Exits not always on cue

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It is inevitable as we grow older people we know exit from life’s stage. Their roles in our lives might not be big ones but nonetheless they have a place in our stories.

In recent days, three people from my time growing up in Opp took their final bows. Though they are no longer here, they leave traces with those of us who felt their presence for a while.

When I read about the passing of Mr. Henry Morgan, I thought about his son Ricky. While many folks know Mr. Henry because of his famous cookies and his almost as famous cardboard cutout displayed at stores featuring his cookies, I think of him first as Ricky’s daddy. Ricky, I’m sure he probably prefers Rick or maybe Richard these days, is my age and we attended First Baptist Church together as kids.

My picture of Mr. Henry is a smiling man with a crew cut sitting with his family in a pew across from our family. True his role is small, but Mr. Henry is still there woven into the tapestry of my childhood days.

Yesterday I learned Mary Jane Jeffcoat Zorn made her exit from this life. Being several years older, she was one of the girls who was a teenager when I was young. She always seemed like one of the cool crowd and I mostly remember her smiling. Later as adults, our paths crossed a few times. When they did, we joked about how we grew up in the same house because my parents purchased the Park Avenue home of my childhood from her parents. She spent a good portion of her early years there before her family moved to their house on East Stewart Avenue. Again, her part in my play was small, but important, and I’d have a different storyline if Mary Jane had been in my life.

Finally, a post on Facebook let me know Mrs. Velma Ellis is on this earth no more. The role she had in my life makes me smile as I think about her smile. Mrs. Ellis stepped into my life in a ninth grade home economics class.

To say she was a Southern lady does not begin to capture her in full. She had a grace about her and she wanted her students to become gracious ladies as well. Thinking back, I realize she had a great deal of patience, too. How else did she deal gracefully with students like me who struggled, and questioned, and probably perplexed her as we worked on our first sewing project, a simple apron?

For the most part, we were silly teenagers who didn’t grasp the importance of learning about household budgets or sewing perfect darts or following correctly a recipe for baked Alaska.

Of course, now I realize the value of all she taught me in those classes. She is there every time I sit down at my sewing machine and her instructions are with me in the kitchen as I cook. In some small way, Mrs. Ellis is even around when I balance my checkbook and write out my grocery list.

Judging from the messages on Facebook, other students also appreciate the role Mrs. Ellis played in their lives.

It is inevitable that age brings farewells, but it also wakes awareness of our connection, of how we move through each other’s stories. We may enter a scene briefly and our lines might be few or none. Perhaps the script calls for us to smile at a certain time and place and in fact, we may never know we are in the script, never realize the smile was necessary to the story.

As I think about those who entered and exited from my life, I realize without them, no matter how small their roles, I would not be who I am today, where I am today and that makes me appreciate them all the more.