by Shawna Kitzman
I manage public engagement for my job, which takes me to places all over the northeast. I speak with stakeholders about projects or plans that will affect their community, to better understand their concerns, to educate them, and to answer questions.
Today I worked an event in my town, my hometown. We met with seniors at a housing fair to get the word out about a project.
I tabled with a representative from the town, Cathy, who wanted me to meet her friend.
The woman introduced herself as Eva Espinosa, the former Zoning Enforcement Officer for the Town of West Hartford. She was cute – petite and zippy. She had cropped grey hair and red glasses. I started my spiel, when she leaned in and said, “I don’t give a shit about this project,” with a bit of a laugh. Her spunk matched her look.
I interrupted her. It wasn’t because of her negative feedback (I’m used to it), but did she say her name is Eva? My grandma Rita was a town employee for many years, and the name rang a bell. “I’m sorry, but did you happen to know my grandma, Rita Leonard?”
Hard stop. She stared at me. “Yes! Rita was my friend! We white-water rafted the Grand Canyon together!” She looked at me fondly, searching my face, and asked which one of Rita’s six kids I belonged to.
“Teri,” I told her.
“The school teacher! Oh yes, I see it now. You have that Leonard face”. She touched her arm, “You’re giving me goosebumps, just thinking of her”.
I could see her looking at my nose; it is such a trait of my mom’s family. And one that I’ve been analyzing profusely lately. I don’t love my nose, but it’s true to my roots. My mom, my aunts, and uncles - we all have her nose.
My grandma died in 2007 from cancer. Eva motioned to her face, “I still get a tear when I drive past Exeter Street.” Exeter was my grandma’s stomping grounds, where many memories - good and bad - were made.
I remembered that Eva was one of her close friends, her colleague when my grandma was the town’s Sidewalk Inspector. They went on adventures together, they traveled. Rita worked with engineers, planners, and public works staff, much like I do now. If on a job site, Rita wore a hard hat. I do too.
We said goodbye. It was clear we both loved and admired this woman. Rita had that way about her - she had an intense personality, and she made her mark on those who knew her.
Later, I walked over to Eva, now sitting with her friend drinking coffee. I handed her a Jam Program card and invited her to join our tribe of ladies. “We’d love to have you”, I said, and I meant it.
“Thank you, dear. Now go away, you’re going to make me cry!” I knew my face was a trigger. I said, “I have her nose, don’t I?”
The wit, the blunt honesty, the love. That was so much like my grandma.
What a treat for Eva - and Rita - to pop into my day.