Until a book I was reading by another Rankin - Lissa - tipped my memory toward a Google search, I didn't know that my long ago acquaintance went on to win the Boston Globe's Horn Book Honor Award for The Handmade Alphabet, a work inspired by the beauty of her deaf stepson's sign language.
When I found out about Rankin's success, my memory started rummaging around for whatever I had put away in that long ago attic of people in Buffalo.
I remember meeting her in Jim's store. He was roasting and selling coffee in a shop on Elmwood Avenue - where rumor had it prostitutes were scouting new locations - and Rankin was there one afternoon.
Before the days of Starbucks, we shared cups of Jim's best in town coffee. Rankin was beautiful, still is according to photos, and I think Jim had a crush on her.
But he and she were both married and Rankin was definitely not the type, anyway.
What type was she?
Smart. Sure about her art, if not of where she was in life. She was kind and too generous to tell us how annoying Jim's and my rapid fire jokes were. We lived on ricochets, she on substance. Substance and style.
Her illustrations in the news were distinctive, with more of an artistic flourish than you'd expect on cheap paper in ink that reliably dirtied your fingers.
While eager to break out of the daily newspaper mold, Rankin may have already been dreaming about the young children's books that have made her famous, like Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie.
Ruthie's first appearance illustrates how this colorful character, a red fox, gets caught in a lie and has to deal with it as it mushrooms out of her control. Rankin followed up with Ruthie and the (Not So) Very Busy Day. Her favorite day, Saturday, when she expects nothing but fun is disrupted by family demands and a calamity or two to go with them.
Laura Rankin, I realized, has a greater gift than I thought when we were both starting out in Buffalo. She wasn't just an outstanding illustrator. She also had the emotional agility to get inside the heart of a young child, feel her frustrations, passions and dilemmas and recreate them in words and pictures.