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Essays by Karen Anderson: Leaves for Mildred

Illustration by Kacie Brown

Mildred was a large, middle-aged woman who sat in the back row of my workshop and told me she had to leave at the break. “My husband is in the hospital,” she said and I wondered if she was just bored.

A few weeks later, I received a letter from Mildred, a letter that was postmarked Hawaii. “My husband died that afternoon,” she wrote, “and I sold my house and moved to Honolulu to be near my daughter.”

Mildred and I corresponded for over twenty years although I never saw her again. We were both inclined to romance and melancholy—and she missed the seasons terribly, especially the aching loveliness of autumn. So it was that my daughter and I began to collect leaves each fall and send them to Mildred.

“My grandchildren take them to school for show-and-tell,” she wrote, “and then we make a small bonfire on my balcony so we can smell the smoke.”

Mildred died many years ago but I still miss her. Recently, while staring at the red and orange and yellow leaves on the sidewalk, I wondered where she was. And then I knew that she was right there, shining up at me in all the bright colors.

Karen Anderson contributes "Essays by Karen Anderson" to Interlochen Public Radio.