From our longstanding friend, Strangelove:
Hi Jonathan. I am writing to see if you can use this letter-essay Elaine wrote to the son of her 95-year-old nanny-mentor-friend, Dorothy Polk, whom people called Doss. Doss passed away last Friday and we are going to her funeral in Elaine's home town on Saturday. She was the very best of the old-school black women who took no guff but raised their kids, and others, with love and the kind of discipline that set them on the right path. Elaine wrote this in an hour, and I cannot find a word that could be changed. I think it says a great deal about the bonds formed in childhood and where they lead. I'm biased, yes, but I'm also a writer and this is better than anything I've done. Bubba was one of Doss's two sons, Henry was the other. The rest is self-expanatory. Best wishes, Strangelove.
It says in the Book of Common Prayer, "Rest eternal grant her, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon her." I think that the second part of this blessing is more likely than the first for this very new saint. St. Therese of Lisieux said that we'll be busy in heaven, and I'm sure that Doss already is. She used to joke about how she minded everybody's business, and I hope that she'll continue to mind ours. She'll be with us in spirit and memory, inspiring and encouraging us, and occasionally giving a kick in the backside to us when we need it.
"Grateful" doesn't come close to describing how I feel about having been a part of her life. She was intelligent, wise, strong, and full of love and joy. No one could be around her without feeling that it was time for us to "go and do likewise," as Jesus says about the Good Samaritan. Her life was not easy, but a rock solid and joyous faith were at her core, and her sense of humor was as sharp as it was deep. Whenever I was going through sad times, wherever Doss was became my "laughin' place," and you and Henry were a big part of this. She loved and enjoyed you both so much, and she loved to tell about what you were doing. Whenever I asked her to "tell me a Bubba and Henry story," she would relate your latest exploits, and we would both laugh and feel better.
She loved to learn, from people and life as well as books. When she first went to work (temporarily, she thought) for my parents, she wasn't sure how things would work out. Mother seemed very serious, and Doss was at the point of giving her notice when Mother baked a cake but left out the baking powder. It was a mess, of course, and Mother sat down on the kitchen floor and laughed hysterically at the debacle on the counter. Doss then decided that Mother had a sense of humor after all, and maybe they could work together. When they were discussing the terms of their arrangement, Mother asked Doss, "What do you want?" Doss answered, "Talk to me. I'm married, I have a young child, and I need to help support my family. I don't have the time to go to school, but you've been to college. Talk to me and tell me what you've learned." They continued to talk for over thirty years, and the learning was mutual, as was the love. I heard them both say, more than once, "She was the sister I never had."
Doss had pride and dignity, and her very presence inspired respect. As a kid, testing the limits, I tried being a wise aleck to her. Once. Just once. Without raising her voice or saying many words, she set me straight. Now, whenever I encounter the words in the baptismal vows, "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?" I think of Doss, and I understand what the Book of Common Prayer is talking about.
I could go on and on, about her wonderful stories about growing up in Gonzales, her seemingly limitless patience (not only with the Polk and Perkins kids, but also with her incredibly fine crochet work), her virtuosity in the kitchen (those delicious lemon and chocolate pies with the beautiful amber beads that formed on the meringue the day after they were baked), and much more. She is an inexhaustible topic, and we'll remember her with love and delight until we're called to be where she is. I know she'll be right there to meet us, smiling and with her arms open wide, and she'll say, "Oh, baby, I'm so glad to see you! You're going to love it here, and we have so much to do! We need to get started right away."