Thank You, Denise

Thank You, Denise



Many years ago, when I was in my twenties and living in San Francisco, holiday meals were always at Denise’s. Fifteen or 20 of us would pile into her apartment with appetizers and side dishes and wine and sweets–or, if we couldn’t afford it, just our hungry selves– to accompany whatever gorgeous main dish she had prepared. None of us, including Denise, were from California. All of us had made the pilgrimage to the West Coast, has left families back East. Holidays could have been a lonely time. But because of her generosity and joyful light, they never were.


On holidays, Denise, who was no older than the rest of us, was our Earth Mother. She created a space for us to enjoy some of the best holidays I ever had—before or since. I remember sitting in her kitchen eating Ritz crackers and cream cheese (something my organic-eating self would never have eaten at home, but loving every single mouthful of) while she cooked and told stories and laughed. Denise was from Guatemala, had had a tough childhood, had lived in grinding poverty, but it was some time before she shared that with me, and I would have never guessed.


My beautiful white dog, Shambalah, was always invited. She was the only four-legged who was. Denise lived by the park where I walked Shambalah, and on weekends we would sometimes stop in to visit with Denise, who would always coo and fuss over Shambalah for minutes before looking up with her brilliant smile and asking me how I was. Once, only once, I stopped by Denise’s without Shambalah. I never made that mistake again.


We were friends in the days before Facebook, before the Internet, before personal computers. I moved from San Francisco, to New Mexico, to New Jersey, and finally back home to Chicago. Somewhere on that trip back home, I lost my address book. I lost all of my school buddies, all of my work buddies. I lost everyone. Including Denise.


I think of Denise from time to time, especially at holidays. Much of my young, and even not-so-young, adult life was spent in turmoil, in sadness, in depression. Holidays could be a dark time. And so I thank Denise for the beautiful memories, for her kindness, her generosity. And I thank her for showing all of us, for showing me, the true meaning of the holidays, the true meaning of family.


I am a happy person now, but I know many are not. Many are lonely and afraid, hungry, ill, homeless. This holiday season, and throughout the year, I will do my best to share the little piece of Denise that will always live in my heart.



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4 Replies to “Thank You, Denise”

  1. Hi Pam,

    Thank you for sharing this story. It sounds as though Denise has an incredibly generous, bright spirit. I hope you had a good Thanksgiving on Thursday and got to spend it with equally generous and bright spirits.

  2. What a lovely memory, thanks for sharing. Living where we do now, we have only my father who lives local, all the rest of the family is 20 hours away, so sometimes holidays can be lonely for us too.

    I want to share a little story of a special holiday we had about 8 years ago. On Thanksgiving day, I got a call from a client of mine who owns Bouvier des Flandres dogs. They had an accidental litter of puppies. The wife had broken her ankle a few weeks before they were born, and was in a cast and on crutches, so couldn’t get around very well to take care of and clean up after the puppies.

    The husband is a gruff sort, a cattle rancher, and is of the mind that dogs should be working animals only, not pets. Due to the weather/time of year, the wife was keeping the puppies indoors, and the cleaning duties fell to the husband, who was not happy.

    On Thanksgiving day, of all times, I guess he had reached his breaking point, and threatened to shoot the puppies if they were not gone that day, So in tears, the wife called me, not knowing who else to turn to. I had always expressed my admiration for the dogs whenever I was called out to groom them. So, in the middle of my dinner that day, I dropped everything and went to rescue 5 Bouvier puppies that were 5 weeks old.

    Once I got them home and settled, I sent some emails to Bouvier rescue. They were a great bunch, and very shortly they had homes lined up for all the puppies, but I was going to keep them until they were around 7 weeks old and ready to leave their littermates.

    One the of the adopters was a lovely couple who lived in Tucson, AZ. They were both affected by some condition that causes them to be unsteady on their feet, and need an assistance dog for help in balancing while walking. The wife’s condition was worse, and was the main one needing the dog. She had a Bouvier as an assistance dog, and that dog had suddenly passed away with no apparent cause at only 5 years old. So they were wanting a puppy to train to replace the previous dog.

    They drove from Tucson to Little Rock on Christmas Eve, and it just so happened that we had a terrible ice-storm that day that came way earlier than predicted and caused much grief to anyone traveling. By some miracle, everyone made it safely.

    It so happened that my only local family, my father, was spending Christmas out of state that year, so we were alone for Christmas. I figured, so were these people, who had come in search of a new best friend, companion and helper. So, that Christmas Eve, I invited them to come for dinner, total strangers. It was the best Christmas dinner I can remember in a long time. They are the sweetest people, and they were so thankful to find another Bouvier puppy to train for assistance.

    They brought me a gift, a beautiful animated angel figurine. Her wings are fiber-optic and light up and change color as they move in and out. She’s holding a candle which lights up, and her halo and body light up from within. She is about 12 inches tall, and I put her each Christmas on top of our television stand, the highest point in the room. With all the lights out, she shines so beautifully in the darkness, reminding me that there are truly angels at work in this world. From the furry four legged ones in disguise, to the strangers or “non-family” that help to keep our holidays, or any day, from being lonely.

    1. What a gorgeous story, Michelle. It has everything: the evil villain, the travelers on a stormy night, the angels (one of whom was you). Thank you so much for sharing this.

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