Displaying an innate drive to be her best, Natalee always worked very hard at everything she did. She was an all-around success story: she made friends easily, she made straight A's, she made the National Honor Society. She thrived in Birmingham. When she needed a higher ACT score, she set her sights on a five-point improvement—and achieved it. Natalee took pride in her volunteer work at Habitat for Humanity, the Humane Society, and Hope Lodge. At Hope Lodge she visited regularly with a thirteen-year-old cancer patient. On their last visit Natalee said the little girl had lost all of her pretty hair, and she quietly worried that it really would be their last visit.

Natalee did everything on her own. She was totally independent. I never had to wake her up for school. Never had to get onto her for not doing what she was supposed to do. Except when it came to cleaning up her room. It always looked as if the same tornado that lifted Dorothy's house may have passed right through Natalee's bedroom! Clothes and books and notes were always scattered everywhere—the typical teenager's bedroom.

Natalee applied to colleges and applied for scholarships on her own. She arranged for housing and roommates. From the time she was a little girl, she took charge of her own responsibilities. Because her expectations were so high, she was challenging to rear. Sometimes I feared that she was independent to a fault. I used to joke with her, saying, "Natalee, just ask me some questions, so I can feel like I'm your parent. Humor me." She never needed my help with anything. Except in one area of her life—her clothes.

Thank goodness there was something Natalee needed me for, something she and I could do together. For some reason she appreciated my opinion regarding her attire and trusted me to help her find the things that looked nice on her. She even trusted me enough when I told her that her junior prom dress was so gorgeous on her that she should wear it again for her senior prom. And she did. We went shopping together almost every Saturday morning. She would appear in the kitchen in a fleece jacket with her hair tied up in a ball. Face freshly washed. No makeup. We would head out to spend most of the entire day together. Those were our bonding times. In the car between stores we would talk about important things and silly things, just anything and everything. Those are the memories I cherish most. To this day I still think I may see her across a makeup counter or catch a glimpse of her between the aisles of clothing racks. I still listen for her to call out to me on Saturday mornings to tell me she's ready to go.
From the book Loving Natalee: A Mother's Testament of Hope and Faith by Beth Holloway. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne.


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