The last time we saw Rachel was during an October visit with her in the nursing home where she was living, yet another victim of that dastardly disease Alzheimer's. It seems to be showing its ugly head way too often in our family...
She is the second of ten grown Britt siblings to go to Heaven, leaving behind four sisters...Mama and Shirley (in this photo) as well as Bernice and Loretta, plus four younger brothers.
My cousins Steve and Vince lost their daddy Percy several years ago and now their sweet Mama Rachel.
And while this is the last time I saw Rachel, this is not how I remember her nor how she'd want to be remembered.
Rachel (on right) and her twin sister Ruth, who passed in 2013, came into this world in a remarkable way. I've heard the story many times...their parents Andy and Hazel, who married very young, had two children before them who both tragically died in the early months of 1933. Hazel was only 18 years old and Andy 21, and they were understandably devastated. At their 2-year-old son's funeral (just a few weeks following their newborn daughter's burial), the preacher prayed that God would replace their loss.
God answered in a mighty way with the birth of premature twins, Ruth and Rachel, in November of that same year. Tiny fragile babies born at home, only a miracle (and, it is told, a few swigs of Grandma Britt's whiskey) kept them alive and they grew to be strong beautiful smart women.
By the time I came along in 1957, Rachel and Ruth were already busy mamas of my cousins Stevie and Lydia. Since I grew up in Indiana and they were all in North Carolina, we didn't see each other a lot but those few times each year we did visit brought lots of fun and surely created some wonderful memories.
Rachel married Percy, a hard-working man with a strong personality, who farmed and had his own painting business. Summer would find Aunt Rachel working hard alongside him in the fields, amazing me how mighty this small petite woman was. Percy and Rachel grew watermelons, and always saved a very special one for us (even carving Mama's name into the rind!) that we ate at their picnic table when we came in the summertime...only the very best and sweetest heart of the melon as Uncle Percy would not allow us to eat all the way to the rind as we normally did.
Aunt Rachel was on the boat with us when Dad caught a big shark, which they brought home and my cousin Stevie eventually buried on their farm. And could she cook?! Oh goodness...Aunt Rachel always set the most delicious pies in front of us when we came, and there was absolutely no turning her down! Not that we wanted to....
Percy and Rachel lived just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean...in fact, their property ends in a marshy area that leads to the sea. But seldom did they ever go to the beach, unless we were with them. Our annual day at the beach usually included Rachel and her boys Stevie and Vince, and we have had many laughs with them as we bounced along in the ocean waves.
After my twin granddaughters Kassie and Kelsey were born, Aunt Rachel was so anxious for me to bring them over to visit, obviously thrilled there were twins once more in the family.
So many precious memories...they come flooding back as we grieve someone we loved who made an indelible mark on our lives.
Speaking of an indelible mark...Aunt Rachel will never know (although I told her in October, but I'm doubtful she understood...) the unexpected impact she had on me.
In 2004, I received in the mail a family treasure, sent to me by Aunt Rachel.
A book she wrote, chronicling stories from her (and Mama's) childhood.
Aunt Rachel was an author, the first REAL AUTHOR I ever knew.
She had no computer...she painstakingly wrote this book using her typewriter and formatted it totally on her own. I can remember thinking then how frustrating and tedious that must have been, just putting the book together let alone the writing part. I was so excited to get it...I read it all in one sitting, and it felt as if I was drinking coffee across the table from Aunt Rachel and she was talking to me. Her writing style was so personal and conversational, I could almost hear her voice as I was reading it.
I was in awe of her.
I still am.
Of course, I had NO INKLING that 10 years later I would be a published author myself! Aunt Rachel's inspiration planted a seed in my mind and heart that slowly sprouted, and when the time was right sprang forth in the form of my own writing.
Right now, I'm re-reading this treasure as I'm working on my third book, a memoir of my parents. She was instrumental in me believing that I could actually write and publish a book.
The title of her book always intrigued me. Aunt Rachel, it seemed to me, always seemed to be living in the shadow of stronger personalities. First her daddy Andy, the namesake of her book. She grew up in the shadow of her twin sister Ruth, outwardly the dominant one of the sisters. Then she married her beloved Percy, yet another person in her life that cast a big shadow. Aunt Rachel didn't cower in the shadows, but she did live her life behind the scenes, prefering to be more of a supporting character than the starring actress.
Oh, but she was a star in her own right.
I once heard a famous photographer say that there is beauty in the shadows. He is right...not only in photography, but also in the case of my Aunt Rachel.
We will miss her sweet smile and loving encouragement.
She was the beauty in the shadows.