Today would have been my cousin Rita Valerie's 50th birthday. She died in early 2003 from various physical ills - as she had not been in the best of health for the last ten years of her life.
Rita was always one of the smartest people I ever knew - and also one of the most generous. We fought like cats and dogs while growing up - and it was a very challenging relationship as adults. But we loved each other. And she would have done anything for me.
Rita would have done anything for anyone. In fact, sometimes too much so. She was always buying gifts for people. In the late 1970s, she moved to Phoenix, Arizona with her Mom, my Aunt Amelia (sister to my Mom, Frances), older brother Bill, and Aunt Alice (another of my Mom's sister) and her husband, my Uncle Ange. They all went there to join Rita's other brother, Fred, who had moved to Phoenix in 1972 with his wife Dani, and then-young child Wendy.
In time, Aunt Alice and Uncle Ange passed away, and years later, no one expected Rita to be the next member of the Arizona family to leave this world. But she did, even before her own mother (who passed away in 2006).
Meanwhile, it was like Rita was somehow a mother to us all. In her frequent trips back to Rochester, and whenever she would stay at our house at Greenleaf Meadows, or with my sister Pam (in Irondequoit or Webster), I remember bags and bags of gifts that she would purchase for people here in Rochester. And when she wasn't bringing gifts to close friends and relatives in Rochester, she was taking them out to dinner. And certainly, the Holidays was Rita's favorite time of the year. Because for Rita, it was all about "visiting" - and family.
As I write these words, almost seven years after she passed into spirit, I still find it difficult to believe that she has left this world. That's how strong a personality she was...how strong a presence she had. That's how much of an affect she had on me. And that's how I will always remember her...for her generosity and for all the "presents" she gave to the world...and for the "presence" she still keeps in this world.
God bless you forever, Reeds. I will love you always - as will everyone on Earth who was blessed enough to know you - and who remains blessed enough to receive your "presence" - each and every time they remember you.