My Cousin Irene

About 13 years ago I got a new visiting teaching route and Irene Eason was on it. When I asked the Relief Society President who she was, she said she did not know, but heard she was an elderly and sweet lady. I called her to make an appointment and she did sounds elderly as much as sweet. My new companion and I showed up at our agreed time and she let us in. It didn't take long for us to chat for Irene to let us know that she wasn't going to the Mormon church any more, that she joined another. She got to where she couldn't drive any more and couldn't find a ride to the closest chapel- 45 minutes away so her friend told her about a church just down the road and she joined it.

She said she thought we were from that church and if she knew we were Mormon, she would have told us to not come.
I was sad to hear this. I was really enjoying our visit and I the idea of not coming back made me sad. She reminded me of family, I kept thinking there was something very Aunt Lula Mae about her.
Then she asked me and my companion where we were from. My companion said she was from Arizona and chatted for a bit about that. Then she turned to me and I told her I was from South Carolina. She got a look in her eyes and said, "I am from South Carolina too", very excitedly. Then she told me she was a Black. I said, "I am a Black too", even more excitedly. She said, "Whose your daddy?!" I told her Burley and at this point we were both holding our hearts. She told me that my dad's dad and her dad were brothers.

This whole time my companion was doing the tennis match thing you do when you head turns left, then right, then left, then back again- as she was in the middle of us. Then my companion said, "I think you two need to go hug each other" because we were just looking in each others eyes, hand on heart, jaw on floor, speechless. So we did.

And thankfully I had may years to visit with her. I wish I visited more. At first I imagined her being the grandmother I always wanted. I imagined taking her places and helping her do things she couldn't do. I dreamt of that and wanted that. Things never are as you imagine. She had daughter still close by that did those things. She didn't need me as much as I needed her.
But I still got to visit her over the years. I took new companions with me. I took my children. My husband and I attended her daughters funeral. (turned out my husband worked with her daughter, we didn't know this until she passed away) I even got to take her to church with me once.
She told me often that she will always have Mormon in her.

She was a pioneer in our area. About 20 plus years ago the church bought property, they became a branch and met in homes as they worked hard to prepare the land for a church building. She held Branch Conference in her home once. Sadly, they never were able to make it work and the branch didn't last long.
Many of our visits we talked about how her sister was taken in by my grandmother at birth, because her mom died giving birth to her sister that was 2 years her junior. That was very hard on Irene because her baby sister went to a good loving home and her older siblings all had their memories of her momma but she was too young to remember her mother. She was jealous of all of her siblings for having a mom. She was jealous of her baby sister for having a family take her in as their own. Why not her? She needed a momma too.

YEARS later, while she was in her 80's, after bearing this burden for so long, her older cousin (my Aunt Lula Mae) told her that she DID come stay with them after their momma died but for only a short time, her daddy came back and got because "he couldn't bear to be without his little Irene." After all those years of feeling unwanted, she finally for that peace while in her 80's.
We talked a lot about her childhood. About her memory of my grandfather, whom I never met as he died when my dad was 11. She talked a lot about her children and shared her worries (and sometimes frustration) and love for them.

My kids called her Aunt Irene and they didn't get to visit with her a whole lot but they loved when they did. They ALWAYS wanted to go see her on Halloween and to show her their costume. She once gave them two dolls she made. She gave me her fathers LDS hymnal, as it wouldn't have been appreciated by her children who have turned against the church.

When I saw her last, I pulled up and she was taking her garbage to the dumpster. I was always amazed at how well she got around, and how very sharp she was. I declare, she was sharper than I am! We went in and visited. We talked about my Aunt Lula Mae's funeral. She showed me newly framed pictures on her bedroom wall of her children when they were in Primary in Savannah. She asked about my family, she told me some updates on hers.

I always knew that at any moment I would get the call. Clearly, I have known all a long that her time could come at any moment. Monday morning she was found dead, laying on the floor by her bed. They believe she fell, her third time in 2 days. She managed to pull a blanket and her pillow down and was found with her head on the pillow and a blanket over her. I was so grateful her daughter (who I only met a couple of times) thought to call me to let me know, and to tell me that her mother loved me. I am SO grateful for my time with her.

She is so dear to me. Such an inspiration.
Until we meet again, Irene.

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