Hello and good day!
I barely even knew her. Yet she is one of my favorite people. She's been dead for 28 years. But I think about her every day.
She was 95 years old when I was 10. I only saw her 4 or 5 times in my entire life. I spoke to her 20 times on the phone, at most. And yet, she looms large in my thoughts.
Because I know how much she loved me. My great Aunt Opal wrote me a letter saying that she had a framed picture of me on the desk in her living room. She wrote this letter to me 28 years ago. The picture was my first-grade class picture.
In the letters, Aunt Opal said that every morning when she woke up, she sat at her desk and talked to my picture. "Good morning, Adam," she said to the picture. "I love you." Not many people will do that for you. And not many will write you a letter telling you they are doing it.
When I think of Aunt Opal, I also remember something that breaks my heart. One of the few times I visited Aunt Opal in Fort Wayne Indiana, I brought her a plate as a gift.
She was a plate collector. Whenever family members went somewhere interesting, they brought back a plate for her. In her living room, she had a mantle where she kept all the plates on display.
In school, leading up to one of my trips to see her, I made a special plate for Aunt Opal. We'd done a plate making project in class. We molded the plates and painted them, then dried them in a kiln and sealed them with resin.
When I gave the plate to Aunt Opal, she was so pleased. She put my plate in the very middle of the mantle. She told me it was her prized plate.
My great Aunt Opal raised my dad and his sister, my aunt Connie. She didn't raise any children of her own. My grandparents had a successful business and needed help with the kids. They were working all the time in their restaurants.
Aunt Opal moved in to take care of dad--Danny Duane and Connie Sue when they were toddlers. She loved me because I am my dad's son, and she loved my dad more than life itself.
On my last day in town, I told everybody I wanted my plate back. I didn't want to leave it with Aunt Opal. I wanted to take it home with me. It was mine.
Looking back through the eyes of an eight-year-old, I can imagine what I was thinking. Aunt Opal was this old woman I didn't know well. She lived in an old house. Everything was made of hard dark brown wood.
Her husband Walter had built the house himself and then he passed away a few years after finishing it. It was a good, strong, house made of good, hard wood. But it smelled old in there. And a 8 year old kid doesn't know how important love is. I didn't understand what I was doing.
My parents pleaded with me to change my mind, but I held strong. I put the plate in my suitcase and took it home with me. I don't remember what happened to the plate. I'm sure I lost it shortly after coming home.
My Aunt Opal would have looked at it every single day.
It meant almost nothing to me. It would have meant the world to her. I can still imagine her there in that dark wooden house at the end of the long driveway, by the side of the main road. She used to sit near the window in her kitchen and watch for birds. There were flower bushes and fruit trees all around her house. There was a creek in the back.
She wore loose fitting floral house dresses, had big glasses, and used orthopedic shoes. She had white curly hair, frail veiny hands, and thick old woman's ankles. as she grew older she had to use a walker.
I don't remember seeing her smile in person. But I have a picture of her smiling. She is an old woman in the photo. She has a handkerchief draped over her curly white hair to protect her scalp from the sun. The handkerchief is tied in a knot under her chin.
It is the sweetest, wisest, smile you ever saw. I have the photo tucked into a book. Sometimes when I'm thinking about my Aunt Opal, which is a lot more lately, I take the photo out of the book.
I hold it out in front of me. "Hi Aunt Opal," I say. "I love you." I wish I could call her and tell her. Or fly to see her. I'd sit with her in the kitchen of that old wooden house. We'd drink coffee and look at birds through the window when they came to sit on her flower bushes.
I wish I'd left that plate behind.
There is a great business book called "The One Thing." It was written by Gary Keller, founder of the Keller Williams real estate company. His business advice is to choose one skill, the most important skill you can think of, and work on it above all else.
In choosing the skill, he advises that a person ask themselves what they can do, such that by doing it, everything else will become unnecessary. What skill is the domino that will knock the rest of the dominos down? At work, it depends on what your job is.
In life, it is letting people know you love them. A 95-year-old woman writes a letter to a eight-year-old boy and puts it in a book. Several decades later the boy reads the letter as a grown man and feels important and special.
There are few things more powerful than letting somebody know how much you care. It doesn't take much effort and it means the world.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!