I visited a woman, old and gray, her journey of life nearing its winter’s end. She settled into an armless rocker and moved gently, slowly back and fro, looking from her view on the porch past the towering magnolia trees that spread the full length of her yard.
“Oh, isn’t life wonderful?” she asked, her sweet voice full of Southern accented exuberance and her faded blue eyes flickering with joy.
More than 90 years of living had not dampened her enthusiasm, nor had it slowed her down. “I’ve been blessed, so very blessed.” She smoothed the flowered apron tied around her cotton dress and lightly touched the wrinkled cheek that had melted downward with age and hung in folds around her mouth.
She spoke with grand fondness for the years that had passed, the smile never fading from her still rosy lips. There was that handsome man, newly returned from a world war, who had breezed into her life and swept her away.
“Never did one woman love another man more,” she said so convincingly that I knew it was truth, not a memory enhanced by the time that had slipped by. “I loved him from the first date and he loved me, too. I married him three months later and it was pure bliss. It was the 10 happiest years of my life.”
“Ten years?” I took a slip of the iced peach tea.
Her blue eyes suddenly fogged with the memory. “He died in my arms. It was sudden, unexpected.” Her wistful sigh floated across the air and hit my heart with a thud.
I swallowed hard. Love that strong and true yet gone so quickly. She had lived more than 60 years past that romantic time.
“Did you ever come close to marrying again?” I wanted the story to have a happier ending. It is the undeniable romantic in me.
She smiled and shook her head. “Never crossed my mind. Once you’ve known such pure happiness with a man you love like I loved him, anything else would fall way short.”
Through the sunny afternoon and several glasses of sweet tea, we continued our conversation and I listened to her tales of her blessed life. She had settled into life as a “widow woman” with three small children to raise and made her reputation as one of the South’s most respected newspaper reporters. This was in the days when women were relegated to writing obituaries and covering afternoon teas and society weddings, but she had blazed trails by covering hard news. When the Civil Rights marches took over the front page in the 1960s, she was there in the trenches, praying that Martin Luther King, Jr. could lead his people to victory.
“I knew every word of every song of the movement,” she recalled. Her face clouded. “I never saw such hate as I saw in the faces of those opposed it. I’ll never forget the look of that kind of hate.”
Repeatedly, she talked on and on about how blessed her life had been, then insisted on pulling out old photos, many of them black and white. She pointed out her children in varying ages then her voice grew soft, wistful again.
“He died suddenly, young.” She pointed to a handsome man in his 30s. “Internal bleeding. They couldn’t get it stopped.” She picked up a photo of a middle-aged woman. “She was my oldest. Died a few years ago of a massive stroke.” Gently, she set the photo back down. “Losing a child is the greatest sorrow you’ll ever carry. It’s terrible. Just terrible.”
The sadness was momentary. She stilled herself, pulled back her shoulders and smiled beautifully. “Just look at how blessed I’ve been.” She motioned at the photos. She put a frail hand on my shoulder. “Isn’t life wonderful?”
With an attitude like that, it certainly is.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of the new book, “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter here.