There’s a picture of a little girl looking out to sea by Kiana Llanos floating around Facebook. The picture caption reads: Don’t forget to love her. The little girl you used to be. Perhaps she lies within you. Untucked. Sleeping peacefully.
The picture brings back memories of my writing partner Dixie Thomas Reale who passed away a year ago from cancer. Dixie was a fighter, and at first blush she had a chip on her shoulder bigger than Mount Rushmore. Feisty, she refused to let anyone boss her around. I can barely remember the last time she laughed, but I remember the last time I saw her cry.
The first time I saw tears in Dixie’s eyes was when she described how she rescued a kitten in her rock shop in King Hill. The kitten had been abandoned by its mother and would have died if Dixie hadn’t stuffed that kitten into her shirt to keep it warm. Fostering the kitten, which she named Ice Cube because it was so cold, Dixie wrote a story about her “Christmas” kitten and planned to include it in a future issue of our Snake River Plain books. The second time I saw Dixie cry was one day at lunch when we were critiquing her memoir. Dixie had a keen sense of humor and had been working on a novel about a corrupt minister. She stated that she couldn’t finish the novel until she wrote her memoir, so she put the novel away and started pounding out the pages. That day at lunch we read about a little girl who was shoved in a corner while her family struggled to raise Dixie’s mentally-challenged brother. Since he was younger than Dixie a lot of responsibly fell on Dixie’s shoulders. In those pages she described the details of some of the escapades, but she rarely described the emotion. She’d been taught to swallow her feelings. When I said, “My heart breaks for that little girl,” tears spilled down Dixie’s 68-year old cheeks. She was still a child inside seeking validation. The last time I saw Dixie cry was when I visited her in a nursing home and bragged to a fellow writer about Dixie’s memoir. Dixie cried knowing she’d never get to finish it.
It’s because of women like Dixie that I wrote Waiting, a novel about three generations of Foster women for wait for love, for attention, for life, for death. Women like Dixie helped me form my character Maxine, who waits all her life to be happy. Who, like so many of us, ignore the fact that we alone are masters of our own happiness. Too many of us wait until it’s too late.
Dixie offered valuable insight as I labored over Waiting. As I get ready to celebrate the release of my novel, part of me does so with sadness. I will never be able to place a signed copy in her hands and thank her for all of her suggestions.
Take time to tell the Dixie’s in your life how much you love and appreciate them, even when they gruff back at you, pretending they don’t care. There’s still a little girl inside each one of them that needs a hug before they fall asleep.
Rest peacefully, my friend.