MY visits with Effie at the nursing home always made both of us feel good. She had never married and had only one older sister. No friends or relatives came to see her, so I volunteered to visit once a month.
Effie was hunched over, which made it difficult to understand the few words she would say. I always listened carefully. In turn, she seemed to enjoy hearing about my children and our family activities.
I took her homemade cookies at Christmas, pussy willows in the spring, and flowers from my garden in the summer. She always smiled and thanked me graciously.
My teenage daughter, Tina, used to walk over after school and play cards with Effie a couple times a month. Effie was sharp at cards and seemed to enjoy the card sessions.
When Tina didn't come, Effie would say, ''I was looking for her, and she didn't come.'' Her eyes would look sad, and I'd try to explain how busy teenagers are.
One day my oldest daughter, Pam, received a birthday present from a well-meaning relative. It was a pillow with a puffy cat stitched on it, surrounded by blue ruffles and lace. It was definitely not her style. She lived in New York City in a plain apartment, with no frills. And cats were not her favorite animal.
When Pam was packing to go back to the city, she asked me to give the cat pillow to someone who would appreciate it. I thought of Effie.
It was close to Christmas, so I wrapped the fluffy pillow in paper and tied a big red bow around it. I put some Christmas cookies on a paper plate and covered them with plastic wrap, so the many different kinds would show through. I picked Tina up at school, and we were off to visit Effie.
Effie was in the dining room finishing her dinner with several friends. We presented the gift to her, and the women all watched as she untied the ribbon and removed the Christmas paper. Her eyes lit up when she saw the pillow. She held it up proudly to show all her friends.
We walked Effie back to her room, her arms tight around the cat pillow. She placed it gently on her blue bedspread and smiled at us. Tina handed her the plate of cookies, and she said, ''My, my, how nice.'' We sat and talked for awhile and then said goodbye.
My life became busier with children's graduations, weddings, and grandchildren. Tina graduated from high school, and we seldom got over to see Effie anymore.
When Pam got married she received many lovely gifts. One was an old-fashioned cloth doll stitched onto a board and framed into a picture. It was trimmed in lace, and the doll was dressed in a blue bonnet and a blue ruffled dress. As Pam was packing up her gifts to return to the city, she handed me the doll picture. ''Mom, can you think of someone who would like this picture?'' Again, I thought of Effie.
I called the nursing home to see if Effie would be able to have a picture on her wall. They said it would be fine. I wrapped the picture in pretty paper and wrote Effie's name on a card.
She was sitting in her room when I arrived, her cat pillow behind her in the chair.
The pussy willows I'd brought last spring looked pretty sad on her window-sill. I made a mental note to take them home and bring her a plant.
A dark picture of some trees hung on the wall by her chair. Her side of the room looked gloomy. I handed Effie the present, and she opened the card and placed it on the windowsill. She tore off the paper and smiled. I removed the old picture and gently hung the doll picture in its place. Effie nodded approvingly.
I asked her if she remembered wearing a bonnet like the doll's when she was a girl.
''I don't remember,'' she said in her deep voice. ''I only know I couldn't go anywhere when I was little, because I wasn't well. My sister could go, but they didn't let me go.''
This was the most I had ever heard her say about her past in all the years I had visited her. I squeezed her hand and told her that I was so glad she was there that day to visit with me.
A nurse came in and exclaimed, ''Oh Effie, what a lovely picture! Now you have something different to look at.''
''Yes,'' she said, her eyes sparkling with tears. She squeezed my hand, and I patted her shoulder.
When I said goodbye that day, I noticed that the only bright spots on Effie's side of the room were the cat pillow and the doll picture and, of course, Effie's smiling face.
My heart sang all the way home.