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  • When I think of Catherine, I think of France. The french cathedrals, specifically, whose names we sang in her minivan, her voice clear and harmonizing, mine tripping over the foreign sounds. She'd removed all but the two front seats to make space for hay and grain and dogs, and she would drive one of us at a time to pick up goat colostrum for a new baby camel who wouldn't nurse from his mother, or to eat ice cream sundaes in celebration of our reaching an academic goal she'd helped us set, or to get home after a middle-school band performance that she wouldn't have missed for the world.

    Orléans, Beaugency, Notre-Dame de Cléry,
    Vendôme, Vendôme


    She was mostly (and fittingly) known as the Camel Lady of Camelot -- you don't meet many people who run a sanctuary for neglected and abandoned movie and zoo camels, or who could do such a thing -- but during my childhood she was our honorary Grandma Camel, an incredible woman who stepped in to love the children who grew up around her and filled us with the wisdom of experience we wouldn't have accepted from anyone else. That when you are an old woman, you wear purple (and a red hat that doesn't go). Which occasions called for lipstick, and which for falsies. To practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty. That a woman living alone can lead a life that is not at all lonely, and care for a dozen camels and a dozen children with love left over for anyone who needed it. That a good way to build a community is to provide one. That your life is as good as you make it, so you'd better make it great. And of course, the names of the grand cathedrals of France.
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