Roxie’s gone. I will never see her sweet smile again. She passed away last week after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. She’d been complaining about stomach discomfort for weeks but a diagnosis didn’t happen until she went to the hospital for a simple, unrelated surgery.
Roxie loved to cook and she made sure no one left without a full belly. Maybe that was because she was born in Clarksdale Mississippi in 1933 at the height of the great depression. Her parents struggled to find work in the rapidly mechanized cotton plantation country. Money and food were so scarce that Roxie, her brother and sister were sent to live with relatives, never to return.
I don’t know where she learned all the kindness and compassion she carried in her heart. She had a warm hug that seemed to heal all wounds. I often wonder what I would have done without her during my troubled years of recovering from back surgery and the loss of my first husband but somehow she managed to show up every Thursday, just like clock work and quietly go about the business of cleaning my house. She worked the rest of the week in other people’s homes, dusting, mopping, raising other people’s children and her own. Somehow she found time and energy to help with her grandchildren and even great grandchildren. Once in awhile, she would bring one of them to work with her. They were darling little people, well mannered and sweet. I wish now, she would have brought them more often.
Once Roxie told me she would make chitlins for her family’s Christmas dinner. “I’ve never eaten chitlins,” I said.
She laughed out loud and flashed me a devilish look. “I’ll save you some.”
The Thursday after Christmas, she arrived with chitlins and a dish of scrumptious peach cobbler. I learned that chitlins, like raw oysters, are an acquired taste.
She knew all about my life. I knew little about hers. She informed me she had never learned to read. She enrolled in school and before long, suggested I leave her notes about what I needed her to do.
Now and again she shared bits of information: the cruel pain she suffered when her son died and her proud joy when her granddaughter graduate from college.
I called her my friend. She called me her ‘boss lady.’ But towards the end, we became just two women on a journey. I went to her house, the one she’d bought with money she’d earned. It was spotless and lovely, pictures of her family in places of honor. Outside in the driveway sat the gray Pontiac she drove to get to work. It was only one of the cars she’d bought and paid for over the years. She told me about her church, so important in her life and the many friends who came to call. That day, as we sat alone in her shiny kitchen, we talked of our hopes and dreams. When I left, she enfolded me in her arms and told me everything would be all right. She stood at the door smiling as I drove away.