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25 December 2021

Whenever we walk up the hill to the mailbox, we chuckle as we pass the empty lot bound by an iron gate with a white statue of Mary standing at the higher back end. It's adjacent to a convent, which as far as we can tell, is home to no more than one old nun who likes to monitor the foot traffic.

One cold day but sunny day she told us that in Mexico they say the sun is the blanket of the poor. Then she chased after the gardener to tell him what needed doing.

That isn't why we chuckle, though.

We chuckle because passing this same lot with the statue years ago our great nephew Oliver looked up and, dumbfounded, pointed toward the statue. "I know her. That's, that's ... Jesus's mother what's-her-name!"

Which is what we have called her ever since.

Don't worry about Oliver. He graduated from Cornell last year.

A few paces further, though, the chuckle is replaced with a more somber sight. There is an evergreen just beyond two stone pillars that stand beside a street sign where there is no street, just a sidewalk.

At the foot of the evergreen is a small stone marker honoring the memory of Kate Hallisy as a friend and classmate at St. Brendan's School.

Every Christmas for 20 years the tree has been decorated with ornaments, which is no small act of faith. The winds blowing up the street can hit 90 mph during a storm.

As the years have gone by and the tree that keeps growing and the ornaments reappear each year, we began to wonder who Kate Hallisy was. So we did a little research a few years ago. Hers is quite a story.

She was born on May 20, 1989, in San Francisco. At five months, she was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a malignant tumor in the retinal cell layer of both eyes.

Over 10 years, treatment involved radiation, chemotherapy, the loss of her right eye, a life-threatening hospital-acquired infection and an above-the-knee amputation.

None of that, apparently, could suppress her spirit. We found this tribute to her:

Kate had a wickedly funny sense of humor and a deep, booming voice that captured everyone's attention. Unlike most people, she did not fear public speaking but embraced it by winning her school speech contest in the third grade. Kate loved to be center stage and relished every moment that she could make others smile while enjoying her performances.

Her personality was so ebullient and positive that everyone loved to be around her. She often boosted the spirits of the friends and family who came to visit her and she was always able to see the bright side of any situation. Even as a young child, she had the ability to see beauty in simple things. Kate loved storms. Once, we commented to her that we preferred clear skies because we liked to see the stars. She said, "The stars are always there, you just can't see them for a while because they're behind the clouds." That comment captured Kate's entire outlook on life.

She wanted to ring in the millennium in 2000 and she did just that, passing away at the end of February. She was 10.

Every time we pass that evergreen now, we remember what a lively little girl it honors and we try to be a little more upbeat ourselves. Especially when we see, every Christmas for years now, those ornaments magically reappear.

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