairbrush, but the lesson stayed with her for the rest of her life. That, she was a real person with a real name, and she mattered. And conversely, that the smallest acts of kindness and dignity can echo for a lifetime.
Merry Christmas, ya'll. You matter. Each and every one.
-reprinted with permission from Nashville Brook-