Alice was tall and slender when I first met her, four years ago.
The parish matriarch. The keeper of its history. A formidable woman with long hands and feet, perfectly dressed; red slashed across her wide mouth.
She scared me. I had heard stories from others about Alice. She grew up in this parish, baptized in the fledgling tiny church at the end of a long lane of oak trees dripping spanish moss.
Alice was used to running things. Secretary of the Garden Club for many years; she chaired various committees in the community and the church.
St. Anne’s Circle was her domain. A service group within the church, Alice was president and CEO of this gaggle of ladies for as long as anyone could remember.
Alice liked order. Explicit instructions were expected to be followed for every meeting. The room was set up in a particular way. Refreshments went here and here. Fresh coffee must be brewed before the meeting. Chairs created a circle with Alice at the long table, gavel in hand, to call the chattering ladies to order.
Alice was the church historian. The parish was established in 1880. Alice collected oral history of the early years from many including her own ancestors. Alice was part of the Jones family, one of the earliest settlers in the sleepy town of Mandarin- just across the St. Johns River from Jacksonville. Harriet Beecher Stowe helped found the parish, but Alice’s family made sure it stayed viable.
Not long ago, a fireproof cabinet containing the rich history and artifacts of Our Saviour was in need of replacement. Its contents including some slivers of glass from the Tiffany window, given by the Stowes, and ultimately destroyed by Hurricane Dora.
Alice had hurt her back, so I volunteered to move the dusty folders, books, letters, and awards from the old cabinet to the new one. Alice graciously allowed me this honor.
As a history buff I was thrilled to look through piles of documents dating back to the early 1920’s. The most prolific decades: the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s contained plenty of photos of church bazaars, circles, and of course Alice- a younger version of the strong face and regal bearing, showed up in the photos over and over again.
Alice never recovered from the back injury, and the constant pain began to take a toll on her health. The slender Alice was replaced with a new stickly woman with a bowed back that caused clothes to drape on her like a hanger.
She would come in once a week on one pretext or another, but I soon realized she liked to come sit in the office and chat with me about FSU football, the Jaguars, and what was going on in the parish.
She decided to have pacemaker surgery in the hopes she would regain her energy, but a couple of weeks after the procedure she felt weak and her blood pressure soared. Her beloved husband, Don who has been her companion for over 50 years called the rescue squad. Alice had already missed one of her favorite St. Anne’s events: the Christmas party at Phyllis’ house, and the singing of The Twelve Days of Christmas.
We missed seeing Alice all dressed up with red lipstick to match the bows on the wreaths Christmas Eve. She was unable to leave the hospital.
Her body weakened, Alice is still able to take control and make decisions on her own behalf. That’s Alice- still running her show until the end.
I will miss this fine lady. She is a treasure to all.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. ~Matthew 25:21