When I was about two and a half years old, I used to enjoy listening to Spanish cassette tapes alone in my closet. I didn’t realize what my life was missing.
One morning in June, I woke up to find my grandma at my house. My parents were gone. Grandma had brought over a gumball machine and some pennies, and I vividly remember sitting with her at the kitchen table, chewing gum endlessly while she cooked ABC pasta. Something was off that morning. The sun was too bright, the pennies were too shiny, and no one was limiting my access to candy.
That afternoon, Grandma drove us to the hospital, where I was presented with a Snow White Barbie and a baby sister. I was really excited about the Barbie.
Kath and I grew up, and I was the boss. If I was Pocahontas, she was Nakoma. If I liked Ron Weasley, she had to like Harry Potter. I was always the pink Power Ranger. I thought of her as an extension of myself. I loved her. She was a sidekick who would execute all of my demands.
I remember the day that I realized she was her own person. We were about nine and six years old. My mom and Kath’s godmother Sheila were talking about Kath at lunch one day. Sheila was relaying a story about how she had observed Kath deliberately leaving her usual group of friends to go sit with a little boy who had been bullied. “She’s a tenderheart,” my mom agreed. I had never heard the word “tenderheart” before, but I could make inferences. Was I a tenderheart too? All of a sudden I wanted desperately to be one. The next time a kid got bullied in my class, I thought about Kath and tried to be brave.
Kath likes to tell people that she grew up wanting to be good because of me. She’s missing the truer part of the story. I wanted to be good because of her. She was my responsibility, but she was naturally far kinder and braver than I was. I learned from her.
When our little brother Joe was born, she held him first. I was so jealous but so impressed with her gentle, authoritative patience. Years later, Kath would tell me that she didn’t think she could be called to marriage and family, because she didn’t know if she could be a good mother. She was afraid that she was too selfish. I knew better. She’s a prayerful, fun, patient mother to her little three. She relies on grace. She knows what’s important. I learn.
There’s a country song called “If You’re Going Through Hell” by Rodney Atkins. I was surprised when Kath told me that she liked it. (She also likes Boys ‘Round Here by Blake Shelton. That’s not relevant to this story.) If you haven’t heard it, its main message is to keep moving forward when you’re suffering. Kath has experienced real suffering. Some of what she’s gone through still makes me mad as I type this. She forgives. I learn.
Kath was a teacher before staying home with Miriam, and by all accounts, she was a kickass one. Once, she casually gave me a lecture on moral theology over chips and salsa. It was better than anything I learned in religion class. From Kath, I have learned how to cultivate discipline, how to write icons, how to edit an Instagram photo, how to cook shrimp curry, how to mourn loss, how to be a better human being. I have tried to learn how to dance. I’m still learning. She’s still teaching.
If you ever have the pleasure to meet Katherine Finney, she’ll invite you in for iced coffee and a well-styled breakfast with no eggs. She’ll be playing Ludacris or old-school jazz on Spotify- there is no in between. She’ll listen to your woes, her blue eyes fixed on you with undivided attention, looking away only to tell Miriam to back away from the snack cabinet. You’ll leave her home with a full heart and a full belly. I love her. Today is her birthday, but her life is the gift.