A Valentine for Estelle

posted Sunday February 15th, 2009

The other night, I attended a dinner party. It was a special occasion: Estelle had the class over.

For several years, I’ve co-taught a little writng workshop called Mothers Who Write. I’ve met a lot of cool women (I learn more than I teach, that’s for sure) but Estelle’s in the hall of fame.

“I’m going home and hanging everything I’ve got on my walls!” another student whispered to me, as we helped ourselves to the pot luck buffet. Just about every surface in the funky, high-ceilinged town house was covered – in a good way. Estelle’s got some serious style. She once owned her own business; her hand-crocheted jackets were sold in the finest boutiques in Scottsdale. She’s also got an amazing family. I think almost every one of her kids, or close, is a doctor, and from what she says they clearly dote on their mother, as much as she’ll let them.

Estelle’s house looks a lot like the jackets on display in the entryway — a mishmash of crazy bright colors you’d never put together yourself but wish you had. I would never dare to paint my kitchen cabinets teal, but for Estelle, it works.

Better still, every piece in the house has a story, and we heard many of them over hot salty nuts and cheese, before settling in at the dining room table. “Great tablecloth! Where’d you get it?” someone asked about the gorgeous tapestry. “My bed,” Estelle answered.

Later in the night, Estelle told me that she’d recently found a copy of the eulogy she’d written for her husband, Martin, who passed away in 1983 but remains (even though companions followed) a central figure in her life. Estelle is amazing. Somewhere in her 80s, she’s totally self-sufficient, even yelled at us when we tried to do the dishes. But she really misses her Martin. He’s the one who hung all the etchings on a high wall in her living room. She couldn’t ever do that kind of thing herself, she said, but after he died, she had to.

She had to do a lot of things.

The eulogy is very short, entitled “Loved Unconditionally.” One thing I love about it is that Estelle’s writing voice today is just as it was 26 years ago. She writes with a lilt, always brutally honest, but like the tide: back and forth — if that makes sense. Here’s how the eulogy ends:

Being loved unconditionally is — being made to feel special — to feel beautiful — to feel wonderful

– is to know that you can do anything — positive or negative — be anything — and still there is someone who will be there at your side who will say “Hey — you’re great!!!

Wasn’t I lucky that Martin came my way? Weren’t we lucky that Martin came our way?

I thought about Estelle and Martin yesterday, on Valentine’s Day. True, the closest many of us ever come to unconditional love is the feeling we get when we look inside our kindergarten valentine bags. Anyhow, when it comes to real love, the proof is in the pudding of every day life, not how you act on special occasions.

Still, a day set aside for love is a good thing.

My gift to Ray was not particularly romantic — he wanted a gel pad for his computer keyboard; his wrists have been aching — but he seemed thrilled. He gave me a kumquat candle from my favorite store, but the card (more often than not, he forgets the card entirely) is what slayed me. I made it the wallpaper for my iPhone.


Sophie made us a book of purple construction paper hearts, with drawings and stickers and her name at the end. It is beautiful. Annabelle made us a book (hers is pink, naturally) as well, complete with a teeny tiny bookmark and a poem:


I love you because you are funny.

I love you because you are sweet.

I love you because I have a sister.

I love you because I’m free to walk down the street.

I love you because you are my family.

I love you because I love you.

Talk about hanging it all on the walls. I think Estelle would approve.


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9 Responses to “A Valentine for Estelle”

  1. I am grateful for your Estelle and my Ina Mae, who contine to show us how to mature with ageless class.

    Way to go, Ray !

  2. I love your card. Love it!

  3. So so so sweet. All of it.

  4. Oh damn it Amy. You made me cry.

  5. This may be the first year I haven’t made Mr. Kittymama some sort of Valentine on Feb. 14, even if it’s just a printout from the computer or a pie with an M&Ms heart on top. I spent all day fitting and shopping for costumes for the dozens of kids in the musical.

    But we did have a romantic conversation, and tonight he gets roasted beets and fresh English peas that I’m fixing.

  6. i loved your piece and was happy my “hot nuts” got some press. Estelle’s home was lovely and a real snapshot of who she is. i hope i am that interesting at her age.

  7. ditto on what megan wrote. right down to the “damn it.”

  8. [...] We don’t play favorites, of course (wink, wink — what teacher doesn’t?!) but Deborah and I both have very cushy spots in our hearts for our long-time student Estelle Gracer. [...]

  9. I’ve seen your name associated with Estelle’s in several places. I worked for Estelle back in the 80′s. I worked for her for 5 years and she even guided me with her vision to create a jacket that she called the “Judy Jacket”. Oh, how I love her. She provided me with the gift of crochet. I still say that if you give me a crochet hook and some yarn or fabric, I’m a HAPPY GIRL! And that Marty – Loved him too, what a sweet character. Some people you never forget.

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