Yesterday, I attended a funeral for a beloved member of our
church. She was one of twin
sisters who had lived together for 90 years. The two of them have been members of our church since
1937. Neither of them has been
well in the past year, but during that time, our pastor has carried them back
and forth to doctor’s appointments in his van on a weekly basis. One of the ladies in the choir, along
with two or three other women from the congregation, has made it her mission
for the past several years to care for them, visit, take them to lunch, drive
them to have their hair done, clean their house and make sure they have
groceries. These same women and a
few strong men also helped move the two from their tiny apartment on Bridge
Street, where they had resided and accumulated a lot of stuff since 1937, into
a house at the edge of town. I
remember several members of the church toting cardboard boxes out onto the
street and giving the new house a fresh coat of paint before moving them in.
When I went to visit Miss Jennie on Sunday evening and to
take her a hefty supply of 2-liter Pepsis, their drink of choice, she told me a
story about how she and Janie had never been apart in their whole lives except
for the time Janie was married.
“I didn’t know she was married,” I said surprised.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “She married a man from Texas and she
went down there with him for about six months. One day when I was working, the President of Chatham called
me over the intercom and said, ‘Jennie, there’s somebody here to see you at the
switchboard.’ I walked over there
and when I went in, there she stood.
I don’t know what ever happened to that man. She never said, and I never asked. I figured if it was my business, she’d tell me, so I just
didn’t ever ask her about it.”
I didn’t know which was more incredible, that Janie had
married and left Jennie in Elkin or that they never spoke of the incident for
the next 75 years. This is just
one more example of the fascinating stories people carry around with them every
day. Even the people we think we
know have stories and facets of their lives we really know nothing about. As they prepared for the funeral
yesterday, Brian and Mae were putting old photos of Janie and Jennie in frames
to be displayed in the narthex during the funeral. They were really quite beautiful. My favorite was a photo of them with their basketball
team. Several women in shiny,
sateen jumpsuits sat in a semi-circle on the gym floor, their legs
outstretched, their hair in neat pin curls and their lips all dark with what I
assume was bright red lipstick.
Both Jennie and Janie had been All-Americans and played for the Chatham
Industries Blanketeers in the 30’s and 40’s.
What I noticed most about the photos, however, besides the
historical significance, was that every photo included the two of them
together. There was not one
individual picture in the whole pile.
I guess that’s the saddest thing about this. For the first time in 90 years, save 6 unexplained months,
Jennie is without her sister, her other half. This is hard for me to grasp since I not only have no twin
but I have no siblings either.
Jennie and Janie were actually just two of twelve children total so the
bond between sisters and brothers is a living reality for them. Out of those twelve though, only three
are still living, and the other two live far away. Miss Janie is on her own for the first time, but I realized
yesterday that she will never be completely alone.
As I stood in line in the fellowship hall waiting my turn to
speak to the family, I watched my friends and fellow church members at
work. The tables had been set and
food had been prepared for the family.
Flowers had been arranged.
Someone behind me said, “You Presbyterians really know how to do
it.” I doubt that it’s just
Presbyterians. I think it’s
probably any, or at least most, church families.
It’s easy to be cynical about church and organized religion
because it certainly gets a bad rap most of the time. We hear about all the freaks and fanatics and the hypocrisy
and pettiness, but that’s because all families have freaks and hypocrites and
petty individuals. All families
are made up of people, and there’s the problem. People can be mean-spirited, selfish and silly, but they can
also be kind, selfless, and supportive.
To be part of a church home, a family of faith, means you will most
certainly have to put up with bickering over stupid things like dishwashers in
the kitchen and who put tape on the fresh paint in the hallway, but it also
means that when you are feeling the most alone, when you are grieving, lost,
sick or angry, someone will show up on your doorstep with lemon pound cake or
drive you to your doctor’s appointment on their lunch break or clean your house
for you when you can no longer do it yourself or pray for you even when you
don’t know it. I’ve always said
that God must shake his head in embarrassment most days when he looks at his
pitiful representatives here on Earth, how we misrepresent and generally make a
mess of things on a regular basis, but despite our petty natures, we are also
infused with a loving kindness that could only come from God. I’ve seen that this week as I’ve
watched my family take care of one of its sisters. It may not be necessary to go to church to know God, but it
certainly helps in understanding God’s love for us. My own church family is such a ridiculous hodgepodge of
personalities, all with their own quirks, and backgrounds, yet we all manage to
work together for a greater good most of the time. Like most families, despite our differences of opinion, we
are united in our faith and love.
Miss Jennie will face lonely days, I’m sure, and there are some
difficult months ahead, but it’s nice to know that she will never be
alone. Barbara will bring food,
Sarah will provide companionship, Brian will be a taxi service to the doctor’s
office, and others will pick up the slack as needed because that’s what