Thursday, April 29, 2010

The One and Only

She was the first woman I remember being truly crazy about. Janet White was the epitome of loveliness. Beautiful smile, shoulder length dark brown hair, clear radiant complexion, full of life. She lived up the road from our house, just past the fishpond and the old train depot. I was elated any time I got to see her. She must have been 16 or 18 years old at the time. I was six. I don’t know if I understood at the time that such relationships are destined to end, and are often short-lived.

Janet was our baby sitter for a time. She had two sisters who would also baby sit my brothers, my sister and me. On at least one occasion they all three baby sat us for an entire Saturday when our parents had to be out of town. I remember my father telling someone about Janet and what a wonderful baby sitter she was. “Yes," he said," the children are crazy about Janet.” I remember being taken aback by that word crazy as it was applied to me (and my siblings) but I knew he was right. I was crazy about her – there was no turning back. I would cherish each encounter, listening to stories, reading Golden Books, riding tricycles while she supervised our play.

Then it all came quickly and quietly to an end. My mother told us that Janet had moved away and gotten married. I felt some sadness that she would not be our baby sitter any more. I wasn’t really prepared, however, for that next (and last) encounter I had with her. Some time had passed – enough time for a six-year-old to move on to other things and gain some emotional distance from those halcyon days. Then one warm summer night she stepped into my life ever so briefly.

It was a Sunday night. We were all at Jackson’s Gap Baptist Church where my father was pastor. She must have been passing through town, or visiting relatives, but Janet came to church that night. I was not aware that she was there until after the service. I was standing on the front porch of the red brick country church. A single yellow light overhead illuminated the area where people talked and visited after church. Beyond the perimeter cast by that light lay the night filled with the sounds of crickets and frogs, and the warm still darkness of a time still haunted by Sabbath rest.

It was into that yellow light on the front porch of Jackson’s Gap Baptist Church that Janet stepped up to speak to me. She was beautiful and glowing as ever, and she held a baby in her arms that was just beginning to cry with restlessness. I was glad to see her, but did not know what to say. I probably gave her an awkward grin, shuffled my feet and clasped my hands behind my back. But what could I say? There she was, with a baby of her own. It drove home to me the fact that she would no longer be there for me when she had her own life and her own child to care for. She spoke a few words and then stepped back. Turning, she walked out of the yellow light that illuminated our gathering and disappeared into the summer night. That is when I truly knew that she was gone from my life.

It was the natural ending of a chapter in life. I had already made the transition from tricycles to bicycles. Life continued to be full of other things: new playmates at school, hikes in the woods, adventures along the creek bank, kite flying, catching tadpoles and crawfish, running through piles of oak leaves in the fall, and chasing after our collie when she spotted a chipmunk diving into an old tree stump. There would be challenges and changes along the way, but there would never be another one like Janet White.


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