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Remembering Aunt Edith

Aunt Edith. 1932-2019

Edith Grace Mitchell Storey, (87) passed away October 23, 2019, 36 years to the day after her mother left this world for the next one. Earlier this month, Edith mentioned in conversation with her brother Joe that she would be seeing her mama really soon. Though she had not yet had the stroke that took her to heaven’s gate, she had seen a glimpse of the near future and faced it with hope.

Born in 1932 when women wore their hair in Hollywood waves and men slicked theirs back with Brylcreem, Edith was the fourth child and the third (and last) daughter born to Naomi Carter and James Powell Mitchell. Within the next 15 years, the Mitchell family added four more boys, bringing the total to seven children, following the tragic loss of their oldest daughter in the mid 1930’s.

Even in her youth, Edith entertained family and friends by playing the piano. Throughout her life, she played for church and for loved ones. Memories of singing around the piano as Edith played span decades and generations; oh “the joy we shared as we tarried there …!”

After graduating from Brinson High School, Brinson, GA, in 1948, Edith went to work as a telephone operator before marrying in 1951. Soon after, she graduated from beauty college and eventually had her own hair salon in her home. Nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren, made magical memories in that garage-made-parlor full of beauty. Plastic curlers became finger puppets, perm rods took rubber-band wars up to a whole new level, and few could resist climbing into her chair for a dizzying spin.

Edith cut and styled from bouffant to mullet, from pompadour to buzzcut, and from Greg Brady tight perm to Farrah Faucette feathered bangs. But in her beauty shop, Edith did much more than hair; Edith made magic. Clients and friends might arrive burdened, but they left hopeful. They might come beat down, but they left built up. They might enter feeling unworthy, but they left feeling loved.

Aunt Edith's dryer chair from her beauty shop, in its new life as a chair in her kitchen.

As an adult, Edith developed her artistic skills through painting. Seeing the beauty in the world was an innate gift of Edith’s, so it only made sense that she would excel at translating natural wonders into artistic masterpieces. Her painting was not just a leisurely hobby. She took her craft seriously and worked with a variety of media—acrylics, oil, watercolor—and surfaces—fabric, wood, metal—to create lasting representations of the world around her. She realized the value of her work, so while she gifted plenty of her works of art, she sold a good many too. Edith and beauty: they worked well together.

Edith’s first marriage gave her two children, four grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and 5 great-great grandchildren. As matriarch of her family, Edith saw to it that her beloveds knew Jesus Christ. Each night up until very recently, the family—all who were close enough to make it—circled around Edith for family devotions and prayer time. If Edith said she would pray with you, she meant it--she and her whole family would.

Uncle George and me with Aunt Edith looking on in the background. Circa 1990

Edith’s second marriage to George Storey (1987-his death in 1998) brought her four step-children and 11 step-grandchildren. It also brought her the love of her life. Shortly after they were married, she remarked, “We love taking care of each other so much that we bump into each other in the kitchen trying to get the other one coffee!” Following George’s passing, her grief was surpassed only by her gratitude for the gift of this late-in-life love.

Once during a difficult time in her life, Edith remarked about her circumstances, “You know, this is not what I had planned for my life, but just look at the blessings around me!” She gestured around her one room apartment, “When I set my easel right there, the light is just perfect for painting! And look at the yard. It has plenty of room for my little dog to run around and play. And when I pull this curtain, I have two rooms, not one.” Because she saw the beauty, everyone else could see it too. “Pray for what you want,” she told us. “Then trust God to give you what you need.”

Condolences for the family may be left in the online guestbook at www.watsonhunt.com. Watson-Hunt Funeral Home has been entrusted with the arrangements.

From Suffering to Hope: The Life of Joyce Lawrimore

It’s been nearly 10 years since Joyce pulled me aside and said, "Aileen, I want to ask you a question. I want you to do my funeral. Would you be willing to do that?"

I said, "Today?!"

Joyce and Aileen June 17, 2017
Joyce and Aileen, June 17, 2017

Indeed, Joyce has been planning her funeral for 10 years. That’s because Joyce Lawrimore did not leave any detail to chance. Her directions to me were that at the graveside service, she wanted Amazing Grace played by Randy Shell on trumpet. At her service, she wanted someone to sing Because He Lives. (Joyce said that when she heard that song the first time, she said, “That’s it! That’s exactly how I feel. Because Jesus lives, I can face tomorrow.) Her main concern, though, was for her service to be short. She said, “Don’t make it long! JB hates long funerals.”

This week, when I mentioned that to JB, he said, "I don't care how long it is!" Anyway, since we've been here longer than 20 minutes, we've already broken that directive.

Oh, she also said, “Don’t make it all about me.”

I said, “Okay great, well, I’ll just go download a generic funeral service and let that be it.”

“Aileen! You know what I mean! You can say a little bit about me, but mainly I want you to make it about Jesus.”

And the thing is, we couldn’t talk about my mother-in-law’s life without talking about Jesus.

Romans 5:1-5

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says this:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

. . . we also boast in our sufferings . . .

Joyce definitely had her share of sufferings.

I mean, to start with, she was the only girl in the family. Just a few days ago, she told a story from her childhood about her older brother Ernest. It seems he punched her one time and knocked her out cold. Don’t feel too sorry for her though. When she came to, she just lay there for a minute, and didn’t let anyone know she was okay: she was having too much fun listening to Ernie get fussed out by their parents!

At 10 years old, Joyce asked her parents for either a baby sister or a puppy. What did she get? Roger. That’s suffering folks.

When Joyce was just 29 years old--29 years old!--she began noticing multiple health problems. She stumbled inexplicably and experienced weakness in her arms and legs. She sought help from doctors, but it was decades before she got a final diagnosis of muscular dystrophy. By that time, Joyce and JB had found a rhythm in coping with her muscle disease. Together, they brainstormed how to make tiny improvements around their home so that Joyce could remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. JB built portable steps so Joyce could get in and out of the van; he built outdoor stairs half the height of normal ones so she could walk up and down them without fear of falling; he replaced knobs that were too hard for Joyce to turn with levers she could operate. Gadgets, adjustments, tweaks, and quick fixes: these strategies surely added to the quality of her life; but they undoubtedly added to the length of her life as well.

Joyce also sought answers from professionals outside the medical profession, and on one occasion, she reached out to Academy Award Winner, Sir Lawrence Olivier. Joyce heard on the news that Olivier had the same diagnosis that—at the time—she had. She knew that the actor would have access to the best doctors in the world, so she wrote to him and asked what his doctors were advising. He wrote back and his advice contradicted what her doctors were saying: he said she should exercise. At the time, her doctors were telling her to rest her muscles, save them, as it were. Olivier said that the latest research suggested that exercise might build muscle strength, not decrease it. So, Joyce started exercising. I can’t imagine how many years of independence she bought for herself.

And that’s the thing: her suffering produced endurance.

. . . suffering produces endurance . . .

One way she endured her limitations was by staying on top of the details of life. We were here about a month or more ago after getting back from a cruise to Cuba. Jay showed her pictures from our trip, knowing she had gone with her parents 60+ years ago. When she saw the pictures she said, “JB, go in there and get those pictures from Cuba.” Now an aside, Joyce Lawrimore was the exact opposite of a hoarder. She got rid of stuff before it can collect the first speck of dust. So just imagine our surprise when he came back SECONDS later with an envelope labeled Cuba with pictures from the 1950’s!

I’ve never known anyone more organized in my life!

She also drew strength from God’s creation. She loved animals—a love she passed on to her children and grandchildren. She loved seeing the birds outside the kitchen window and the flowers in the garden. And in her later years, she came to enjoy sitting in the sun. Every afternoon, the front door would be opened and she’d motor up as close as she could get to the storm door and soak up the sun. She passed many an hour sitting in that doorway “getting her vitamin D.”

After Joyce passed away, her across-the-street neighbor stopped in for a visit and shared with us something we’d never known. When Dot planned her garden, she thought about what flowers Joyce would enjoy when she sat there in the doorway. Isn’t that something? Joyce’s love for the sun, for nature, made the whole neighborhood more beautiful.

But possibly the most notable evidence of Joyce’s endurance was her legendary tenacity. Persistence. Okay, stubbornness. Y’all. You have not seen immovable until you’ve tangled with Joyce Lawrimore. I’ve said for years that we have had Joyce as long as we did because she was so stubborn. If Joyce did not want to do something, you can bet she would not, under any circumstances, do that thing.

And one thing Joyce did not want to do is to spend money unnecessarily, particularly when it came to inflated medical costs. One time recently when she was hospitalized, the nurse came in and asked her if she needed something to help her sleep. In her previous hospitalization, her insurance had been charged an exorbitant amount for ibuprofen. You can believe that would NOT happen again. She thanked the nurse but told her that wouldn’t be necessary. When the nurse left she turned to Jay with a sly smile and said in a lowered voice, “That’s because I’ve already taken my own medicine that I brought from home.”

joyce and jay in hug
Joyce and Jay

. . . and endurance produces character. . .

See her suffering had produced endurance. And endurance created quite a character!

And yes, part of Joyce’s character was thriftiness. Joyce Lawrimore did not waste money for nobody. But Joyce was also generous. Her generosity grew naturally from her faith. A number of years ago, Joyce considered selling her electric organ. Faced with the decision, she did what she always did: she prayed at length about it. God told her it was time to let it go, so she put an ad in the paper. She figured she’d get a nice little bit of pocket change for it. Well she only got one call. It was from a small church. They came to look at it and it was exactly what they wanted. They’d been praying about it and were thrilled to find what they needed within their budget. So what did Joyce do? She just gave it to them. She figured that’s what God meant all along.

Joyce’s character was also marked by humor. Joyce knew how to take a joke and knew how to make one. Like every family, we have inside jokes that are a part of our family soundtrack. One has to do with her selection of her grandparent name. When Jill was expecting Rachel, she and Ted asked Joyce what she wanted the baby to call her. She said, “I want to be called Grandmama. I do NOT want to be called Granny.” Soooo every time Ted Webster entered her house, he greeted her with “How’s it going Granny!”

But she got in her share of jabs too, her last humorous moment came in her last hours on earth. See, Joyce and JB went to USC and Jay and I leaned more towards USC too. But Ted and Jill have always been Clemson fans and Jake has grown up dreaming of going to Clemson which he will be doing this fall. Jake came into the room to see his Grandmama on Thursday evening. When he walked in, we said, “Look here’s your grandson Jake! He’s going to Clemson!” Joyce knew this because a few weeks ago she and I were talking about how excited we were for him. She was so proud of Jake for pursuing his lifelong dream. By the time he came into the room that Thursday night, she’d already become nonverbal and somewhat unresponsive. But when she heard, “He’s going to Clemson!” She crinkled her nose and furrowed her brow, drawing back in mock horror which we’d have believed if it weren’t for the twinkle in her eyes.

Part of Joyce’s character that I found most amazing was her ability to delight in the joys of others. Though she has not taken food by mouth in more than 10 years, she LOVED hearing about other people’s food delicacies. Though she had not been on a trip of much distance in a long time, she loved to hear about the trips others took. It was a beautiful thing.

. . . and character produces hope. . .

Indeed, just like Paul promised, because of the peace Joyce had in Jesus, her sufferings produced endurance. Endurance produced character, and character produced hope.

Joyce Lawrimore’s greatest hope was centered in Christ, for sure, but Joyce also found great hope in her family.

Jill and Jay, you were beloved by your mother. She’d be the first to tell you not to get the big head or anything because nobody’s perfect. But she’d also tell you that she could not have loved you more. Ted and I have also been loved like her own children.

Rachel, Trellace, Baker, Jake, Margaret: No grandmother has ever enjoyed her grandchildren more. When Rachel was born, Jill told me that her mother said to her mother-in-law, Rachel’s other grandmother, “You know, other grandmothers talk about how beautiful their grandbabies are; but we know that OUR granddaughter surpasses them all!” And y’all: she wasn’t kidding. She was sharing an absolute truth. She loved your little selves and she’s loved every single stage of your lives, embracing Baker’s wife, Addison, and Rachel’s husband, Carson, as if they were her own as well.

In fact, when I spoke with her last Sunday, she knew she was not long for this world and her number one concern was for you. She could not bear the thought of making you sad.

And that points to the fact that she knew that each of you loved her. She knew that because you showed her by your words, your presence, your gifts, your tender care, and your faithful hugs. Part of her legacy to you is unconditional love that you are already giving back to the world. She believed in you. She cherished you. She delighted in you.

But as much as she loved the 11 of us, her favorite person was her husband, JB. She often said that God did not give me MD, but he gave me JB to take care of me. And what a true example of love you have been. Of course, you really just did what you said you would do, what you know she would have done if the situation had been reversed.

You loved each other: for better or worse, in sickness and in health.
You loved each other in aggravation and delight,
in frustration and in amusement,
and in disagreement and resolution.
Your partnership was a beautiful thing.

Together, you showed your family, your church, and your neighborhood what it meant to be devoted to each other.

. . . and hope does not disappoint . . . because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit . . .

Joyce did love her family well. But friends, we all knew, and you did too, that she loved Jesus more. She never doubted her eternal salvation.  We know that she was getting really tired of her earthly body. Today she is healthy and whole. She looked forward to running up and down stairs; eating her mama’s chicken and dumplings and fresh strawberries; and drinking thick vanilla milkshakes. She was ready to be free from her earthly struggles, but she didn’t want to leave anyone behind. She said, “I want you to tell everyone that if they haven’t followed Jesu Christ, don’t wait! Heaven’s going to be wonderful and I want you to be there with me!”

See, Joyce’s suffering produced endurance. Endurance produced character and character gave her hope. And hope did not disappoint. Therefore, since Joyce was justified by faith, she had peace with God through Jesus Christ, through whom she obtained access to this grace in which she now stands on her own; and her one true hope was sharing the glory of God through her life and into eternity.

Let us pray.

Friends, we grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Because as we grieve, we celebrate that Joyce has truly fought life's final war with pain and is even now enjoying the lights of glory.

aunt edith and aunt edna

RIP Aunt Edna

After learning my father's oldest sister had passed away, I received a call from my mother, asking if I would write the obituary.

Wait.

That's not what happened. Mother said, "We need you to write Aunt Edna's obituary. And they need it ASAP. They want to have the service on Saturday. Here's your cousin's contact information. Call her. She'll tell you where to send it." (There wasn't any "asking" about it.)

My Mother knows me. She knew this direction would be a gift. I needed something to do with my brain. See, until yesterday, all my dad's siblings--he has six--were still living. I kind of thought they'd live forever. So, maybe you shouldn't be shocked by the passing of a 90 year old woman who was in poor health. But, as my daddy always says, "Should never could do anything."

After talking with one of my cousins, messaging another, and doing a little research for details, I sorted through some of my own memories of Aunt Edna. I remembered her making round pineapple and mayo sandwiches on white bread. I remembered her magical sewing room that frequently morphed into an assembly room full of cloth body parts. And I remembered her soft voice, her sweet smile, and the way she'd laugh with her mouth shaped in a small oval, her eyes crinkled, her head tilted back just slightly. What a dear woman. I loved her so.


aunt edith and aunt edna
Aunt Edna (right) with her sister, my Aunt Edith (left)

Edna Ruth Mitchell Jackson, 90, born in Bainbridge, Georgia on June 6, 1928, passed away at home on Wednesday, December 19, 2018. She was the second child of James Powell, Sr. and Naomi (nee Carter) Mitchell who preceded her in death. She was also preceded in death by her husband Robert Carroll Jackson, Sr., daughter Patricia Jackson Banks, sister Annie Mitchell, niece Sherry Mitchell, brother-in-law George Storey, and sisters-in-law Dollie Mitchell and Fran Mitchell.

She is survived by countless loved ones including brothers James and wife Nell, Edward and wife Anne, Harold and wife Gloria, Joseph, and Earl and wife Jennie; and her sister Edith Storey. She is also survived by her children Robert Carroll Jackson, Jr, Linda Jackson Johnson, Anne Jackson Griffin and husband Clarence, Jane Jackson Stephens and husband Bertrom, Debbie Jackson, David Jackson, and her son-in-law Steve Banks; her grandchildren Emily, Maggie, William, Marilyn, Michael, Timothy, Jeff, Teelah, Kelly, Mark, Jason, Melody, Randy, Christopher, Jennifer, Mary Catrina, Robert, and Bradley; 19 great-grandchildren; and 15 nieces and nephews.

At six years old, Edna suddenly became her parent’s oldest child when Annie passed away from appendicitis. Since that time, Edna has been the consummate oldest sibling to her younger sister and her six younger brothers, setting an example for them of quiet faith, gentle strength, and everlasting love. Her love for them formed the prequel to her life role as the mother for her own seven children for whom she modeled the same godly qualities she exhibited in her childhood home.

In addition to being a devoted wife and mother, Edna was a sharp business woman who turned her fondness for sewing into an impressive cottage business. From hand-sewn garments and custom alterations to beautiful dolls and whimsical toys, Edna could transform fabric into magic. Her sewing room, full of teddy bears and ragdolls, spilled over with Christmas fabrics selected for her favorite projects: holiday arts and crafts. Eventually, she began selling her wares at craft shows across the state of Georgia at which she nearly always sold out of her inventory, no matter how much she had made for the event. Counting the ones she sold, the many she made as gifts for grandchildren and other loved ones, plus all the ones she gave away for the pure joy of it, Edna created thousands and thousands of dolls and toys that are loved to this day.

Aunt Edna Doll
My Aunt Edna doll, 1977

Edna was an ardent learner. When her children were still young, she was taking classes at the local junior college in pursuit of a liberal arts degree. When a technical school opened in Albany, Edna switched her focus to arts and craft classes, honing her innate artistic talent to the professional level. She truly was a lifelong student, never missing an opportunity to learn something new.

Edna was also a faithful teacher. Her love of God that sustained her throughout life, gave her the longing to share the gospel with others through Sunday school classes. She taught both children and adult classes over the years, sharing lessons she gleaned from Holy Scripture.

Her godly influence spread far beyond the church walls, beginning in her own home. She never missed a chance to tell her children that she loved them, that God loved them, and that she was praying for them. Her family knew they were loved. And she defined “her family” more broadly than most. It didn’t matter how distant—or questionable—the relationship, to Edna, you were family. The highlight of her year was planning the annual family reunion. She had a way of making every single person in attendance feel as if she had planned the whole event just so she could see them. Her sweet smile welcomed each newcomer as she called them by name, inviting everyone to the table.

Edna Jackson, a treasure of a woman, is best described by the words of Proverbs 31:25-30: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Funeral arrangements to be determined. For more information, see Kimbrell-Stern Funeral Directors, Albany, Georgia. https://www.kimbrellstern.com/