You never could miss her. And she never missed you, nor anyone for that matter.
Even without turning around she could hear the motor of any vehicle coming up or down the road wherever she happened to be, either alone or walking one of the many dogs she had over the years. She walked those roads 12 months of the year in all kinds of weather, and whenever a vehicle approached, her arm shot straight up in the air, as though she were trying to touch heaven. Then she’d whip around, and you’d see that ever-present smile. It mattered not whether she knew you, she just wanted to greet you, to welcome you as though she owned the road.
Perhaps she did, for she had lived in the area more than 50 years, and although most people assumed she was a dyed-in-the-wool Swamp Yankee old-time New Englander, she was not. Her appearance, her fierce independence, her way of doing everything from chopping wood to taking care of her home and property herself belied the fact that she was originally from Michigan.
A neighbor who knew her as well as anyone could tells the story that she came here years ago with her husband, leaving a dirt-poor existence in Michigan, hoping to find a better life. Apparently they did, for they worked hard, had a home, and although not really close to anyone, she looked upon everyone as a friend. Always that arm would go straight up, that smile would be there, and if you were walking, she’d stop and talk. And always her pockets were stuffed with carrots for the neighbors’ horses and treats for the dogs.
She invariably wore a bright orange vest like the highway workers wear, the vest covering a pale pair of shorts on sweltering summer days and layers of warm clothes in the winter.
She was what people call a “character,” “a local,” maybe even eccentric, but always she was part of the landscape, and when it came to her mind, she was sharp as a tack. She ran a successful online book business and never stopped working. She was smart, quick with advice if asked, right to the point, and always spoke her mind without offending.
You will notice that I keep referring to this woman as “she” rather than using her first name. That is deliberate since the point of this piece is only to impart her message. She left us suddenly just a bit more than a month ago, which was a shock to those who knew the white-haired lady in the orange vest who patrolled the roads daily. She wanted no funeral, no ceremony, no celebration of life.
However I believe if we could speak with her now she would want to be remembered best by all of us taking the time to smile and wave every time a walker, runner, or vehicle passed by. It takes so little time, and in most cases causes that person to return the smile and wave right back, perhaps taking them for just a minute from their own private thoughts or stresses of the day.
I won’t tell you where she lived because I’d like you to believe that maybe you recognize her, think perhaps she was from your neighborhood.
About a week and a half ago I was driving on Crandall Avenue in Misquamicut and approached a man and a woman walking a small dog. Before I had even passed them, he shot up his arm in a vigorous wave and both of them smiled. It was as though they had taken lessons from the woman in the orange vest. It made me realize then and there that no names need ever be used, that perhaps she had lived just around the next corner in every neighborhood, there to teach us a lesson.
A couple of weeks after she died, someone posted a sign at the junction of the two roads she strode the most. The sign reads simply, “Smile, Wave, and Have a Great Day.” To those of us who pass it several times a day, it is not a sign, but a legacy left for a neighborhood. And one we all need to pass on.
So when someone passes by, shoot your arm straight up toward heaven. Who knows? She might just shake your hand.
NOTE: Passover and Easter are about redemption, rebirth and joy. May you experience them all.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 19 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-539-7762.