(Glenn Tucker is on the road. We are reprinting this column, which appeared in 1973, his second year in Camden.)
They buried Aunt Lucy last Sunday, returning her to the God that delivered her a century ago.
Some said Lucy Wade was 102 years old; some said 94; still others claimed she was 110. But even Aunt Lucy, as she was fondly called by her many friends, didn’t know exactly how many years she had spent on this earth.
She was born in the low country of South Carolina and spent the first years of her life working on a plantation. Seeing a chance for a better life, she married and moved to “the old Smith place” in the Charlotte Thompson community. Lucy didn’t know much about this area of the country, but she sensed it had to be better than working in a field from sunup to sundown for a man who refused to accept the abolition of slavery.
Lucy was a simple woman who lived a simple life. She became almost a part of the Smith family. She cooked and ironed, sewed and babysat. Walter Smith recalls even today that she “did everything you ever asked her to.” Now 84 years old himself, he speaks of her almost reverently. “Aunt Lucy was kind and good to everybody … one of the best women I’ve known. There ain’t another one like her. Won’t be, either.”
In a day when black people were still trying to unwrap the first bonds of slavery and whites were still bitter over Reconstruction, Aunt Lucy and her white neighbors ignored the color line. She was as welcome in the homes of Charlotte Thompson whites as the governor of the state would have been. She was “front door welcome.”
As Aunt Lucy grew older, her pace slackened. The fire of arthritis entered her limbs and she no longer moved like a spry young woman. She closed off the back of her modest two-room home and spent her hours sitting by the fire and looking out the window, waiting for the friends who came so often to visit.
She disdained the conveniences that most of us consider essentials. When someone suggested electric lights for her home, she balked. Kerosene lamps had always lit her home and would continue to. Meals were cooked over an open fireplace in large black pots that many of us know only from seeing in antique shops. It was a simple but satisfying life for the woman who had meant so much to so many.
As Aunt Lucy weakened, those she had helped returned her kindness. Community and church women carried meals to her. One man watched her woodpile carefully, arriving with ax in hand whenever the supply of logs ran low. Some came just to sit and chat.
Calendars dating back to 1926 covered the walls of the little home. They were bright and cheerful and reminded Aunt Lucy of days gone by. They also kept the chill wind from screaming through the cracks in the walls.
She awakened with the dawn and retired when twilight cast its shadows. Most of her days were spent by the fire in her big rocker. Sometimes she listened to the transistor radio friends had given her, but she liked to save the batteries “to listen to the preacher and the hymns” on Sunday.
In her younger days, she had attended Baptist and Methodist churches. Someone once asked her long ago which church she belonged to, but Lucy only smiled slyly. “The right one,” she said.
She loved people and loved life, but most of all she loved her God. The fact that she couldn’t read didn’t stop her from keeping a Bible under her pillow. Occasionally she would take the leather-bound book out and hold it as if she were absorbing its passages through her fingers. When she was satisfied, she’d lift the pillow and replace it softly in its resting place.
The years became too much for her. Two weeks ago Wednesday, an ambulance came to take her to the hospital. Aunt Lucy, wise in her years, sensed that her time was drawing near. Friends from the Health Department were at her home when she left for the last time, but words escaped them when Lucy turned to them and whispered, “If I don’t see you again, you know where you can meet me -- in Heaven.”
A week later, she closed her eyes for the last time, leaving behind a century of life and more love than most of us are capable of knowing.
Walter Smith was right. There ain’t another one like her.