When I was very small and my grandmother watched me while my mother worked, she would take me along with her to her Garden Club meetings. At the time they met in the old house in Rohr Park and it smelled of coffee and cold, musty air. It was u-shaped with an uneven brick patio in the courtyard. I mainly played by myself during the meetings, wandering through the downstairs rooms and into the grassy areas outside, staring longingly at the public pool which has since been filled in without a trace, or imagining myself in a little cabin under the eaves of the log-built storage unit outside. The other women there loved me like a club full of grandmothers, and I loved them back, although shyly.
Mrs. Hedenkamp lived at the same street number that my grandparents lived at, but two short blocks west. Perhaps because of her proximity, she stands out in my memory more than most of the other ladies. I don’t have many specific memories of her – just a general and overwhelming feeling of love surrounding our relationship. I remember once walking to her house where we stopped in and I met her husband who spoke with a German accent (unless I am confusing that with my memory of another German neighbor) and worked with wood. Shortly after that visit, he sent me some wooden block animals he had made for me. Years later I would paint them with my childish set of watercolors, a blue elephant and a yellow spotted giraffe are all I can remember now. He died while I was still a child.
A growing girl and teenager, sadly, have little interest in the friends of their grandparents, but always I would hear the phrase, “Mrs. Hedenkamp – she loves you, you know.” And I did know it – I felt it, and in my own way, I loved her for it.
I invited her to my wedding. It seemed natural to do so, she was, after all, another of my grandmothers from the Club. She was much smaller and more frail than I remembered. It scared me. I think I saw her only one last time, a few months after the wedding when my grandmother passed away. Mrs. Hedenkamp hugged me and, again, I knew her love for me, for my grandmother.
A few years ago, I happened across the name of Hedenkamp Elementary – a brand new school in one of the new developments. How many Hedenkamps are there, anyway? Apparently not many, since it turns out that it was named after the two who knew and loved me. How exciting! I was unaware of it all as I was growing up, but they worked hard to keep children in the community well fed, among other things.
Some time after that, while playing at a playground, shared by a horde of fifth graders wearing shirts announcing “Hedenkamp Huskies” I chatted with one of the teachers. She told me Mrs. Hedenkamp was “still kickin'” and would often visit the school, where she was beloved by the children. I loved hearing that.
Sadly, last November, she passed away. I feel sad, but it’s a sweet sort of sad – the kind which comes at the end of a long and beautiful life. Thank you, Mrs. Hedenkamp, for always loving me. I knew it and loved you back, even if it was from a distance.