When I was a little girl, Mrs. Rice was the director of the children’s choir at my church. I joined the choir when I was eight or nine, during the late 1960s.
I have not thought about Mrs. Rice in many years. The other day, though, I put on a dress that touched a Mrs. Rice memory. Mrs. Rice always wore these wonderful long bohemian/peasanty kind of dresses. They were fitted through the bodice and flowed from her natural waist. The dress I put on reminded me of her dress and her body and her beauty. Vivid memories of that time and of Mrs. Rice scuttled into my brain. Mrs. Rice always fascinated me.
Her body was lush and soft and solid, all at the same time. Mrs. Rice was an artist and a performing musician. She made wonderful art in oils. She played the guitar. She had a voice as sweet and clear as a mountain spring, with an exuberant undertone that reminded me of a brook running merrily into that spring. Her personality was warm and enveloping and comforting. She had dark, exotic hair. Her complexion was pale, and she always wore makeup, including very red lipstick. Her eyes sparkled. She reminded me of Snow White if Snow White had been a gypsy. As a child, I always had the sense that there was something about Mrs. Rice that did not quite fit in with the rest of the suburban mommies in my parish. I do not know what her backstory was. I did not care then, and I do not care now. All I remember is that Mrs. Rice was wonderful, and I loved her.
I went googling to see if I could locate Mrs. Rice. I am guessing she would be somewhere between 80 and 90 now. I did find a photo from the Orange County Register, our local newspaper in the town where I grew up. The photo was dated in 2013 and Mrs. Rice was leading a group of school children singing at a celebration to dedicate the parish school’s new playground. She was wearing the same kind of dress, the same bright lipstick, and had the same dark hair. I checked in with a friend of mine who has connections in that parish to see what he knew. It turns out that Mrs. Rice is still alive but is ending her journey in this world even as I write this. My friend did get me an address, however.
I decided to write to Mrs. Rice to tell her what kind of impact she had on me, even fifty plus years later. From what I understand, she is at the point of her journey where she probably will not be able to comprehend or process a letter from me. I still want to try. Some part of her may delight in hearing the impact she had on me and, I am sure, lots of children like me.
Dear Mrs. Rice,
I do not think you would remember me, but you were someone very special to me when I was a little girl. I sang in one of your children’s choirs when I was 9 or 10 years old, back in the late 1960s. We sang during Mass and, also, I remember one year singing as entertainment at the St. Joseph’s table celebration. This was so meaningful to me because the grade school glee club rejected me and I was devastated, as I had been waiting a long time to be old enough to sing in the choir. You embraced me, both physically and metaphorically, into the church children’s choir.
Your kindness meant so much to me then, filling me with confidence and a feeling of worth. It was not just the acceptance into the choir, though. There was something about you that just radiated joy, love, and peace. You fascinated me. Your energy was warm and creative. You had the ability to make me (and I am sure, others) feel like I was the only thing that mattered when you talked to me. There was something slightly exotic and different about you that intrigued me, as well. I had the sense, even as a child, that you did not quite fit into the “mommy mold” that most of the women in the parish crafted. I do not know what it was, but I always felt you were a bit outside the traditional clique community. Instead of seeming bothered by that difference or trying to reform yourself into the image of life that the “church ladies” held, you seemed to celebrate your difference. You were an example to me of living in a world, but not of it. I felt that you accepted yourself and loved the life God called you to live. You had that sense of acceptance and celebration not “in spite” of your uniqueness but because of it.
I have thought of you many times over the years. I am now 62 years old, retired, and living in Florida. The other day, I had an experience that brought back my memories of you so vividly, that I had to reach out to let you know of your continued impact.
I purchased a dress and I put it on for the first time a week or so ago. It reminded me so much of the dresses you wore when I was a little girl- long, fitted through the bodice, maybe a tiny bit low-cut, and flowing from the waist. The dress is made of yellow and white gingham. I feel faintly ethereal in it. I applied makeup carefully and spent some effort on my hair.
All my life, I have believed that I look ugly. I do not think there is anything about my looks that is remotely beautiful. I certainly do not look like I belong in a fashion magazine. Even in my younger days, I was not the kind of girl that attracted positive attention or inspired men to cross the street, much less cross the sea, to be with me. I worked extremely hard to be “good enough” or “sweet enough” or “smart enough” or something enough to compensate for my looks.
When I tried on that dress, I realized something. We are not shaped the same. You are more pear-shaped and voluptuous, and I am more apple-shaped and round. You are tall and I am short. Still, in that dress, I saw some similarities. VOGUE would not be interested in featuring us on its cover. Our bodies do not mirror the image of beauty and health that most people accept as fact. We both have extra weight. We both use makeup to create more luminous faces. We both color our hair to feel more energetic and vital.
When I looked at myself in the “Mrs. Rice” dress, I remembered how much I loved you and how exceptionally beautiful I thought you were when I was a little girl. You are beautiful, outside as well as inside. From the way you presented yourself to the world, I believe you knew you were beautiful. That made you even more beautiful and more magnetic. Mrs. Rice, when I realized all this, I realized something important. If I believe you are beautiful, perhaps I need to believe I am beautiful, as well. And perhaps I can.
Thank you so much for all you did for me as a little girl and for the lessons you taught me, almost subliminally, that are still teaching me today.
With love, prayers, and thanks for all you gave me,
Dorothea Goodness Curran
Have you ever contacted someone who impacted your life positively after many years had passed? What was the result? Please leave a comment to share your perspective. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a beautiful day!