Monday, October 06, 2008

Miss Jessie 3/17/1912 - 10/3/2008

My dear friend and neighbor Miss Jessie went to sleep Thursday night and did not wake up. I am sure this must be the best way to go.

A week ago today a church lady came by her house to help her with a little cleaning and while the lady was there Miss Jessie fell in the house. Not a big deal and Miss Jessie got up and laughed it off but finally, FINALLY someone with cred was freaked out enough to call the niece and tell her out and Tuesday Miss Jessie called me to tell me niece Mary was coming to take her to her house about 2 hours drive from here. The plan was to have her stay a few days and bring her home over the weekend. I don't know but suspect this was a "trial" to see how Miss Jessie did in her house. I promised her I would pick up her mail and newspapers and as of today I am still doing this.

Friday morning I got a call from Mary telling me that Miss Jessie had died peacefully in her sleep. I am so grateful that she was at Mary's house and not alone next door where it might have been hours and hours before anyone found her. I am grateful that she went peacefully in her sleep. Miss Jessie had gone way downhill in the past three years. Only 2 years ago she was still mowing her own yard wearing her signature umbrella hat to protect her from the sun. She always wore dresses, even doing yard work because it isn't proper for a woman to wear slacks. Over the past year but especially the past 6 months the deterioration was obvious. I spoke with her every day - sometimes more than that since she couldn't remember if she had called me. In a 30 minute conversation she would ask me 5 or more times what day it was. She became very frustrated that she couldn't "rememberize" things and I always told her she remembered what was truly important. She could talk to me at length about things that happened in 1926 but could not for her life remember what day it was.

I will never forget this woman - truly one of my best friends ever. She grew up in my house (her aunt's house) after her mother died when Miss Jessie was 7. That would have been 1919. Stone Mountain is the birthplace of the KKK and as a black woman growing up here I can only imagine the challenges. She told me stories about the outhouse behind my house and the pigs in the yard and how the town drunk used to come to the fence and talk to the pigs for hours. She remembers sitting in the front yard and watching a horse-drawn cart pull the first refrigerator down then-unpaved Fourth Street. She was history itself and I mined her without mercy for information to better appreciate my home, my town, and the people who live and lived here. And she loved to tell me about it.

I talked with her so much about her history here and even took notes at times. I am so sad to lose this very wonderful friend and teacher. She lived a huge full life of 96 years and she went so peacefully and I am happy for that and for all the good she gave while on this earth. My sadness is selfish. I would like another 10 years of her stories about Stone Mountain when she was young.

My house was Aunt Elsie's house. So many older people in this town have told me they grew up eating collards and cornbread in my kitchen. This is a house of love and not a day goes by that I do not think about Miss Jessie as a small child in this house, living in a family that took everyone in and welcomed them and fed them. Honestly you can't get much more love than collards and cornbread. Also you could not possibly get more love than Miss Jessie. As she always said - "Everybody is somebody. God did not have to put us here on this good green earth. White or black they are all my children and we all have to love each other."

The other thing she always said when I would call and ask her how she was doing - "I'm still a-kickin' and I ain't dead yet!" Miss Jessie as long as I live on this earth you never will be!

Her funeral is Thursday at 11 am. I do not want to go. It will be an open casket funeral and I have been to a few of those and my only memory of those people is of them in the casket. They do NOT look "peaceful." They look DEAD. They look FAKE and MADE UP. And I want to remember Miss Jessie alive in her umbrella hat. I have no choice. I have to go. I have to go find something appropriate to wear and then show up and live through it.

I CAN do this.

No comments: