remembering flo

The first time I met Allyn’s great aunt Flo — the sister of his paternal grandmother — I was a little nervous. At the time she was 93 years old and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew she lived alone in her house of nearly six decades; her husband had died and she had no children of her own. I knew she was a bit hard of hearing; Allyn told me I would need to speak loudly and clearly. I knew she had been an avid photographer — even taking a workshop with Ansel Adams! — and that she loved the Oakland A’s. Driving up to her house that day with Allyn and his mom and sister, I felt a bit like an intruder. I was just a woman Allyn had been dating for a few months. Would Flo wonder what I was doing there? Or would she confuse me with one of his previous girlfriends? I tried to mentally prepare a strategy for what to do if she called me by a different name or acted like we had met before. She was 93 years old, after all.

We pulled up into the driveway of her cute one-story house with the brown trim and neatly kept yard. I followed Allyn and his family around the side yard and through the garage, where they knocked on the door leading into the kitchen. “Coming!” a voice called, and then the door swung open and there was Flo with a wide, warm smile on her face.

Flo was beautiful. She had an inner beauty that shone out of her eyes and her smile. She wore her short hair perfectly curled. Her carefully applied makeup accentuated her quiet elegance. She looked and seemed decades younger than her years.

Flo hugged everyone and said, “I’m so happy to see you!” When Allyn introduced me as his girlfriend, Flo leaned over without hesitation and gave me a hug too. It would be my first of many, many sweet hugs from Flo.

That afternoon we went to lunch at an Indian restaurant down the street. Flo had never been there before — the Mexican place that she loved was closed that day so we went to the Indian restaurant next door instead — but she was game to try something new. She was up on politics, had a delightful sense of humor, and chatted with Allyn’s mom about the Oakland A’s (Flo watched every game on TV and even kept her own detailed statistics for each player). I was in complete awe of her. I remember thinking, “If I am lucky enough to live into my nineties, I want to be just like Flo.”

Not too long after that, Allyn and I moved into our first apartment together. We chose the location because it was midway between both of our workplaces, it was a safe neighborhood and the rent was more reasonable than other nearby cities. An added bonus was that we now lived just down the street from Flo.

We visited Flo as often as we could. Our routine was to take her grocery shopping and to the drugstore, and then to pick up her favorite smoothie drink, called a Blenzer, on the way home. Then we would drink the Blenzers and visit around her kitchen table. Flo loved the cappuccino Blenzer and would suck down the large size in no time at all. She would always tease me and Allyn for getting the smaller sizes. {I couldn’t handle anything bigger– those things were filling!} I remember her childlike pleasure in something as ordinary as enjoying a smoothie. She would announce, “I just love these!” and her eyes would sparkle. Her joy was pure and contagious.

Shopping with Flo was always an adventure. She would write out, in her neat block handwriting, two identical copies of her grocery list: one for her and one for Allyn and me. At the store, one of us would stay with her at the cart and the other would zoom around the aisles to pick up her items. Her list was short and simple; she would buy just what she needed, nothing more. She especially loved oranges and vanilla frozen yogurt. Allyn and I would sometimes pick up groceries for ourselves while we were there, and it always turned into a battle at the cashier because Flo wanted to pay for our groceries too, not just hers — even though we would typically have way more items than she did. I remember once, Allyn tried to sneakily pay for all of our groceries — Flo’s included — and that was the only time I ever really saw Flo get angry. I remember her digging through her wallet and thrusting way too many bills at him, a stern look on her face. Flo was fiesty and stubborn as well as sweet.

A couple days after each grocery trip, we would receive a letter in the mail from Flo thanking us. I always loved reading her notes in her tidy penmanship, showering us with praise and gratitude for tasks that many people would take for granted. Flo was amazed that Allyn could find her items in the grocery store so quickly. Occasionally he would go shopping with Flo on Sundays when I had to work, but Flo wouldn’t forget me in her notes. “Hope to see you soon for another Blenzer– yum!” she would write. “Give my love to your darling Dallas!” She made me feel seen and loved as myself, not just as Allyn’s wife.

Speaking of being Allyn’s wife, one of my favorite memories of Flo was on our wedding day. I’m sure it felt like a big outing for Flo — she was 96 by then — and it was probably a little overwhelming for her to be around so many people, most of them strangers. Actually, maybe not. Flo was one of those special souls who made strangers instantly feel like friends. I had expected her to head home early in the evening, but not only did she stay long into the reception… she was a hit on the dance floor! I love these photos of her dancing with my family friends Ken & Kathy, whom she had just met that day. It was so special to have Flo’s joyful presence there at our wedding.

We thought of Flo in particular during our honeymoon in Yosemite, because she studied photography with Ansel Adams. We bought her a postcard print of one of his iconic black-and-white Yosemite photos in a gift shop there, and when we returned home we asked her about Ansel Adams during our next visit. She disappeared into her home office and reemerged with the materials from the workshop she took with him, shortly before he died. She had applied to the small, intimate workshop held at Adams’ home and was one of only a handful of students accepted. I could see why she was chosen — Flo’s photography was masterful. Her stunning photograph of a lion hung in her living room, and I was amazed at the expression she captured in his eyes. My other favorites were her photographs of icebergs from a trip she took to the Arctic. She showed us a photograph she had surreptitiously snapped of Ansel Adams as he gave a talk on the last day of the workshop, and told us about how she went up to him afterwards and asked if she could give him a hug. After he hugged her, Ansel Adams sighed and said, “If only I were twenty years younger!” Flo giggled as she told that story, and I got a flash of her girlhood self in her smile.

Since Flo could not travel herself anymore, one of our favorite traditions when we took trips was to mail her a postcard. Without fail, when we next visited her, the postcard would be out on her kitchen table — next to the newspaper crossword that she completed in ink every morning — or taped up on her refrigerator. She loved to read aloud to us the message we had written her, delight on her face and in her voice. Flo always made me feel like the very best version of myself.

The last time I saw Flo was the day after Thanksgiving. Allyn and I swung by with Blenzers and turkey leftovers. I was 39 weeks pregnant and Flo kept marveling at my belly. Flo was 98 years old and had slowed down a great deal. She was much frailer and less steady on her feet; she gripped my hands tightly as we walked down the hall together. But her sweet smile was the same, her laugh was the same, and her unbridled joy to see us caused my own heart to leap as it always did. She had forgotten we were coming and kept saying, “I just can’t believe you’re here. I’m so happy to see you!” As usual, she paid us far too much for the groceries we brought her. I was able to slip the money back into her wallet without her noticing, and that was when it really struck me that we might not have too much time left on this Earth with our dear Flo.

Flo passed away on January 4. Both Allyn and I cried when we learned the news. Even though we were blessed with so much time with Flo, I feel greedy for even more. It is so hard to let her go. She never got to meet Maya in person, but I am so grateful to Allyn’s dad for bringing her a photo of Maya shortly after Christmas, so at least Flo got to see our little girl. I hope Maya grows up with her great-great aunt’s sense of wonder and curiosity about the world, delighting in its beauty and its gifts — especially the small everyday pleasures that many of us overlook. I hope Maya has Flo’s kindness and also her strength; her humor and her conviction; her playfulness and gratitude. And I hope Maya continually feels as loved as Flo always made me feel.

Thank you for the memories, dear Flo. Thank you for letting me be part of your life. I am just one of countless people whose lives you touched. I love you and will miss you very much.

One thought on “remembering flo

  1. Lovely Dallas – thank you.

    Laurel A. Shearer
    Executive Vice President
    LUMEDX Corporation
    510-903-2098 Office
    510-206-4523 Mobile

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