Okay, I admit it. I’ve put off writing this piece, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

I wanted to participate in my daughter’s “I Am Loved” project, but I honestly could not figure out which person in my life I wanted to write about.

My son and daughter are natural choices. They are the loves of my life, my most precious gifts from God. I love my Joshua’s dry sense of humor and his undeniable intelligence. I love when he and I talk about his latest locations projects he is on or the new movies coming out that are worth seeing. I love when we share something special like the Philadelphia Art Museum or Band of Brothers. And I love when he opens the car door for me. What son does that for his mother these days? And I love my daughter and her sparkling spirit. I love the way she can light up a room when she enters. People who know her well naturally break into ear-to-ear smiles when they see her. I love how she knows exactly what it is that I am trying to say even though sometimes the words coming out of my mouth sound more like chipmunk gibberish. Yep, she definitely speaks “Hope.” I love the beauty that radiates from the inside out. And her selflessness. How important the selflessness is in today’s world, where so many are concerned with themselves…and only themselves.

And then there is my brother, Lee. Oh my goodness! Where do I start? My brother has been a brother like no other from little on up. Always watching my back, always there to put his arms around me when the world threatened to break me, always there with loving wisdom and strength. From playing “airport” with his set of planes, using our bedrooms as the two airports we flew our planes to; playing with his Tonka trucks in the dirt piles when our parents were building our home; walking to the Orpheum Theater to see whatever the latest B monster movie was playing; playing Wolfman and Frooze with the Shoener kids—and Lee was always the Wolfman; sitting in Pop Shoener’s apple tree listening to Lee tell us spooky stories while we all munched on the green apples hanging from the branches. I could go on and on. And he has always been there when life struck its blows. From the death of our young uncle, to the death of our mother at 54, to the births of my children, through the painful breakup of my marriage…you name it, my brother has always been there, never faltering.

And then we have my mother-in-law, Mary Louise. What can I say about this angel from Heaven? Believe it or not, this woman became one of the very best friends I have ever had. From day one, we hit it off, and our love and respect for each other grew each year. I remember sitting with her, folding the laundry for my first child, soon to be born. I spoke with her about not being certain how I could go back to work because my mother, who had promised to take care of the baby for me, had passed away. She looked at me and very gently said, “Well, I’ll take care of the baby for you.” And she did. And she taught me everything I needed to know about how to take care of a baby, from how much to feed him to how to bathe him and on and on. And then she did it again when my second child was born. And she always taught me with the kindest words, making sure that I didn’t feel bad about not knowing things. She remained my counselor through all the years that I knew her. We also spent many years sitting at her kitchen table having coffee and talking. We laughed together, we cried together, and we listened and loved. I will never, ever forget you, my dear, sweet Mom.

And how about my daddy? There was nothing in the world that I loved more than cuddling up against my daddy as we sat in the big green leather recliner. One of my favorite pictures from the past is a pic showing me wearing the biggest grin and my footie pajamas, all cuddled up next to my dad. I’m told that when I was little, my mom would sometimes have trouble getting me to sit still in church. Hmm…imagine that! And she would have to go back into the choir room and ask my dad to pass on singing in the choir that particular Sunday because I wasn’t going to behave for her. My aunt said that my dad would take off his choir robe, sit next to me in the pew, put his arm around me, and just like that I’d grin and calm down, cuddled up with my dad. I remember traipsing along with my dad while he ran chores, sometimes to the hardware store, where I would get to sit on the lawn mowers and get a bag of peanuts; to the bowling alley, where I’d watch him bowl with a buddy from church; or to the doctor’s office, where he would promise me that if I wouldn’t cry when I got my shot, he would take me next door to the soda fountain for a Coke and a comic book. And I did NOT cry! All through the years, my dad was my solid rock. He was the one person I knew I could believe in and trust to take care of me. In his later years, after he had married again following my mother’s death, we didn’t really have as much time together. And I felt such a huge hole in my heart. But like clockwork, he would call me every Thursday at about 10 in the morning to ask me how we were, where my husband was traveling to, how the kids were doing. And as we were ready to hang up, he would always say to me, “Bye bye. I love you, sweetie.” And when I watched him take his last breath, I walked over to him, leaned down and kissed his forehead, and said, “Bye bye. I love you, sweetie.”

I was very unfortunate in that I lost my mom when I was expecting my first child. She was a month away from her fifty-fourth birthday, and I was only twenty-five. My mom and I had had our difficulties, probably because I always had this need to speak up when I didn’t think things were fair. And believe it or not, I still haven’t learned to be quiet about injustice. But my mom was so amazingly talented. She could clean a house like no one I’ve ever known. You’ve heard the saying “It was so clean, you could eat off the floors”? Well, my mom kept the house so clean doctors could have performed surgeries on her floors! No kidding! And she could cook and bake better than anyone I know. I still dream about the poppy seed rolls and nut rolls and the Easter candy and Christmas cookies she baked. And her gravy…Oh! To die for! To this very day, I have never been able to make gravy, and I wish I would have allowed my mom to teach me. Blinis and pierogis? No one could match my mom’s! And she sewed me dresses and gowns and made the neatest crafts. I honestly believe my mom could have been a top-notch interior decorator if she had had the chance.

And last but not least is my very best friend and sister, Maryellen. Again, I have to speak of an angel sent from Heaven. We started out as work colleagues, but it didn’t take very long for me to see what a truly loving, caring person Maryellen was and still is. In all of these years as best friends, this woman has never once spoken a harsh word to me…NEVER! She has been by my side through the best of times and through the absolute worst of times. She has accepted me as I am…warts and all…and has never asked me to be anyone or anything but who I am. How many people in this life can honestly say that about someone? She is also one of the few people who “gets” me. She knows my heart, she knows my mind. She has allowed me to make mistakes and has never held it against me. She has walked me through some scorching times and never failed to be there for me. If I could wish something for each and every person, it would be that they would be blessed with a friend like Maryellen.

Oh goodness, and I cannot forget my in-laws, who remained by my side all these years. Granddad or Pep or Dad, whatever you called him by, you just had to love my father-in-law. I loved the way he’d call me “Hopie” and then grin at me. And the way he would sing that goofy Chubbubba song to my kids when they were babies. And my dearest memory of him was after the kids and I had moved into the townhouse, and he and Mom C came to visit. Mom started pulling the overgrown weeds and perennials that had run amok in the little garden out front. And the next day, Dad came down with some garden tools and dug out a big rock and the remaining difficult weed roots. He tapped on the kitchen door and asked me to come outside. He had smoothed out the soil and raked it until it was ready for planting. “Is this okay, Hopie? Is this how you want it?” He wanted so much to take care of us and to let us know that he was there for us and would watch over us. And Kim, my sister, who is loving and funny and my dear friend. She has been there for me in good times and in bad. She truly is my sister. Caitlin, my one and only niece and one of the most beautiful young women I’ve ever seen. Jordan, my oldest nephew. I love the big bear hugs he gives me when I see him. Mike is new to the family but is a terrific guy and I give him a major thumbs-up because he puts up with our nuttiness. Stephen, my oldest and goofiest brother-in-law. I get a kick out of making him laugh and he gladly returns the favor. Patty, another sister, who was first known to me as Aunt Patsy. She took me to a Jack Frost parade when I was young, and I threw up in the gutter. Probably ate that soft pretzel too fast! I love her with all my heart. Patty and I sometimes start giggling so much that we end up with tears running down our faces! Uncle Phee-up (Phillip), as Joshua used to call him, is most likely the person Joshua takes after as far as dry humor goes. Love ya! Eileen, oh my gosh! What can I say? Another sister who is one of the gentlest, most loving, most talented people I know. Liam, my nephew, who is going off to college. He can’t be that grown already! And what a sweetheart. Aidan, nephew dear, was one of the most beautiful babies I have ever seen. And he is definitely growing into a handsome young man! Christopher, another brother, I will always remember meeting on the Little League field…where else?… and knowing that he and I would always be close. Love him so much. Sarah, yet another beautiful sister, who I’m so glad came into Chris’s life and also into my life. I get such a kick out of the fact that she loves scary movies as much as Josh and I do! Tate, Cullen, and Ethan—those guys are my Three Musketeers…and maybe Three Stooges! I love each and every one of them. Tate is going to be the mayor of Pottsville one day, or heck, he will probably run for president! Cullen brightens my day when I see him sitting off to the side reading a book. Aunt Hope loves kids who read books! And Ethan, his smile…his beautiful smile!

So you see, folks, I have been blessed. I could not write about just one person because I have so many loving and special people in my life. Truthfully, I probably could have gone on for several more pages, but my fingers are getting tired!

Love to all!

“All My Loves” is written by Hope Clarke.

Hope Clarke is freelance copy editor and proofreader who lives in Pennsylvania. She is the mother to Joshua and Samantha and has a Jack Russell named Willy.

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