My fourth birthday photo is a black and white snapshot of my half standing/half bending over my birthday cake; sitting beside me is a lovely lady with an all-embracing smile. That is one photo I always love to look at; one of many black and white moments that I can cherish as often as I wish.
I don’t actually recall this particular birthday; certainly, I didn’t have many parties as a Christmas Eve birthday can easily pass by unnoticed during such a busy time of year. But this was definitely my day to shine; and as the years later proved, this lady’s love for life and family meant there was always room for one more celebration and another child close by.
I was ten years old and still trying to figure out just how exactly we were related…she wasn’t a sister to either my father or my mother. Yet her warm welcoming smiles and hugs were there for us all…she definitely had room for an extra “niece” or two.
In our extended families, we cousins had lots of mentors whom we respected and looked forward to seeing each occasion; extended reunions were the norm, and intertwined branches of family and long-time friends appeared and just belonged there; indeed, their absence would have been noted by many of us younger ones who relied on the hugs and kisses to make the day’s reunion complete.
While my mother loved flowers, this lady actually wore them, in beautifully bright, bold and dazzling colors and prints. They accentuated her olive skin and deep brunette hair, shining bright above the lovely patterns; hers was a stark contrast to my mother’s more classic stripes and small prints.
I was fourteen and attending my first “wake”. Mom had stated that I was now old enough to attend memorials like this; so, she instructed me to dress up as I would for church. The big deal for me was wearing my mantilla…a small consolation, but somehow it was very flattering and so, at least, I could look the part and appear more mature than I felt. I sat quietly there, feeling very uncomfortable and nervous.
Yes, I was sitting next to Mom, but all I perceived was my mother who was extremely comfortable in this solemn situation; she had no idea just how very strange it seemed for me, or just how worried I was, were I to accidentally commit a faux pas midst all the adults looking on.
I decided to chance it and look around the room. I turned around and just a few pews behind me I caught sight of a June smile; the one that was familiar, loving and unconditionally accepting, all at the same time. She even waved and nudged her hubby to make sure he acknowledged me…just a simple nod and smile. Sounds hokey, but this very backward teen immediately felt okay and “grown up enough” to sit through this rite of passage.
Such are the memories of a June smile from a lady who crossed my path and influenced me through most of my young adulthood; a mentor who treated friends and family equally; there were none who didn’t get a huge dose of love and hot meals when needed – blood lines or not.
The childlike part of me still craves a smile or a hug to console me; some days, I don’t even know why or what is troubling me, but God seems to provide a certain someone to cross my path. I may not remember that fourth birthday, but I will always remember that smile.
When one has been lucky enough to have had a June smile come your way, one knows the value that it brings to a child’s heart. It is incumbent upon one to pass it on…