I know, it’s a grainy old picture. I know, there are dusty flecks all over it. I know, the left side is all bleached out, maybe because it was the last photo on the roll. (Or maybe because like many of my old photos, this is a scan of an ancient slide that had been sitting in a box in a storage shed for thirty years.) But what you can see is one of my favorite ladies, sitting at a spinning wheel, in front of a big loom, giving me a hug. And through all the imperfections of this picture, you can also see my smile.

This photo was taken in January 1982. My mother ran The Northern Vermont School of Fiber Arts and often held seminars and classes for students to learn weaving, spinning, knitting, and many other handy fiber skills. On this particular evening, this wonderful woman was there. Her name is Nan.

Since she was an adult when I was a child, I really don’t know what Nan did for a living, maybe something about social work or counseling. But I know she has lived all over the country. I remember attending her wedding in Taos, New Mexico a decade or so after this picture was taken. And at some point, I visited her sweet little house in Albuquerque that was full of fresh flowers. I think she may have even had a labyrinth of sorts in her tiny backyard.

The summer I went off to college, she taught me how to knit with two colors at the same time. And she told me that money is never so tight that you have to reuse tea bags.

Over the last three decades, we have spoken only occasionally, but I think about her regularly. A few years ago, she sent me a lovely package at Christmas of hand-made skin care products. I keep one of her bottles on my bedside table (even though it’s long since empty).

When I got married in 2013, she was one of my fairy godmothers; a small, cherished group of wise, elder women who bestowed love and support upon me.

These days, she and her husband are living in a quaint house in the mountains of North Carolina. I picture them looking out the window, admiring the sunrise or sunset while cradling a cup of hot tea in their hands.

For me, Nan is a wonderful example of how to live a life full of kindness. She embodies patience and love. In my memory, she is a gentle and powerful soul who is always extending an arm to hug me.

This fall, when my family heads east to explore the land of my early beginnings, I hope to have time to swing south for a long-overdue visit with my fairy godmother. It would nourish my soul to spend time with her, and I would love for my daughters to meet this extraordinary woman.

Published by Phoebe DeCook