Estelle, a woman from Texas, became acquainted with our animal shelter in Canada when the shelter and its mission were featured in the Associated Press. Estelle began to correspond with Mother Cecilia Mary, our Mother Superior, after reading the story. (The shelter has since closed.)
Estelle wrote to us once a week over a period of 20 years. During this time, she did not share much about herself except that she had cats. When Mother Superior, because of her age and failing health, could no longer personally write back to Estelle, I took Mother's place and answered Estelle's letters.
One winter, Estelle wrote and mentioned she was feeling very cold when she came home from work in the evenings. I had a sense Estelle was not well off and asked a few of my friends to send her presents for Christmas. I did not know what size she was, but people sent clothing, sweaters, jackets, and gloves. One woman sent a large pair of boots.
Estelle wrote us back and said, "I never told you my size, age, or where I live. I must tell you I am a tiny little woman." We had a laugh reading her letter--the boots we had sent were huge! Estelle went on to write that she lived in a small shack with her cats in the countryside in Texas. She was alone after having cared for her aging parents.
Toward the spring, she wrote a tearful letter to say that she had gone to work that morning, and when she arrived her fellow workmates in the clothing factory all sang "Happy Birthday" to her. It was the first time in her life anyone had ever celebrated her birthday. Then her boss handed her a pink slip because she had turned 80 years old that day, and she had to retire. Estelle spent the spring and summer on the farm, cleaning it up to the best of her ability and enjoying her life with her cats. She never said much about her living conditions or herself in the letters, which continued to arrive every week.
Late in the fall, the letters stopped. I didn't know why, and we had no contact in her area to find out. After a month, the absence of her letters became a terrible concern for me. One night, close to Christmas, I tossed and turned and thought about it all night. In the morning, I called my friend Gail in Bellevue, Washington, and said, "You are associated with a newspaper. Do you have a newspaper contact who works in Estelle's town? Would you please call them and ask them to try and find out something about Estelle?"
While Estelle regained her strength in the hospital, another miracle unfolded. Estelle did live in a little shack on the outskirts of town. She was very old and frail, and had no electricity, no running water, and only an old wood stove. I wrote a letter about Estelle to my friend Frank in California. I wasn't asking him for anything; I was just so heartbroken I wanted to write about her. In no time at all, however, I received a letter back from Frank. After reading my letter, he took the initiative, contacted the town's sheriff, and asked the sheriff to make sure Estelle had water, electricity, a proper fireplace for heat, and a color TV. These wonderful gifts all came to fill her home during the magic of the Christmas season. When Estelle arrived home from the hospital, her joy at the change in her little shack was enormous. She was overwhelmed with appreciation.
Frank is in no way a wealthy man. He could not easily afford to make the world brighter for Estelle, and yet he sacrificed to make life better for her. His generosity reminded me of how my mother treated people, with love for strangers. It was heartwarming to see the practice continuing on.