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Of faith, hope and my Aunt Janice's optimism


My Aunt Janice always believed things would be all right.

I’m not sure how she mustered such faith, but I always knew she had it. I knew it from the time I was a little girl just like I knew she would always be running late to festive occasions, to the point that she would have to haul a roll of wrapping paper, scissors and Scotch tape out of the boot of her car and wrap her gifts on the run. I am also unsure as to why she always referred to the trunk of her car as the boot, but she always did.

Faith could not have always come so easily for her. She was born during the Great Depression, was just a teenager when she lost her mother to rheumatic fever, experienced a variety of other heartbreaks and tragedies along life’s way. Yet, one of her favorite things in the whole world was to pick me up on a Wednesday evening or a Sunday morning and head to Eutaw Heights Baptist Church on the corner of Cain and Scotty Hills roads. In the sanctuary underneath that sturdy steeple, she shared her faith in an undeniably shaky but steadfast soprano.

On Wednesday evenings, the two of us would be headed to potluck supper at the church, accompanied by a large vat of homemade chicken and pastry that would be riding with us not in the boot, but securely on the back floorboard of Bessie, which is what my Aunt Janice named her car, also inexplicably.

In my entire life, I never remember my Aunt Janice cooking one single thing. Her own Aunt Mamie always made the chicken and pastry and would have it ready for her to pick up. That was probably a good thing that Aunt Janice didn’t cook, because she had the strangest food preferences of anyone I’ve ever known before or since, and her meals quite often involved a jar of peanut butter and some baby carrots.

But though she didn’t cook, my Aunt Janice did a lot of other nice things for people. She worked for Carolina Telephone & Telegraph for nearly 40 years, during which time she volunteered to work many a Thanksgiving and Christmas Day so that her colleagues with children could spend the holidays at home. She taught many years of Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, and she never yelled at even the little rascally boys who would climb the trees in the churchyard instead of coming inside to learn Bible verses. She crocheted fervently, making afghans and Christmas ornaments for everyone she could think of. Of course, she would then have to rush to wrap them out of the “boot” of “Bessie.”

She loved to travel, especially in her later years, and made friends all over the world. But she never forgot her Fayetteville roots or that red brick church. While she never married and never had children of her own, she loved nothing better than rocking babies. Despite increasingly failing health, she never missed a chance to help fold laundry, empty the dishwasher and provide a dependably calming presence.

The end came last year when she died in February at the age of 85. That made me sad, but I know she wasn’t afraid. Things will be all right, she would always say.

Even now, even during these most uncertain days, I know she would be keeping the faith, saying the same thing.