By Frances Stebbins, Correspondent
[This is a memory from the many decades the author has been privileged to write for daily and weekly newspapers circulating in Western Virginia.]
We can hardly miss knowing that the coming Sunday is All Hallows Eve (Halloween). Less known is the following day, observed in some churches, known as All Saints Day. Not with the trappings of festive scariness, it is a time to remember, hopefully with joy, friends who have passed to the next life.
I’d like to remember some who have shared their lives deeply with me over ten decades. I believe all have gone to their heavenly home.
The first was a little girl, Christine, when we were two and lived on an unpaved lane that ascended a small hill near the Piedmont Virginia, town of Orange. Her family was dysfunctional. We played barefoot and shirtless daily until her parents divorced, and she moved away but not before she had told me at nine about drunks, suicide and “the facts of life” well before my mother could.
A lonely year later, Ethel and Anne, transplants from New York City, moved with their parents to their grandfather’s big house further up the hill. Their father’s business had failed in the Great Depression, but he had inherited a farm in the county and the family painfully, I’m sure, transplanted to it. These sisters were 14 and 12, different in appearance and personality, meeting two needs for me and teaching me of folk like Jews, of which I knew nothing, as “colored people” were strange to them.
Elizabeth, a distant neighbor three years my senior, inspired me in high school to follow her example of giving the welcoming speech at graduation. College in Illinois and marriage there for her ended our association as I moved on to professional school in Richmond.
Meanwhile, my cousin Jean (“once removed” as we say in Virginia, meaning the child of a first cousin) had always been around, but when I was 12 and she 11, we discovered each other as friends. Different from me in personality and interests, she was part of the academic community of the University of Virginia where her father and an uncle were professors. Bright and exposed to the arts, she was mercurial in temperament, liberal when I was conservative, “turned off” by formal religion, for her parents never reconciled their Roman Catholic and Protestant differences. In mid-life she rejected me, as her own life was saddened by a fatal neurological illness of a young son, an ultimate divorce and finally death at 86 in a Charlottesville nursing home. She smiled at me there.
With college came roommates Catherine and Rosemary; we married, had babies and kept in touch for years as my own husband, Charlie, and I found our careers in Roanoke while they stayed in suburbs of the capital city.
With marriage came couple friends, the Singletons, Carrolls and Whites with whom we visited evenings, drank a bit of beer and slowly returned to the church of our heritage. The Whites, N & W Railway dependents, moved constantly, but we kept in touch until both their deaths decades later.
With our move to Roanoke to work for the daily evening newspaper, God, I believe, led us to a newly organized small church in the Williamson Road neighborhood on the north side of the city. The Whites soon also became members there, and our minister, on a newcomer visit to us, told us to go visit them which we did and were so congenial we stayed for two hours!
In those mid-20th Century days, women were relegated to raising money by sewing and cooking for Fall “bazaars.” New friend Nancy and I did our part until she and her husband were transferred away by his business.
Florence, a professional church and college secretary, cared for the many children in the church nursery. Until she died at 94, her occasional phone calls showed she never stopped learning.
Soon, Esther and her family joined our congregation because of another business transfer. Through the women’s group, we became best friends for the next 12 years and communicated weekly by phone. Bazaar activity led to our forming a prayer and study group. It was to be a landmark of my spiritual life.
With her dedication to education, Esther, a New Hampshire native, went to work as her four children headed to college. We lost track of each other for several decades, but ten years ago, her obituary brought me to her funeral in the church where her son was active.
In old age, as my husband and a son found a resting place in our Salem church’s columbarium, I acquired other friends. One was Lucy, a late-life transplant to Botetourt whom I met through a support group after her move from California. Death claimed her after a decade of devotion.
A fellow writer, Gail, became important to me two years ago; our friendship grew almost entirely through e-mail but meant much as COVID-19 shook our world as nothing had since World War II.
On All Saints Day may these dear ones find eternal peace.
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