It was hard to hear that my cousin Doris was about to depart this world. Saturday morning, depart she did. Cousin is a dear enough word, but aunt is an even dearer one I think. I was always confused about Doris being my cousin because she was more than three decades older than me. I thought of her as an aunt because she nurtured me at times. Cousins play with you; aunts nurture you.
In the late fifties and early sixties my father and a handful of his family members moved from the mountains of eastern Kentucky to the vacation paradise of Florida hoping to seek their fortunes and raise their families. Bud and Doris were in that group, and that is how they came to live within walking distance of our house in Kenneth City.
I have always known Doris. My best memories of time spent with her are from my childhood and pre-teen years. I spent countless hours listening to she and my mother talk, and talk, and talk, and talk for hours. Mom and Doris could talk. Doris and anyone could talk. Whenever we were at Doris’ house my mother was happy, and for her sake I never begrudged those hours. I learned so much from the things that they talked about, mostly what people are like and when they had acted correctly, or incorrectly. I am the age now that they were then. I only blinked twice or so and decades have flown by.
I have been told that I learned to talk lying between my mom and Doris. I loved the sectional sofa where they, and then I, often sat. There was a glass top coffee table (was the bottom made of driftwood?) in front of the couch. Doris taught me to light my first candle on that table. I felt very big. I remember her showing me how to close the match book cover over the match and then to pull it to strike it. Mom waited until we left to tell me not to do it that way or I would set the whole book of matches aflame in my hand. I still close the cover -sorry Mom.
Doris’ house was the first place that I was allowed to ride my bike to alone. That made me feel big too. I’m sure I I must have driven her crazy since it was the only other place that I could go. If I ever annoyed her she never let on. I thought she was the most hip mom when she let my teenage cousins ( who wore rollers big enough to fit my fist through) draw groovy flowers on their bedroom ceiling - with chalk! I was not allowed to draw on walls…or ceilings.
Notably these are the things Doris did not do: smoke (and almost everyone did), cuss, or drive a car (that I ever knew of). I was fascinated…especially by the last one. Her career was to be the wife of her beloved husband, the most wonderful mother to her three children, and the most faithful friend to everyone she met.
I can picture every corner of her house, her semi-circle pebble drive, the storm door, the grey cat named Duchess. My favorite was the kitchen and the back porch. She always had a glass of tea with Sweet’N Low, never sugar. I can even remember the Tiki tumblers that she often drank from.
The seventies could not diminish her style because Doris made polyester look good; She made everything look good. Who can resist a woman who laughs out loud and weaves yarns that make you smile and laugh until your cheeks hurt? She was never discouraged. She was never without hope. She never doubted God .
My twelfth summer I must have needed an eye kept on me. Despite the fact that I had stayed home alone the previous summer (and babysat a two year old) I apparently needed lookin’ after, so I was sent to Doris’ for the day while Mom worked. We watched soap operas on her king-size bed all summer long. I felt like a movie star.
She taught me to make whipped wax wedding candles that summer too. Once again, she trusted me to handle the hot stuff. We melted wax in a coffee can set in a pan of hot water, on a hotplate, in the garage. She poured the melted wax into a bowl and handed me the fork. “Beat it like you beat scrambled eggs”, she said. After a few minutes the wax began to cool and turned into a frothy, wax, icing substance. She patiently showed me how to spread it onto the candle with a butter knife until the candle looked like a cake. Beautiful.
I have two memories of that console television. We had quite a festive crowd gathered to watch as Hank Aaron hit his record breaking home run, and I had my prom picture taken in front of it. I loved the swag lamp that hung above it. It was very similar to this one.
Sometime during my teens Bud and Doris moved to Live Oak, Florida. Our visits were fewer, but so much fun. It was here that my love for homesteading was inspired. That Doris could go from her centerfold magazine house to living in a prefab (while Bud built the permanent one) sent her popularity rating, in my mind, to the top. That Bud could build a house with his own hands, that they could piece together a beautiful floor covering from carpet store samples, that she could grow peanuts, or save day-old bread to make bread pudding, or any number of frugal things, just made my head spin. You can take the girl out of the mountains…
I am surprised that God didn’t leave Doris here longer . With she and Mom together again He’ll never get a word in edgewise. The people who grew me and whom I loved most as a child are leaving for Heaven on a regular basis now. I love the thought of them together again – just like a Kouns family reunion and church, all at the same time.
For the family and friends who are missing her now, I send my love and I share this poem with you. Perhaps you have read it before. It was given to me when my mother made the same journey that Doris made just two mornings ago. It is the truest thing about those who leave this life. Time and absence are things of this earthly realm. Today time and pain are a thing of her past; that is the hope that she lived here for.
A ship sails and I stand watching ‘til she fades on the horizon;
Someone at my side says, “She is gone.”
Gone from my sight that is all; she is just as large as when I saw her.
The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her.
Just at the moment when someone at my side says, “She is gone,”
There are others in Heaven who are watching her come and their voices take up a glad shout,
“There she comes!”
And that is dying.
And here is a song to comfort us too. The Kouns family loves some gospel tunes about Heaven.