Family Friday: What I Learned About My Grandfather in His Eulogy

He was what you saw: a simple, forthright, kindly, gentle man of utmost integrity. In fact, he leaned backward to avoid any pretense.

Reverend Harold Rekstad’s eulogy of James T. Robb

I was bent on surviving seventh grade as a first-timer in a Maryland junior high when my mother’s father, Grandpa Robb, died in April, 1967. He was only 69 — three years older than I am now — brought down by prostate cancer. I didn’t know that his illness was the reason for the trip my sister and I made with our mother from Bogotá the summer before sixth grade, or that the last time I’d see him would be in a Winona hospital, where he noticed my stylish pale pink lipstick. Brief visits to Winona were all I’d known of Grandpa until the week that my grandparents spent with us in Colombia, when we connected as fellow writers in a way that felt very special.

Grandpa had a quiet smile on his face as he wandered over to a bench and pulled his notepad and pencil out from his jacket breast pocket. I recognized the unseeing gaze — he was building a poem. I hoped he would share it with me, like Mom shared my poems with him in her Monday letters home.

Jane Kelly Amerson López, When the Dictator Flew Over Our House & Other True Stories, Bogotá, 1964

Dad was five thousand miles away setting up press for the Pan-American summit in Uruguay that April, so my sister and I stayed with next door neighbors while Mom flew to Minnesota alone.

Laying in the Murrays’ guest room bed, I realized that I would never again hold Grandpa’s soft, creased hands, never again hear his voice reading my poetry back to me over the telephone, never again seek his counsel on a rhythm or a rhyme. The void was as big as the night sky over the White House the night we stood vigil for President Kennedy.

Jane Kelly Amerson López, The Dictator Flew Over Our House & Other True Stories, Rockville, 1967

Just this week, I discovered the typed-out eulogy that Grandpa’s pastor and close personal friend, the Reverend Harold Rekstad, delivered on April 13 at the First Congregational Church in Winona. Reading it, I felt that I was sitting in those pews but also sitting with Grandpa.

Quality of character

Jim would be greatly distressed if he thought this would be a sad or mournful occasion. He would dislike even more any kind of flowery eulogy. However, he manifested many qualities of character which we want to recall, not in eulogy, but as an inspiration for ourselves in the years to come!

The Reverend Harold Rekstad, First Congregational Church

Soul of a poet

There was neither sham nor guile in his makeup. Jim had the soul of a poet. He sensed and saw the world about him and felt deeply what is missed by the casual observer.

The Reverend Harold Rekstad, First Congregational Church

Compassionate man

Jim was a man of genuine compassion. He cared about others, and expressed his concern In quiet, thoughtful, unobtrusive ways. He was a man of genuine religious faith, the kind that comes from the heart by deed and thought, not rote or ritual. Of all the possessions he might bequeath his loved ones, this would be the choicest, for it was was plain and simple.

The Reverend Harold Rekstad, First Congregational Church

Grandpa’s Bogotá poem: A Call and Farewell (1964)

I cannot leave this place

This town

Or any land

But must look back

And then I see

One beckoning

And gently waving hand.

Family Friday: My Easter Orchids

These orchids bloom once a year. They watched us leave home in 2019 to cross the Atlantic on that fateful cruise and they bloomed again last year as I marked my one-year anniversary of surviving a near-death illness in Amsterdam. As Christians commemorate Jesus’ death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday, I bow my head to the powers that made it possible for me to be here.

My husband brought these bunny-enhanced orchids home as a present on Palm Sunday, the 43rd anniversary of the day we went to a Spanish-speaking Mass in Jackson Heights — even then one of the world’s most diverse neighborhood — followed by an elegant lunch at White Castle. Ah, Queens!

The blooms on this white orchid, with tints of yellow and pink, look like fine linen haute couture Easter frock.

The blooms on this white and yellow orchid look like layers of fine linen.

Family Friday: Does Your Family Yodel?

My Latino husband can yodel. He taught himself in the backyard of his Brooklyn house in the 1950s, while playing cowboys by himself, pretending he was sitting around a campfire with Gene Autry and his pals. I had no idea he could yodel until we were married and visiting my Midwestern family, when R chimed in with family yodeler Aunt Clarice’s refrain during an impromptu songfest while washing dishes. Wow, did this Brooklyn boy connect with my folks, you betcha!

Thanks to Aunt Snooky (aka Mavis Mildred Irene Amerson Voigt) for pulling together the Amerson family story that includes yodeling and lots more. Here are excerpts that show why we cannot wait to be back in the same kitchen, singing and laughing and maybe even doing some dishes.

We sisters sang harmony together, sometimes joined by Clarice, who could yodel, or by Ruby, who taught us hymns in hopes that we might go to church some day. 

Aunt Snooky

Irene loved singing, especially church songs, and told how she and Ruby or Clarice would often sit in the hayloft and sing. She and other family members also sang while washing dishes and listening to country music on the radio.

Jeanie Olsen (my cousin)

I was 3 when our family moved to a big house to a small one. Family lore is that when I saw the house at age 3, I said “I’m not going to live in this damn house.” I must have learned that from my mother, who cleaned, scrubbed and painted to make it more livable. It had no closets, but as my sister Jean said, “Luckily, we had no clothes.”

Aunt Snooky

When I was a teenager in the 1950s, my mother often said to me, “Don’t go hitchhiking. It’s dangerous. You could get kidnapped!” Fast forward to the year 2008 to the Amerson/Casjens family reunion in South Dakota, when I met up with a friend of my mother’s. When I was introduced as Margie’s son, she said “Oh, Margie. We used to go hitchhiking together!”

Jack Karsmeyer (my cousin)

I was the Middle Sister of three. Elaine was pretty, Jeanie was smart, and I was good-natured and funny. That was my role in life.

Aunt Snooky

We are so lucky that Aunt Snooky she was born the middle daughter, because her good cheer and people-connecting have carried our family forward during this very tough year.

Here, to close, is a Norwegian yodeling cows song by full-time yodeler Kerry Christensen. I’ll bet you won’t forget it!

Family Friday: How I Found A Cousin I Didn’t Know About

My mother was half-Scottish, a member of the Robb clan that claims the MacFarlane tartan. The family roots go back to Kilmarnock and Paisley, Scotland, where James Robb and Margaret Morton were born about 1830. My sister has the paisley shawl Margaret wore during her travel alone from Scotland to her intended’s side. Our great-aunt Marion recounted it as “eight weeks in a sailing vessel” followed by arduous travel by land to the Mississippi to meet James in Fountain City, a place she would certainly have imagined differently from the small, dark town on a bluff from which James’ swinging lantern told her she’d made it. 

The Robb side of our family is smaller and quieter than the Amerson side. My mother and her brother, Jim, and his wife, Beth, are gone, leaving my sister and me and our four Robb cousins — Ricka, Becky, and Molly in Minnesota, and Eve in Kansas — to the job of connecting. Facebook helps.

So I was happy to receive an email a couple of weeks ago from Becky saying, in part, this:

Could you tell me if Grandpa Robb was related to Gordon Robb from Winona? I ran into a vendor today who’s name is Sean Robb and he is the grandson of Gordon.

Becky

The name didn’t ring a bell and I thought the answers might lie in the eight binders of correspondence and related family papers I sent to the Winona County Historical Society this past year. However, there was one file still on the bookshelf, and it contained a hint.

Our grandfather’s grandparents, James Robb and Margaret Morton, had 12 children, including William John Robb (1860-1946) who had a son, William Gordon Robb (1923 -). The trail runs out there. I’ve attached two pages from Mom’s binders. 

Jane Kelly

And, guess what, the hint did the job. Here’s part of the email Becky got from Sean.

William Gordon Robb is my grandfather on my dad’s side. Getting super emotional now. God bless you for following up on this. It seems you and I share the same blood!

Sean

As I told Becky, this connection would have made my mother very glad indeed. In fact, I thought I heard her dancing up there. Knowing where she was from, and transmitting that knowledge to me and my sister as we grew up abroad, mattered a great deal to our mother. This was why. Now, if someone wants to clarify how the “once removed” etc. definitions work, Sean, Becky, and I will formalize our newly discovered relationship!

Rear, left to right: Susie, me, Ricka. Front, left to right: Molly, Eve, Becky. We are at our Robb grandparents wearing Grandma Robb’s dress up costumes. Photo: our grandfather, James T. Robb.

Wildcard Weekend: Looking Back, Looking Ahead, Living Today

‘I didn’t think that it would take years.’

12-year-old Darelyn Maldonado, quoted in an AP article by Michelle R. Smith and Andrew Ledrum, After Pandemic Year, The World Looks Back

Few of us understood a year ago what lay ahead. We forget that living one day at a time is the only way life works. As world looks back at the year of pandemic, here’s what I see.

  • Two years ago, my husband and I sailed for Europe on a trip that nearly ended my life.
  • One year ago, I was finally strong enough to resume normal life when the coronavirus pandemic struck.
  • One month ago, my surgeon told me that the lump she removed from my breast isn’t cancer.
  • Yesterday, two weeks after our second Moderna vaccine, my husband and I emerged into new normal life.

Here’s what hasn’t changed.

I will do everything in my power to stay healthy for the rest of my life: exercising, eating right, and staying away from risky situations. Three months in a hospital, nine months of recovery, and twelve months of partial living are enough.

I’m still under the care of the University of Florida Shands Hospital. My one-year follow up is in August. I am planning to be discharged.

For the rest of my life, I will be at high risk for bacterial infections. My spleen was killed during the surgery that saved my life. I keep a supply of antibiotics close at hand and will stay vaccinated for everything.

We have an amazing daughter who we speak with often and dear family across the United States with whom we’ve stayed in contact throughout these two long years.

We live in paradise.

Here’s what’s different.

The bureau next to the front door contains a drawerful of masks.

Going to Target feels like emerging into the Technicolor Land of Oz.

Our daughter is engaged to a man we love for caring so dearly for our girl. Although V is now vaccinated, we are waiting for her fiancé to also be immunized, and what a hug lies ahead when we can finally get together.

We have a new president, a man who overflows with empathy and good will, and a congress that supports him.

We won’t cruise again, and it will be some time before we feel safe getting on an airplane. But when we do, we’ll go to Amsterdam to hug the people who saved my life.

‘I’m starting to get that feeling: It’s time to go back and do something.

96-year-old Jean Allen Queen Anne Healthcare in Seattle, quoted in an AP article by Michelle R. Smith and Andrew Ledrum, After Pandemic Year, The World Looks Back

Family Friday: How to Train Your Pandemic Pup

In Daniel Bortz’ recent New York Times article, Pandemic Pups Swamp Trainers, he cites the American Pet Products Association’s number of 12.6 million households that took in pets between March and December. That’s a whole lot of new dogs locked into homes with their humans 24/7 during the past year.

Before the pandemic, they would have needed to hire daytime walkers or find pet-friendly workplaces. Under current circumstances, they are getting time to bond, and the dogs are helping to ensure that their humans get outside at least a few times a day.

Daniel Bortz, The New York Times
Kumba in our yard, so happy to be waiting for a ball that he completely doesn’t care about hitting the lanai. His glossy coat is helped by a omega oils product Alison suggested, Shed-X

We adopted our Lab rescue, Kumba, through Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida in February. This sweet dog was weak, anxious, and had aggressive tendencies around other dogs, which Alison Chambers of Complete Canine Training had just begun helping us with when the world went into lockdown. Here’s what we’ve done over the past year on our own to address these issues, and advice from Alison on how crate training may be the single most important thing we can do for our canine friends.

Socialization

Alison has found that, counterintuitively, the pandemic has done wonders for dog socialization.

The six-foot mandate has given dogs exposure to people, dogs, and places without being expected to interact. Being able to keep neutral — what I call ‘elevator behavior’ — is a great skill to give our dogs.

Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training

Having that space sure helped Kumba, who was docile and sweet around humans but nervous and downright aggressive around other dogs. Getting him accustomed to seeing other dogs without reacting was the first step.

Alison taught me to interpret Kumba’s reactions and reward him when he let down his guard as she and her dog walked parallel to us and at a distance. Although the pandemic cut short our in-person training, I continued the process in the subsequent months as I walked Kumba through our community. I looked forward to seeing other dogs as a training opportunity, instead of fearing the encounters. Slowly, Kumba relaxed, and one day he made his first dog friend: Reese, a wonderful little bundle of golden/dachshund happiness. Adam, the community’s friendliest French bulldog, and Leo, a new pug down the block, are also Kumba’s pals. My best friend, Coni, and her Goldendoodle, Linda, now take weekly walks with us. One day, they will be friends.

Separation Anxiety

Kumba had been abandoned by his family at a shelter in Puerto Rico, so having his humans leave was traumatic. For the first few weeks, we hardly noticed: I was was home 24/7, and my husband left only periodically to do pandemic hunting and gathering. But on March 13 we were gone for several hours — picking up a car we’d ordered — and he barked non-stop (a neighbor told us) and chewed through whatever he could find, including this book. Clever dog.

Since then, we’ve made huge progress. Although Kumba came to us crate-averse and people-connected, he has learned that he gets a chewy treat when we go out (a filled Kong which we reserve for this special occasion), that his bed is his home, and that we’ll be back. We clear clutter to make it easier to behave and there is less and less amiss when we return. He no longer barks. And his greeting!

Crate Training

Alison is a huge proponent of crate training. At some point in their lives, dogs may need to be confined, in a kennel, in a vet’s office, at a friend’s. In our recent conversation, she got me thinking.

Being home all the time isn’t normal to us, but our pandemic dogs think it is. However, their humans’ constant attention may give us emotional support, Alison says, but can make them attention-demanding. The close bonds that have formed between house-bound humans and our canine companions may actually hamper our dogs’ well-being. In making dogs our emotional support, we forget that they need our support to become independent creatures, able to self-soothe and have down time.

A separate kennel gives a dog space to become independent.

Before the pandemic, I used to tell people, get a dog, then go on vacation so the dog becomes accustomed to being in a crate. A kennel becomes the dog’s home, for eating, for down time, for resting.I know that people resist confining their dogs, but they are truly den animals — anyone who has seen their dog digging in their bed or making a hole in the backyard or at the beach has seen den behavior.

Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training

She recommends that people begin crate-training by having their dogs eat their meals in them, as well as be in them to rest after walks, after training, and randomly. If you’re working at home, put the crate in another room so the dog has their own space. This way, the kennel is not just the place you put your dog when you are leaving the house.

Which, now that we are vaccinated, we can do a whole lot more safely!

Alison Chambers at Complete Canine Training, (781) 424-2590,
alisonchambersdogtrainer@gmail.com

Alison Chambers and friend

Family Friday: What If All Our Elders Were Family?

Readers of this blog will recognize some of my aunts and uncles by name: Snooky, Elaine, Terry, Carl, Marie. And cousins, loads of cousins. They were all once the province of summer, the midwestern landscape that my Foreign Service family visited on what the State Department calls “home leave.”

These days, we keep in touch with each other by text, email, letters, telephone, Facebook, Zoom. No one is left out. Many of us have had at least one vaccine, several of us lucky enough to be fully vaccinated.

The same cannot be said for millions of older Americans who are isolated, an increasingly perilous condition during this awful pandemic. Technical challenges, narrow access points, and a widening eligibility pool all threaten to leave our most vulnerable unvaccinated.

Older Americans are isolated

Jean Andrade, an 88-year-old who lives alone, has been waiting for her COVID-19 vaccine since she became eligible under state guidelines nearly a month ago … an untold number of older adults like Andrade are getting left behind, unseen, because they are too overwhelmed, too frail or too poor to fend for themselves.

Gillian Flaccus, Heather Hollingsworth and Russ Bynum, Associated Press

access to vaccines is limited

It was hard enough to score a vaccine in Florida when only those aged 65 and above were eligible. Now, the floodgates have opened to anyone with underlying medical condition as well as teachers and other workers.

Floridians who are 75 and older make up 62% of the residents killed by the coronavirus since the pandemic began, but only 32% of the people who have received their second of the two-shot vaccine, according to state numbers. I suspect computer literacy is the culprit. Navigating online signups successfully has required an alacrity with running multiple screens at a time and entering data at lightning speed as available sign-up slots disappear.

Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post

So let’s behave like family

It’s time to begin emergency airlifts of ungrateful grandchildren to Florida until all grandparents are registered.

Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post

Or, as a local politician who steered vaccines to a client community of affluent seniors recently said:

I hate the thought that anybody would think that I would only be going out and helping one community because I’m their lawyer; that bothers me….They’re not just a client of mine, but they’re like family,” Bogen said, according to a Sun Sentinel article.

Mark Bogen, Broward County Commissioner and lawyer for Wynmoore, quoted in article by Herald Tribune reporter Zac Anderson

Maybe it’s time to behave as if the elderly were family to us all.

Family Friday: How My Aunts and Uncle Tether Me to My Father

Kristen Martin’s recent essay in The New York Times Magazine shared how her aunts kept her father from disappearing after his death by telling her all about him. That experience resonated for me.

My aunts and uncle also tether me back to my father, Robert C. Amerson. Next Thursday, it’ll be 15 years since he died in his sleep, barely a week after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I felt his sudden absence as a physical electric shock in my wrists, and the black hole where he had been seemed to expand across my entire existence. But the loving redemption of Dad’s siblings poured in to begin to restore some ground under my feet.

Dad was the eldest son in a family of six siblings. When he died first, their grief was mingled with stories of how much their big brother had meant to them.

He was always been there for us, since we were little kids skipping across the prairie to Plainview District #41 school. He went on to high school in the big town of Clear Lake [1950 population 1,105], paving the way for us girls to follow.

My Aunt Snooky, Mavis Voigt

But he was also a goofy teenager. Just yesterday, my Aunt Elaine read to me what 14-year old Bob wrote in her 1939 autograph book.

Young Bob and his accordion

When you get married and live in New York, be a lady and eat with a fork.

Bob Amerson

And there were more stories about the teenager.

Even then, he had the intellectual curiosity and artistic talent that marked the rest of his life. How many people do you know that would carve an eagle out of a bar of Ivory soap or draw wonderful pictures on the back of the oilcloth on the kitchen table? Or trade a cow for an accordion?

Mavis Voigt

Dad’s sense of adventure emerged early and carried through his life. Before leaving South Dakota, Snooky recalled, her brother learned how to fly an airplane. His youngest sister, my Aunt Jeanie, recalled trips she’d enjoyed with Dad.

And what fun I had with Bob on a West Coast trip, just the two of us, taking turns driving, talking about old times, singing as we drove.

Jeanie Brookins

Singing was part of every family reunion out on the South Dakota plains.

He knew all the words to the old songs that we learned from a clear-channel radio station in Texas, including Carter Family songs, cowboy songs, songs of loss and disasters. Family song-fests were heartfelt and spontaneous and helped sisters and brothers build strong ties.

Mavis Voigt
Snooky, Elaine, Dad, Terry, and Jeanie doing what they loved.

Perhaps the stories that continue to resonate the most have to do with Dad’s interest in his family.

He always had a way of making me feel special, even though I know he treated me just like he treated the other “kids.”

Jeanie Brookins

Bob was interested in us, asking about our accomplishments, our adventures, and our plans, and giving us support in all endeavors.

Mavis Voigt

I miss having your parents around the planet. Wonderful inspirational folks … the last few years we seemed to hit some sweet spots that makes me feel grateful.

Richard Terry Amerson

Dad never lost his love for the South Dakota of his youth, where his siblings gathered the summer after his death to merge his ashes with the waters of the Hidewood Creek, releasing him travel the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and join the Gulf Stream in one last adventure.

Up until the pandemic, I’d never missed a year of returning to see my Amerson relatives. Sometimes, it was to mourn the loss of another sibling: Aunt Marie in 2009, Aunt Clarice in 2016. Aunt Jeanie passed just a month ago. I treasured them and am glad I was a good correspondent during their lives. With each loss, what Aunt Snooky wrote in 2006 still resonates.

Yes, he was the foundation of our family. Yes, that foundation is shaken by his death. But he left us a wonderful legacy. He taught us how to live with enthusiasm, then showed us how to die with dignity. He will be part of our lives forever.

Mavis Voigt
Marie, Elaine, Clarice, Jeanie, Snooky, and Bernice (Grandma) Amerson

Family Friday: How Major, the White House Dog, Is Living the American Dream

… the Delaware Humane Association cosponsored an “indoguration” virtual fundraiser to celebrate [the Biden’s rescue dog] Major’s journey from shelter pup to first dog. The Delaware Humane Association said that Major is the first shelter dog to ever live in the White House and “barking proof that every dog can live the American dream.”

Marcy Nighswander, The Associated Press

Dogs in the White House humanize the occupants, just as they make us all better people. Our life with Kumba shows us that every day.

Dogs Humanize Presidents

If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.

Harry Truman

There is nothing like the unconditional love of a dog to help you get through the rough spots.

George Herbert Walker Bush

“Pets have played an important role in the White House throughout the decades, not only by providing companionship to the presidents and their families, but also by humanizing and softening their political images,” said Jennifer Pickens, White House historian and First Lady expert. The previous White House occupant, a noted germaphobe, does not have pets, although I suggested he might want to get one in a recent post.

Dogs humanize us all

Take a walk with a baby or a puppy and you’ll meet people you would otherwise not even notice.

When our daughter was born and I was home on maternity leave, an entire daytime neighborhood came to life. Older couples out for a stroll paused to ooh and ahh and give me advice. Babysitters materialized down the street. The counter at the Five Corners Luncheonette became our noontime hangout. The barking dog on the corner gave V one of her first words. “Ooof ooof!” It was as if she’d conjured up this new world to support her befuddled new mommy.

Our rescue Lab, Kumba, has also brought out the best in us, first by exposing us to the compassionate Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida volunteers who have, in the past 20 years, rescued, healed, fostered, and found forever homes for 10,000 forgotten dogs. When we were accepted into their fold, LRRoF gave us the chance to earn our dog-angel wings. Like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, we earned our wings by saving Kumba’s life, just as he saved ours. And our walks through the neighborhood during this dismal year of lockdown have introduced us to good people we would have never met.

Kumba helped us celebrate the biden dogs

To commemorate the anniversary of the day he joined our family — and the new White House dogs — we finally took Kumba to Dog Beach, the miles-long stretch of dog-friendly sand in Jupiter where our chocolate Lab, Django, was most at home. Kumba’s nervousness about other dogs — and the uncharacteristic aggression that overtakes this sweet boy — had receded, and he’d gotten used to riding about in the car without worrying that we were going to harm or abandon him.

The good news was that he was calm and relaxed during our entire outing. The bad news was that he doesn’t like the water, so going to the beach is neither here nor there to him. We have felt a little guilty leaving him at home during our weekly outings to beaches where dogs are not allowed, and now we know that he and we do need a little apart time, too.

That way, we’ll all keep getting better and better.

Wellness Wednesday: How Love Helps Us Survive

I was still the new girl in my fourth grade class at The English School in Bogotá when I gave valentine cards to all 20 kids. At recess, I saw Pedro, a Cuban boy, rip his card in half and grind it into the dust with his heel. 58 years later, the image remains burned into my memory, not because I liked Pedro but because it seemed like such a mean thing to do.

All we are looking for in this world, whether you’re the new girl or not, is kindness. An acknowledgment that we matter. Valentine’s Day gives us a reason to say so.

Pandemic Imposes Loneliness

The pandemic has imposed such loneliness on the world.

There’s been a sense of removal, loneliness and even depression because social interactions have been so limited.

Dr. William Schaffner, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, quoted by Rachel Wegner, USA Today/Nashville Tennessean

Companionship Eases the Pain

In Rachel Wegner’s recent article in USA Today and the Tennessean , she reported on an elderly couple who married mid-pandemic. Both husband and wife agreed they felt blessed to have each other.

Life with Florence is good, so I want to keep living.

86-year-old Rudy Saperstein, about his wife, Florence, age 89.

Love Carries Us Forward

Now comes Valentines Day, bringing us messages of love. Love, that most luxurious of connections, has the power to keep us afloat.

My daughter sat by my bed for hours when I was so sick in Amsterdam. My sister massaged my weak, dry hands. Together, they carried my husband forward until he could carry me back to America. Neighbors took over the watch. Therapists stepped in. Slowly, I regained myself, and my husband and I regained our lives. Life with each other is so good that we want to keep living.

I received a Valentine’s Day card from my cousin Jeanie in California the other day. She thanked me for my crazy-early 2020 Christmas card, one of the many I wrote to my extended Amerson family last fall. Jeanie said how glad she was that I’m healthy again, and that she hopes that we’ll come visit. That is a light at the end of the tunnel for us all. Never has a card seemed more important, including its printed message.

Just sending you a note to say you’re in my heart and thoughts, on Valentine’s Day — and every day.

Lynn Horrabin, Advocate-Art card for the American Heart Association.

Another cousin Jeanie in Minnesota wrote me a real letter last year in response to my brief card. It was lovely to hear from her. I met both Jeanies during a South Dakota family reunion many years ago. Today, I wonder if they were named after my Aunt Jeanie, who we lost last month. She seemed to have all the time in the world to hear what I had to say, and now I just miss hearing her words back to me.

Write to family. Write to friends. Use Valentine’s Day as an excuse, or just scribble a note on an index card and send it off. You never know who’ll write you back just when you needed it.