I think the reason I feel urged to write about the one I’m calling, just for today, “Cotton Lady” is that she came to see me in a dream the other night. Her hand was warm as I drew her into my kitchen where she, another friend, and I talked about ordinary stuff, like preparations for a baby shower, or how many cups of juice it takes to make a batch of grape jelly. This might not seem like a strange dream except that the Cotton Lady has been dead for two years.
She was a caretaker. She was a baker extraordinare. She was a fun photographer, taking pictures of snakes, birds, flowers and people. She was a droll humorist finding a way to make us laugh right in the face of our problems. She enjoyed seashells, history, good movies, and mainly her family.
Those of you who knew her know by now whom I’m describing. You have your own descriptions and recollections of this ordinary and wonderful lady named Sue Hinson. The following are only my own perceptions.
I first got to know Sue when we both were part of a mission action group. Our group “adopted” two sisters at a local nursing home. We all took turns visiting them each week. After one sister died, we began taking the other one out to lunch sometimes and even having occasional little “parties.” Lottie loved the attention. Sue was right in the middle of this ministry.
When my daughter Julie became seriously affected by a neurological disease, Sue was a lifesaver. Julie was in severe pain day after day for two years while we searched for a diagnosis. Her knee “lockups” could only be relieved by sheer strength, sometimes more than I could manage alone. Her husband, Doug, took care of her at night and I took the days with Charles helping whenever he could. Sue was always ready to come and could zip over in five minutes.
Julie’s children loved Sue, especially Charles Douglas who was about five then. “Miss Sue” was really gifted at teaching and caring for little boys. One day Julie’s knees were both locked up and Charles and I together could not make them release with heat packs, therapy, and strength. We finally called 911 and promptly the ambulance arrived. When it came to going to the hospital in Tallahassee, little Charles Douglas began to cry. “I want to stay with Miss Sue. Let me stay with Miss Sue. I don’t like hospitals.” So Miss Sue had a little boy that night and Charles Douglas was happy.
Sue and her husband Cecil were members of our Sunday school class. Cecil was an excellent devil’s advocate. Whoever was teaching had to deal, from time to time, with his interesting, sometimes distracting, questions. Sue groaned aloud when Cecil began a line of questions such as whether or not Osama bin Laden could be forgiven. She would elbow Cecil and give him an evil eye, all of which spurred him on.
She pitched in to help us when folks from several churches went together in 1995 to start Grady County Baptist ESL classes. “I won’t teach,” she said, “but I’ll do just about anything else.” And she did. She rocked babies, took many pictures year after year, made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, transported students, registered and placed students, and traveled every year to training conferences in Toccoa and Norman Park. All the students, even beginners who couldn’t understand English, loved Miss Sue. I looked forward to her coming to my house every year to clip baskets full of holly for decorating tables at the annual ESL Christmas fest.
Sue was the caretaker for several of her and Cecil’s family members but was ready any time to take others as well to the doctor, the hospital, or to the hairdresser. Once when I called her house Cecil answered. When I asked for Sue he said, “She’s out somewhere doing her thing. I have to make an appointment to talk to her. You know Sue.”
I did know Sue. If she wasn’t helping Cecil with their trout lily project or driving a pilot car for a special friend’s biking across Georgia, she’d be helping with a bridal shower or taking a cake to a shut-in. She made thirteen-layer cakes for youth fundraisers at our church and baked cookies by the dozens, even hundreds, always giving them away.
The “Cotton Lady” loved her family dearly. But a stranger might be puzzled by the disparagements she used when talking about her sons, Lofley and Dan. “I could have strangled him” or “Just wait till I get hold of him” or “knothead” were words and phrases that might spill out of her mouth at the same time she was baking a birthday cake for one of them or pulling out bragging pictures. She took great pride in being a part of the lives of her grandchildren, following one to far away swim meets and always practicing her photography on all of them. She watched her Cairo grandchildren grow up, then she and Cecil moved “back home” to Cotton where their son Dan and his family lived. “It’s time to concentrate on these children now,” she said.
When Cecil died, Sue went into high activity mode. “It’s the only way I can survive,” she said, hardening her chin to stop the tears.
In less than a year Sue herself was dying of cancer. One day when Barbara Payne, Jeani Pridgen and I went to see her, she didn’t feel like getting up but invited us all to pile up on the king size bed with her. We looked at old pictures laughing like college girls at a sleepover. We talked about how to preserve her trout lily photos. We talked about all her family–sons, grandchildren, sisters and all. One sister was with her that day ready to give her pain medication, plump her pillows, answer the phone. It was Sue’s turn to be cared for. A delightful young man Sue had mentored came by to see her. We all rallied around her. As I sat beside Sue that day I felt her gently rubbing my back. We were there to share this hard time with her but she was still ministering to us!
Though they’re gone from us for now, Sue and Cecil are still influencing us, still making a difference. Lofley reminds us often of Cecil, not just because of his red hair but his humor, although Lofley has his own unique way of telling tricky jokes. Every Sunday when I see him at church Lofley gives me a warm hug. When I told him I’d dreamed his mother came to visit me he said he dreams about her often.
Tennyson said, “I am a part of all that I have met.” Thank you, Lord, for friendships that bless us so richly!
By the way, readers outside southwest Georgia, Cotton is an unincorporated country crossing village near Pelham, Georgia.