December 18, 2007
Ann Felton passed away this week in a way that was, from my perspective, suddenly. We visited last in September and it was, as always, too short a visit with exploding currents of information and more stories than I could absorb. However, I was, again as always, desperate to take as much in as possible while I could, suspecting, but not knowing that it would be our last visit.
Ann was my aunt, my father's sister, the family historian, a student of Virginia and Virginia Baptist history, an enthralling story teller, and one of the warm people in my life who always made me feel that she was glad I came or called. She was one of the most interesting people I have ever known and my memories of her holding me spell-bound go back as far as I can remember.
She made history come alive, especially the wide and dispersed history of our family. She made strangers who I had never met and never will meet seem like long lost friends. She fleshed out cold facts and gave me the sense that the people whose names occupied genealogical lists were actually real folks with real stories whose stories somehow intersected with mine and factored into the person I am today.
Perhaps it was from her and my grandmother, her mother, that I first learned to love stories of common people making a way in the world. I came to appreciate their wonderful idiosyncrasies and to revel in hilarity of the common place.
She called me "Buddy," a distinction I am sure that I share with hundreds of other people. However, it made me feel special.
She knew that I loved the history and that, while I had little time to do the rigorous research and study she had done, I wanted to hear it and read it. She was always ready for me and my visits. She always had notes and articles, books and pictures ready for me to peruse. In our last visit, I was reading with one eye, looking at her with the other, occasionally glancing at my notes and jotting some things down, listening with both ears, and forming questions with my mouth.
Somehow all of that seemed quite normal.
Ann's husband, Staley died several years ago and was a challenging counterpart to her intelligence and curiosity in his own spheres of interest. He was a man of quiet wit; she was a woman of boisterous enthusiasm for life. While she grew quieter with the years, she never lost her gifts as a conversationalist. There was never a moment of boredom in her presence.
Ann collected friends and valued them highly, bringing something of value into her own life from every relationship. She was a loyal friend, a devoted wife and mother, an attentive and devoted daughter, and a committed Christian.
Her spirit was gentle and generously compassionate, but she was never a push over. She could be a formidable force when fighting for the people she loved. You always knew where she stood on issues, but she was not recalcitrant in clinging to outmoded views or unsubstantiated beliefs. Her faith was an intelligent and active dynamic. She was widely read and raised four wonderful children who were and are curious, conscientious, and congenial in her own manner.
I am deeply grieved to part with the last link to a past I know too little about, grieved and sorrowful to lose my aunt and friend, sad for Sims, Larry, Beverly, and Alan, my fun cousins who have absorbed so much of the culture she formed around her. Ann was my connection to our entire family - those I knew and those I never met. Because she knew people so well, she could interpret them with a warm humanity and sweet humor. I always felt welcome in her presence. I cannot replace her. There will not be another. I just assumed that she might always be around while knowing that she was getting weaker each time I saw her.
In recent years, she lost so much of her physical strength and independence. That was hard, but her mind was alert and free and she was surrounded by books, notes, and a very busy telephone. She was very active intellectually and interactively. She was still growing, learning, and corresponding. In the last few weeks, that very core of her lifestyle was severely threatened by immobility. I wondered if she could survive it.
She did. She stepped into a realm where her curiosity and sense of wonder can flourish, in the presence of people she knew without ever meeting and a Savior she has known for many, many years.
We will miss her, but we shall see her again.
Heaven must be a very interesting place for my aunt - so many people to meet, so many stories to tell and to hear. I know she is busy.