When I was in first grade, anytime I would get a high mark on something, Mrs. Fannie Hinds, my teacher, would send the other A+ kids and me parading down to show our good grades to Mrs. McCranie, who taught third grade. Mrs. McCranie was my Aunt Patsy, a brilliant, no-nonsense educator who set high standards for her students. I now have to wonder if the two of them had worked out this little ritual so Aunt Patsy could keep an eye on me.
Many years later—decades, actually—I drove Mama, Aunt Patsy, and Aunt Grace to the University of Alabama to see if we could find out anything about my Great-Aunt Effie, who attended a summer teaching program there in the early 1900s. (Jenny, were you with us on that trip? Memaw couldn't remember:) It started out as a trip about one aunt but turned into the story of another. As I drove the ladies around campus, Aunt Patsy's memory bank started to overflow, and I saw a whole other side of her—not the devout homemaker and teacher I used to pop in and visit, but a young coed, on her own for the first time and excited to see what the world might send her way. She pointed out where she used to pick up her mail and attend class. She remembered the girl she used to ride with to do her practice teaching. We all had lunch at a burger joint by the stadium and toured the Bear Bryant museum.
Aunt Patsy always seemed so sure of who she was and what she believed, so committed to making a great home for her family, that it was a revelation to me to see a whole other side of her—a young, independent explorer. And now I can see that she held onto that part of herself—the explorer—in an intellectual and theological way. You could name any quote from the Bible and she could tell you exactly where it was because she never stopped exploring the Scripture to see what it might teach her. She was a historian, tracing the beginnings of her community—and teaching her students how to explore. She made really great butter beans:) She had a beautiful smile and a great laugh, and I LOVED getting a rise out of her—saying something outrageous that would make her give me a cautionary "Now, Valerie!" even as she couldn't stop laughing.
We lost Aunt Patsy last night. But we know she was received into the heaven she believed in with all her heart, rewarded for the faith, love, and kindness she shared with everyone she met.