Ode to Evelyn

The obituary is simple:

Mary Evelyn King, 92, of Summerville,South Carolina, widow of Calvin A. King (known familiarly as John), passed away Saturday, October 3, 2015 at her residence. Mrs. King was born January 27, 1923 in Ridgely,Tennessee, daughter of the late John and Winnie Stewart Lack. She was a graduate of Piggot High School in Piggot, Arkansas and she was a homemaker. Surviving are: two sons: Timothy A. King (Cynthia) of Summerville and Jalon L. King (Jan) of Valapariso, Indiana, four grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

Less than one hundred words to sum up ninety two years. My calculator indicates that’s 1.08695652 words per year to describe a life that needs encyclopedic portrayal. But I have a file folder nearly two inches thick with letters from Evelyn spanning almost exactly ten years and those letters tell a far different, far more colorful, far more exhilarating a story.

In 1948 John and Evelyn began attending the church in which I grew up but I remember her mostly from visits to that church after I left the area. The enduring picture is of her standing straight, tall and quiet near the door as she waited for John to complete his Sunday duties. She didn’t indulge in after-church chatter and so many thought her unfriendly, stern, even dour, but oh, what a treasure they missed.

So who was this woman I’ve come to admire and deeply care for? In the introductory pages of the book honoring her younger brother, I’ve gleaned this information from her own hand. She was the daughter of parents “of above average intelligence.” She writes that her mother “no doubt could have excelled as artist, writer or musician had her latent talents been cultivated at the right time.” (Those exact words could be said of Evelyn.) When she was four, the family moved from Tennessee to Arkansas to be closer to grandfather and after his death two years later, the family “became poorer by the year… Occasionally (our) father purchased…a soup bone and box of soda crackers. Such a purchase evoked celebration…”

From that background grew a woman of little formal education and mountains of intelligence and wisdom. Her words were often almost melodic. “We lived on a farm through my childhood and teen years where I often found myself hidden away in the huge gullies washed out by frequent rains. During the winter I often built a fire behind some of the clay banks where I would be sheltered from the wind. There I would…ponder what life was all about and wonder what the Lord had in store for me…”

Evelyn trusted me with reminiscences that she said were rarely if ever shared with others. “Would you believe the girls (in the one-room school) sometimes pretended to square dance though they had no music? They would be forced to practice this in some part of the yard not easily viewed by the teacher as this was considered sinful. I did not participate as I had been brought up in a very strict manner almost like the Quakers… Even now I never want to be singled out in church nor do I ever clap no matter how much I enjoy and appreciate what is going on… I am often embarrassed by any show of emotion… This strange complex has not served me well…”

In this same letter she wrote, “You have had a look into my heart which few ever have. I have wonderful, caring, concerned, delightful friends around me here, but few of them really know my deepest feelings…”

How I shall miss those letters. Letters with variations of salutations: Dear Favorite One or Dear Young and Lovely Friend (she insisted I was YOUNG!) or Dear Favored One. I have been the recipient of gold—the gold of words wisely, beautifully written and the gold of friendship. Goodbye, my friend. You have deeply enriched my life. I have loved you.

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