For Annie on her 60th birthday

Today is Annie Hammon’s 60th birthday. For those who don’t know, Annie is my Aunt by marriage (and also choice). She is my dad’s wife’s sister (hi Ruth!). Previously, I have written reflections on the terminal illness (#effcancer) her husband Chris lived with for too many years. Ruth presented Annie with a collection of pictures and pieces from friends far and near in honor of Annie’s 60th birthday. I’d like to share mine below!

12486095_10153786472283396_6475074250493081833_oMy first memory of Annie – or my first memory of an interaction with Annie, I should say – took place in fall 2009. Ruth and Dad had been married for some time, and a number of Ruth’s family members decided to gather at Pat’s house. The occasion and other family members present elude my memory, but I remember talking with Annie.
As she sat in the chair by the door, she asked me question after question, in a pattern that often made me wonder what type of question would come next. I continued to answer her, because she seemed genuinely interested in learning more about my story, and what kinds of things I cared about.
This conversation may have lasted 5 minutes or 2 hours; I am not altogether sure what else we did that day. Getting to know new family members can be a daunting experience. I feel like there is a bubble, however, protecting this moment between me and Annie in my memory, so that I will always remember the first Bellinger family member (outside of Ruth) to lay the foundation for a relationship with ME – not just my family or my dad and “his girls.”
Talking with Annie that day meant so much in and of itself, but it10609514_10100470559656889_1593657524013493430_n wasn’t until Christmas that I realized how formational our time together had been. Annie is famous for giving books for Christmas – either new or repurposed from her own bookshelf. She is the queen of books.
Earlier that week, I had bemoaned to Dad that I had no clue what to get my new relatives for Christmas. I didn’t feel like I possibly knew enough about them to get something they would love. (In fact, that was the Christmas that I bought Ruth X-men DVDs, because that was on the amazon wishlist for “Ruth Bellinger.” Apparently, a different Ruth Bellinger.)
I can’t remember what I got Annie that year for Christmas, but I remember what she got me. Three books. Two about state assisted suicide and the penal justice system (because those were topics in one of my favorite college classes), and “52 Simple Ways to Make a Difference,” a book by Senator Paul Simon. At some point during our earlier conversation, I told her my goal in life, no matter what I did for a living, was to make a difference in the world. In a simple way, Annie did her part to help me get there.
I was, and am, blown away by the way Annie retained so many small bites of our conversation to get me books that I would love, and that would fit my personality so well. I remember thinking that I would be able to find a place for myself in the Bellinger family with people like Annie around.
At her core, I believe this is who Annie is. A person who seeks to know people intimately. To include and be included. To help others achieve their dreams, and to make her corner of the world (which extends all the way to Liberia, by the way) a more compassionate place.
Cheers to 60 years of Annie!

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