A steady stream of letters arrived in Heidi Hogan's mailbox from the same woman two or three times a week.
The two women had lost touch for 10 years, but once they reconnected, the notes rolled in for 23 years, as reliable as the sunrise.
The writer found Hogan at a low moment. She had just lost her mother-in-law, to whom she had been very close.
Ten years earlier, when she was 22, Hogan was in a car accident with her young family. Her husband, 23, and their daughter, 14 months, died in the accident. She and her son, 3, survived. Her mother-in-law had remained a connection to all she had lost, and was more like a mother to her than her own mom. The loss hit her hard.
And that's when her godmother found her again.
Lenore Anderson had been a church secretary in Milwaukee when she met Hogan's parents. Anderson's own parents had died when she was young and she had no immediate family to speak of. Hogan's parents took her under their wing. She frequently joined their family for dinner after church. They asked her to be Hogan's godmother when she was born.
Soon after, Anderson moved away to earn her bachelor's degree, ending up at St. Louis' Washington University, where she earned her master's in social work in 1961. While Hogan grew up in Wisconsin, her godmother worked in crisis intervention in the roughest parts of St. Louis. Anderson visited the Hogans about once a year.
Anderson never married, nor had children herself. But when she met a child or any person she liked, she bonded strongly with them. Her goddaughter was certainly in that circle. Years after the accident, Hogan remarried, had two more children and adopted a child with special needs. Anderson visited the kids, sent them gifts and wrote their mother the weekly letters.
She worked as a social worker in the St. Louis area for more than 50 years, and when my husband hired her more than a decade ago, she developed an affection for our children. Every Easter, Halloween and Christmas, packages would arrive for both of them from her.
We were hardly alone as recipients of her generosity.
If she was at a garage sale or in the senior center and spotted something one of her clients or "adopted" children would like, she bought it and sent it. One of the children she counseled early in her career, when he was 10 years old, stayed in her life for more than 40 years. When she had to move from her home in the city to an assisted living center, he took the bus across town to her home to help her pack and move.
As she got older, the osteoarthritis in her back got so bad that she hunched over and pushed the seat of her walker, instead of the handles, to get around. But she continued to work and was devoted to her clients. She would find out which candies the youngest ones liked and keep their favorites on hand.
It was always a mystery to me why a woman so vivacious, with such a generous soul, beautiful through and through, never married or had a family of her own. When I asked Hogan if she knew why Anderson never had children, she said: I'm going to assume I was hers.
Perhaps Anderson figured out that loving people didn't require anything more than a giving heart.
"She saw the world as her oyster, and it presented pearls to her in the form of other people," said Pat Way, Anderson's longtime friend. When Way saw her in a hospital bed, in septic shock from an infection the day before she died, the first thing her friend said was, "You better call Betty and tell her I may not be in tomorrow." She was worried about seeing her clients the next day.
Hogan said she cried for 24 hours after she learned of Anderson's death on Jan. 2. She thought of her father, whom she had adored and who died when she was 15, meeting Anderson in heaven.
"I imagined him thanking her for taking care of me."
At home, there's an unfinished letter Hogan had been writing to her godmother that never got mailed.