I met Dianna Traina on my 8th birthday. We went to a birthday party, but it wasn’t mine. It was for the lawyer my mom worked for. Her co-worker was Dianna. Dianna knew it was my birthday because my mom had been talking about it at work, so she brought me a little gift to the party because I had to be at someone else’s party on my birthday without mention of me.
Inside the box was a dainty silver chain with a sparkly crystal pendant. I felt more special in that moment than most other moments in my life. They say that people don’t remember what you say or do, but how you make them feel. Dianna always made me feel like I was the most special child on the planet, and like I was a miraculous blessing. Her face always lit up every time I walked into the room. She did that for every child, but made you feel like the only one. She was like a grandmother to me, and I miss her very much.
I still have that necklace, but I don’t need it to remember her.
Instead, what I have are a bunch of memories and activities that we did together, things she taught me and entrusted me with that make me remember her in my daily life. I don’t think I go a single day without her influence, even now, and she died when I was 19.
Today someone posted about folding a fitted sheet the right way on Facebook and I commented that it’s one of the most vivid ways I can remember Dianna and be with her now.
When I was an adolescent, I watched her in awe as she folded a fitted sheet perfectly, as if it was a flat sheet. Perfect corners. She even ironed sheets, and I used to make fun of her for it. She would tell me stories of her childhood and how her mother took in laundry for extra income because her father had passed away, her mother was a widow and had to raise three girls alone. She was expected to help and learned at an early age.
There, in the basement of her house, she taught me to fold a perfect fitted sheet, removing all the mystery and giving me a great sense of domestic accomplishment. I didn’t think much of it and I don’t think I ever folded a fitted sheet like that again until after she had gone. Now, I do it deliberately because I can sense her there with me as I do it. I hear her talking to me, see her smiling at me, and feel her embrace as I fold the corners into each other and imagine her hands over mine the way they were when she taught me more than twenty years ago.
Someone else on that Facebook thread commented that they “got over” needing to fold the sheet right and they just stuff it in the closet because life’s too short, not realizing that some of us fold the sheet because life is too short and we are remembering and loving those who taught us and left us with their legacy.
Dianna gave me a lot of my domestic skills and confidence. She had a boarding house for veterans and when she went on vacation to visit her son in North Carolina she’d entrust me with running her boarding house – making the meals, doing the laundry, making the beds and watering her flowers. She taught me how she did it so that I’d do it like she did and her boarders wouldn’t miss her while she was gone.
She taught my mom to garden, and my mom taught me.
She kept an immaculate home and prided herself that anyone could stop in any time and it was exactly how she wanted it. She made meals every day and loved sharing them with those she loved. She adored children and collected extras to add to the three of her own. She had an amazing and exemplary spirituality and faith.
I don’t do those things in my own life because I am beating myself up or trying to live up to unreasonable expectations. I do them because it helps me feel connected to one of the most influential women in my life, and because it comes naturally to me because of her hand in my life.
One of the best ways to continue a relationship with someone after they have passed on is to remember the things that they taught us and to do those things in their memory, knowing they are never far away.