I’m entering into that season of life when there are more goodbyes than hellos. I am now old enough that the people I grew up with – the ones whose footsteps I follow in are coming to the end of their journeys. This is a bittersweet time. I’m grateful for the full lives they’ve lived; blessed to have been so much a part of them; but oh heart, it is so hard to say goodbye.
I got another call and have to say a long distance goodbye again; to a most remarkable woman. I’ve known Frances Huitt since I was about ten years old, but most of my memories of her begin when I was about eighteen. Eighteen and looking for my first real job. Frances and her husband owned a small bookstore in the town I grew up in. She never posted that she was hiring, but lots of people walked in asking for applications. I was one of them, and for whatever reason, she decided to hire me – the spring after I graduated from high school. To be honest, all reasons elude me, even now, as to why she chose to take a chance on me – fresh-faced, no experience, not much to recommend me other than my enthusiasm for books. But she did. And I will always be grateful.
Decades separated us. Frances must have been about sixty when I started working for her, but she had a heart that spoke to mine and a spirit that was just as young. I remember slow summer afternoons in the store when no customers were around; we’d have bubble gum blowing contests or play pick-up sticks with the pencils in the kid’s department. I remember her having supreme confidence in my ability to do almost anything. I once overheard her talking to a customer, hints of North Carolina still echoing in her voice, “You know, if I don’t tell her that it can’t be done, eventually, she figures out a way to make it happen.” I also remember her total acceptance of whatever phase of life I was going through – and sometimes by “phase of life,” I mean “phase of fashion.” In order to appreciate this, you need to know that hers was a Christian bookstore with a wide variety of clientele, some extremely conservative. I was not particularly conservative at eighteen, and while I did tone down my taste for Goth chic while at work, I was reluctant to relinquish all my jewelry – including the chain bracelets and silver snake ring that wound its insinuating way around my index finger – that one gave customers pause more than anything else. They mentioned it to Frances from time to time; frowning in disapproval and dismay at my questionable choices. None of that fazed her or her unwavering support of me. Time and again she would respond with gentleness; explaining my fashion choices with astounding grace. It wasn’t just fashion choices either. Frances’ shared wisdom extended to other areas: college, dating, friendship. It was like the gift of another parent – I know I was flattered when she would slip up and call me Mary Lou, the name of her youngest daughter.
I worked there for five years before I moved away. Five great years where I enjoyed increasing responsibilities on the job, learned invaluable skills about working in a customer oriented environment, and made some friendships that would last a lifetime. Even after leaving, we kept in touch via cards and phone calls, and stopping by the bookstore was always on the “must” list when I came home to visit.
One of Frances’ favorite sayings was, “this too shall pass.” I doodled it once for her – not more than a quick illustration on a scrap of paper – probably on one of those lazy summer afternoons. She taped it on her desk and kept it there as a reminder. I still remember it and call it to mind in the midst of trying times: this too shall pass.
I’ll remember that now, as immediate sadness overshadows the joy of a life fully lived and the knowledge of seeing a loved one in the future. There is comfort in that, surely there is. But not without the pang of loss – knowing that we’ve said goodbye for now. Thankfully, just for now. And then, that too shall pass. And we’ll look ahead to a bright future in glory with those that we’ve had to say goodbye to here.
Miss Frances, I love you. I’ll see you soon.