I’m guessing that when you saw the painting in the previous blog post that you thought that was Aunt Agnes. Ha! Fooled you. That is a painting of the spirit of a dear friend of my son’s. She died of meningitis the summer after her Sophomore year in college. I’ve written a book about our suffering except the book was really written by his friend not me. I transcribed it for her the week after she left us. She went to the hospital but they sent her home despite the fact that she had the classic triad; headache, stiff neck and fever. She returned to the ER the following day feeling much much worse but it was too late to save her. She died that night and my son nearly went with her. He wanted to. Go with her to heaven that is. It was almost more than I could bear to watch all that mourning and write a book at the same time. “Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, Julia” my Father often reminded. I really didn’t have any choice in the matter this time either. Because how do you let your twenty one year old son fly by himself to a funeral for his heart friend? How do you say no to a strong spirit that is determined to dictate a book, her last chance to write to those she loves, when the words keep pouring out? How do you make airplane reservations and pack your black dress, planning a trip to say goodbye to a beautiful girl that you have never even met but know is going to change your life forever? How do you do it? “You do the best you can, Julia,” I heard him again.
But this post is about Aunt Agnes my Godmother not the heart friend. This post is about an incredible woman who loved and nurtured me and rarely seemed to get upset with anything. She and her husband, Uncle A.T. taught me how to water ski. Not a fuss made, even if it did take about twenty-five times around Kerr Lake before I could get up on those long wooden skis. I was trying. Truly. I was just so scared and little, I couldn’t keep my knees straight. All she did was laugh about it. Not at me, never at me. But all the adults did laugh as they circled, while I bobbed and treaded water, scanning the surface for snakes or alligators. “Oh God, please let me get up this time, I’d be drowning if I didn’t have on this life jacket that is coming up so high under my chin and choking me for sure, please let me get up and ski like my sister who didn’t seem to have a bit of trouble, popping up out of the water and just flying around and over and on top of the wake. God please, if I’m not going to learn to ski today can you just say so and get me the heck out of this cold, black water and back in the boat so I can sit there and laugh at somebody else falling?” But God wasn’t listening on that warm sunny day either or if he was he wasn’t acting in a definitive way that I could recognize. The adults were determined as I was that skiing was going to happen. FINALLY, I made it and flew over the lake. Suddenly it was just like riding a bike, you immediately say, “jeez, is that it, is that all you have to do? That’s easy.” But if it were simple would it have taken you an hour of struggling and falling? Oh well. I skied that day and now I can ski on any other day I want. Ha! I did it because she and Uncle A.T. knew I could.
And because they knew I could, I knew. That knowledge deeply instilled in me by my Godparents and my parents defined my life. As chief cheerleader of the first integrated squad in Robeson County, I knew I could lead twenty-four girls onto a racially charged sports field because I believed. Later, when I started my academic years at Carolina and had to study for the first time in my life. Memorizing and learning so much new material, yet lacking the ability to synthesize and analyze information, I made my first average grades. “I’m not average,” the refrain rang out, “I can do this.” And I did, graduating with highest honors three years after that first C. Later when I was an older medical school student, with an undergraduate degree in music and psychology I struggled again. This time with Anatomy and Biochemistry which I had never taken. Another C motivated me to hire a tutor and this effort was rewarded with an A. Then I wanted to start my family early, fearing the fertility problems that come with waiting. “You’re pregnant,” I heard in amazement as I rotated through surgery. Not passing out once or leaving the surgical suite for a single procedure, even the time the Operating Room had to be heated and I got so hot that I had to count backwards from one hundred over and over, I was sweating so much. Lights receding and darkness swimming about my head as I stubbornly refused to admit that I was feeling “on the warm side.” Even then I persevered because I was raised by a team of adults who “knew I could and never let me give up.” On the day I learned to ski, I learned something about life. If you keep on trying when you fall down, if you keep on getting up and starting over, eventually, you get to fly over the water. And that’s what I do. Fall and fly, fall and fly, fly and fall some more. I know that’s what you do too. My experience with life and my patients tells me this is so.
So that’s why I call Aunt Agnes Mother from God. Because that is what she is. God gave her to me in this life time. She had no biological children, just dozens of adopted, loving “I’m your Mother because I love you so much” children. She was mine and I was hers and we were each others. On days we weren’t skiing or camping or swimming in the lake, we could garden or run through tobacco fields or ride the tractor or sit under the carport and tell stories or cook the best Southern food you ever tasted. Brown field peas were her specialty. We could do all that and hug and love each other too. She is truly a Mother from God. Just ask any number of her god children who could tell a story of joy and faith that surpass this one. Ot just ask God who surely was listening to my prayers that day on Kerr Lake.