When I was five years old, my parents decided to build a house. What an exciting time it was for this very young couple! They enlisted the aid of a local builder, L.G. Brown, who was quite a bit older than them. He and his wife Inez already had teenagers, but they also had a young daughter named Donna–only 14 days younger than me. Donna became my first-ever best friend, so her mother, Inez, became a sort of extra mother to me.
The years flew by, but Donna stayed a constant in my life, as did her mother. My elementary school friends and I saw quite a bit of Inez who brought Donna to school each day. Most of us rode the school bus, but Donna was having separation anxieties, being the youngest child in her family and very attached to her mother. I usually bought a cafeteria line lunch, but I remember that Donna almost always brought her lunch in those early years. And yes, I suffered some childish pangs of jealousy when I’d see Donna’s cheese puffs, packed by her mommy.
When it came time for me to begin leaving the nest a little–occasionally spending the night with a friend once I was eight or nine–it was to Donna’s house that I went first. Inez always gave us free run of the place–letting us stay up as late as we wanted, letting us eat junk and pretty much leaving us alone (but always safe). My first-ever movie with a friend was in fourth grade when Donna’s older sister, Bobbie, took us to a Disney flick. We were late for the one we wanted to see, so we ended up seeing Kurt Russell in “The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes.” Then we went back home to Donna’s where Inez was waiting to warmly enfold me in a bear hug just as if I were her own child.
Junior high brought the same situations–sleepovers at Donna’s. Only the locations were different, as they often moved to different houses that her dad built, fascinating me by a change in venue. There were 1 a.m. runs through the yard after telling ghost stories, stepping on slimy slugs that we couldn’t get off our bare feet. There was “The Midnight Special” on late-night TV, sometimes followed by “Shock Theater.” There was the donging of the big grandfather clock that never failed to disrupt what little sleep I got. There was delicious food ever available, even at 3 a.m.
And there was Inez–always wearing a smile, often laughing a laugh that was more like a gurgling girlish giggle, and forever loving us all with her very expressive type of love.
When it came time for the big move to high school, Inez took Donna and me to Hanes Mall–a fairly new establishment with awesome stores like the “County Seat” and “Just Pants” where we could get Levis in any color of corduroy. The day before we entered South Stokes High School, Donna and I bought matching royal blue corduroy Levis and light blue sleeveless shirts to wear on that oh-so-important first day, since I was spending the night with her. (I believe we ended up chickening out of actually wearing the matching outfits that first day, lest the coveted boys from the neighboring town of King think us immature!)
By that time, Donna lived in a square house. Wait, you say. Many houses are square, right? What’s the big deal about that? Well, let me explain. Donna’s house was a square with the middle cut out with space for a big old swimming pool. So to reach the other side of the house, you had to walk the whole perimeter of the square to get there. Very unusual but very cool to a teenager like me. Donna’s room was at one end of the house with a living area between it and her parents’ room. So we could play our music and laugh and be loud. Inez never fussed at us, no matter how loud we played “Float On” or “Boogie Fever.”
All too soon, we were adults, but Donna and I kept in touch. I was at her wedding in the middle of the square house. We had our daughters, Chelsea and Laura, the same year. Donna was the secretary at the Extension Office when I led a 4-H club, putting us in constant contact. And always in the background was Inez, still grabbing me for a bear hug whenever she saw me around town. When she was first diagnosed with lung cancer in the late ’90s or early 2000s (can’t remember), I invited her to a healing service at my church in Winston-Salem. She and Donna came, and before I knew it, there was Inez at that altar, her hands uplifted, having the preachers lay hands on her. Her faith was shining out of her bright eyes!
Inez and I became even closer when I went to work as news editor at The Stokes News. Our office was beside the pharmacy where Inez would often go. My desk was right in front of the big picture window that looked out onto the sidewalk traffic. Inez would suddenly appear in that window, her whole face engulfed in smile wrinkles, waving to me or blowing me kisses. More often than not, she would rush in the door to give me a quick hug before going next door. Sometimes she would share with me a new poem that she had written. Once I even used one of these poems about her childhood memories of the creek in my “The Old Paths” column entitled “Down By the Crick.” She was so thrilled with that!
After I quit my job to become a full-time mommy once more, I didn’t see as much of Inez, but Donna kept me posted on her health. When I heard that Inez had become primarily bedridden at the age of 83–almost 84–I told Donna I would try to visit her mother. Well, I stay very busy and kept putting off my visit until finally Inez called my mother and said, “I thought Leslie was coming to see me!” I had to laugh because I could hear Inez saying that in her vivacious way.
So I went right over that very day, taking my eight-year-old son Malachi with me. I knew Inez’s health had been failing rapidly so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I entered her bedroom. But I should’ve known she’d be lying there with a big grin and still laughing that very distinctive laugh that made you feel good just to hear it. We talked and prayed and laughed and had such a good time together! I went to make her feel better, but as usual, it was the other way around.
While we prayed, I opened my eyes to see her eyes shut tightly, her feeble hand clutching mine, her lips trembling as she praised God for touching her. It was as if the glory of God was in that peaceful room where this woman of faith lay in trust of her Savior. Malachi helped me pray, which blessed Inez so much.
Before we left, she insisted on blessing us. She made me pick out some jewelry that she had so enjoyed making. So I took a set of pinkish/lavender pearls.
Then she told me to get a silky white scarf from her dresser and take it as my own.
As if that wasn’t enough, she told me to pick a book from her shelf, telling me she had already read those and wanted to bless others with them. I chose one called “The Journey” by Billy Graham.
Then it was Malachi’s turn. She had a supply of toys that he could choose from. I thought he would surely choose a stuffed animal, but he picked a pink heart-shaped case. He promptly drew a picture of me on it with black marker and said I was his heart.
As I left Inez that lovely summer afternoon, I did not know it would be the last time that I saw her. I got a very sweet thank you note she wrote me in her own fragile handwriting. Even the tone of that sounded cheerful and upbeat, despite her intense suffering.
I kept thinking I would go back by there but never did.
I got the word on Tuesday morning, August 20, that the end was nigh for Inez. My mother had gone by there to pray for her and said that although Inez’s eyes were closed and she could not respond, she seemed to be humming something. Donna thought it was a Steven Curtis Chapman song–something about “perfect.” I immediately thought it could be “His Strength Is Perfect” which would’ve been ideal for the situation. A dying woman, no strength of her own, realizing that all she had to rely on was HIS strength. Inez’s humming proved to me that our spirits are aware even when our flesh realm seems out of commission.
A few hours later, I heard that she had passed. Several times that day, I sneaked off to the bathroom to cry. (Yes, maybe I am still too proud to really cry in front of people.) I would read something Inez’s granddaughter Laura had posted on Facebook, and I would tear up. Then I’d act as if I were simply going to the bathroom, and I would weep privately a bit. Many of the tears were happy ones. I could absolutely imagine joyful Inez, with her preciously childlike spirit, entering the presence of the Lord. What a reunion with her Savior and those that she loved, such as her beloved husband L.G. and their firstborn son, Mike!
Somehow Heaven seemed a bit closer knowing that Inez had just entered those beautiful realms of glory.
Tonight I will pay my last respects to this woman who was such a constant in my life for so many years. And I will know that she leaves behind the kind of testimony that I want to have. When I think of her, I see a smile that takes up her whole face. I hear that giggle that sounded like a teenager. I feel the love that she oozed toward me and others. I remember a generous heart who wanted to give more than receive. I recall a go-getter personality that at the same time, almost paradoxically, exuded peace and a laid-back feeling. She didn’t care if her house was spotless and dust-free; she’d rather play with her kids. She didn’t feel the pressure to be at every regimented church meeting and program; she simply lived the Gospel each and every day.
Yes, the angels surely rejoiced when Inez leaped through the door of Heaven , whole and strong once more. But for those of us left behind, the world is a little bit gray today. The comfort is in knowing that it isn’t over. We who know our Lord Jesus will see Inez again, and we will spend forever in eternal bliss where the Lamb is the light and there are no more tears. Inez will never shed another one, but today, I just might.