Monday, August 10, 2015

Kim Watkins Hogan

It was a few weeks after Thanksgiving 2001. I had just mailed out 150 Christmas cards and even though I'd personally addressed each and every envelope I couldn't tell you the name of one person I'd sent them to.
Except for one:
Kim Watkins Hogan.
Sure enough, about 5 days later my phone rang and I saw her number on my caller I.D.
In the card I'd written that we'd moved to Washington, DC, had survived 9-11, and included my phone number so we could catch up.
I knew she'd call!
"Kathie, this is Ralph, Kim's dad. I just called to tell you that Kim died a few months ago. We wanted to call you but could not find your number."
Silence.
"Kathie, she really loved you".
 
When I met Kim I was a newlywed - all of 19 years old. It was my first time away from home and my first time away from friends, family and everything I knew - and my very first real, grown up job.
We both worked at Ruth's, a very popular and expensive department store in downtown Columbus, Mississippi.
I was so completely out of my league.
I was a country girl-tomboy from the Missouri Ozarks and my new colleagues were the most beautiful and glamorous women I'd ever seen in my young life, and believe me - they let me know under no uncertain terms that I was not on their level. Everything about me was fair game for torment. My looks, my clothes and even the old pickup truck I drove. Especially the old truck.
It's safe to say that completely opposite of me,  Kim was probably the most well-liked person at the store.
The store owner, Mr. Bernstein loved her.
Customers and co-workers alike adored her. And as well-dressed and pretty as the other women were - Kim was even more so.
She didn't have that beauty-queen flash that the others had. 
Her beauty was graceful.
Classic.
Her mannerisms - even simple gestures were quiet and gracious. She had beautiful skin, and a smile so sweet and captivating that she commanded a room without uttering a word. Like the late Princess Diana, she had a way of ducking her head when she smiled. In a word, she was completely charming.  
But more than anything - she was kind.
The way she made me feel about myself when the others made me feel so, so worthless - I'll never forget it as long as I live.
The way she took me under her wing - not caring what the others thought.
We ate lunch and took our breaks together.
Our friendship also extended beyond work, often hanging out and shopping.
She gave me so much confidence that when it was time for me to move on I did so with a sense of adventure.
Even after I left the area we stayed in touch
I continuously sought her approval and advice for many years.
Anytime a major event occurred in my life I called her. She cried with me when I lost my first son. She rejoiced with me when I got my first radio job, and she was proud for me when I won Mrs. Missouri.
We had daughters within a few years apart and we'd compare stories of what they were doing.
I sent pictures of William when he was born.
And I couldn't wait to tell her about my new adventures of being a Washington DC wife.
I looked forward to sharing stories of White House dinners, the Washington Ballet and complaining about the awful beltway traffic.
I always blamed her for my obsession with clothes and makeup and I was excited to show her pictures of what I'd worn to where.
 
But mostly....I'd looked forward to something that was just not meant to be - growing old with her.
 
As for the rest of my co-workers from Ruth's?
I never saw nor heard from any of them after I left.
But sometimes their memory creeps in when I witness someone alone in a crowd and obviously uncomfortable.
And that's when my 'inner' Kim kicks in.
Because while I count her friendship as one of life's greatest gifts, I also credit her with my tendency to naturally hone in on that one person in the crowd that is off by themselves, overlooked, ignored and unimportant to others.
And that is the greatest gift of all.
 

1 comment:

Leslie Alpen said...

What a lovely tribute to an old friend...I think there is always someone in our 1st jobs that we remember - and your "pick the person looking out of place", scenario is something we all should do....lesalp.blogspot.com.au