My sister Pat was as hard to pin down as Maria in the “Sound of Music.” She had tons of energy, could hardly stay in a chair, though she not only earned a college degree, but a master’s as well. For 90 years she brought joy to those around her and never seemed to age until Altzheimer’s took over her mind. Today I’m sure Pat is busy discovering beauty in heaven. But here on earth we’re missing her cheerful voice on the phone offering hot apple pie and coffee. We’re missing her scrawly handwriting in the mailbox. We’re missing her hugs and her laughter about little things or nothing. We’re missing her wisdom and advice and her gentle sympathy.
Let me tell you a tiny bit about my sister Pat.
She was the second oldest of our eleven (including a four-year-old girl who died before I came along) born to Floyd S. and Eula Gibbs Knight of Clarkesville, Georgia. Mamma told me once that she cried when she knew she was expecting a second child because it would displace older brother Orman as the baby when he’d only be thirteen months. But once Pat arrived she was loved and adored. In a family of so many children, it’s interesting to see the definite “places” in order that each one holds. Mamma depended greatly on Pat. She loved each one of us, but Pat held a place of honor and respect a little different from any other. And Pat was extremely loyal to our mother.
That loyalty to Mamma and to all nine younger siblings earned Pat the endearing title of “Little Mamma,” a title she held till her dying day. In fact, by the time she was five years old, Pat was already shepherding two little brothers and a brand new sister. Just to be clear, Pat was not little in stature. She grew to be nice and tall and she chose often to wear beautiful, brightly colored big swirly skirts which fell gracefully from her trim waist. She carried herself with dignity and pride.
A few years ago we found in Mamma’s cedar chest a little red skirt with straps, knitted for me by Pat. I fondled it, remembering how very proud of it I had been. Pat was a knitter from the time Mamma taught her when she was very small. She knitted sweaters and scarves for World War II soldiers. She knitted sweaters, hats, and mittens—and skirts—for a long line of siblings, and then for students when she taught school in Appalachia. In later years she knitted for her own three children, for grandchildren, grand nieces and nephews. And every year she knitted a sweater for the Guideposts “Knit For Kids” project. She told on herself that when she was in college she took her knitting to class. She loved to multi-task. Then one day she forgot her knitting. The instructor looked at her and said, “Miss Knight, where is your knitting today?” She was so embarrassed to have been so pointedly noticed, that she never took her knitting to class again.
In 1952 Pat married David Peck, a chemist whom she’d met when they both were working on graduate degrees at the University of Virginia. We all love David who is quite an entertainer and adventurer. And, by the way, he has the most contagious laugh of anyone I know. The two of them made a home where God was loved and children were always encouraged. It was a pleasure to visit them, not only because of the scent of fresh baked bread, but for stimulating conversations about endangered species, volcanoes, and speculations on who would play in the World Series.
Pat loved to talk about her three children and five grandchildren, and to show videos of their talents. She did always mourn her little Jeanie who was stillborn at full term. In her last days Pat’s daughter brought her a baby doll whom, most of the time, Pat cuddled and carefully wrapped and protected. I’m sure now that she and her very alive Jeanie are playing in God’s perfect heaven.
Pat wrote letters. Real letters, long and full of descriptions and, sometimes, instructions.When I was little she always wanted to know if I’d been helping Mamma, if I was learning cursive writing, if I was playing outside enough, not reading books all the time. As adults we exchanged many letters by snail mail and then, as we each acquired computers, by e-mail. I printed most of her letters so I could keep them, they were so good. She would describe a storm, write about her children, her church, a play she and David had enjoyed and always—always—wanted to know particulars about all my family. It was a delight to me to see an envelope from Pat in my mailbox.
Another remarkable thing about Pat’s letters is that she kept boxes of family correspondence through multiple moves from state to state. Her husband David recently allowed us sisters to pore over a box of letters written between 1945 and 1952. It is a treasure trove! It was amongst those letters we found the one she wrote to our parents in 1952 saying that she was bringing home THE man of her dreams and, regardless of how our father had driven away previous candidates, this one she WOULD marry!
Pat wrote prayers. Not that she shared many of those with me because it was a private thing for her. But I knew how much her prayer notebook meant to her. We shared with each other heartaches and dreams we had for our children and extended family members. If I asked her to pray about something I knew without a doubt she would.
Pat loved to play games, especially word games. She gave me a Scrabble game in 1952 not long after it was first produced and I still have it. At our birth home, Stone Gables, we might have a dozen or so gathered around the long dining table playing some game or other, maybe Categories which we think she may have made up. Or, there might be two or three groups playing Scrabble, Anagrams, or Authors cards. These games were accompanied by gales of laughter. If for some reason Pat weren’t involved in any of the games she’d be over on the side working a crossword puzzle or, broom in hand, knocking down spider webs.
The last time I saw Pat was at a nursing home just weeks before she died, she smiled at me sweetly, though she didn’t seem to know my husband and me. She was in last stages of Altzheimer’s. There was a little dog visiting with another family in the same sitting area we were in and Pat was very interested in the movements of that little dog. She spoke with words that made no sense but in what sounded like sentences and with facial expressions and hand movements so like the Pat of which she was only a shadow.
She broke her hip because she didn’t know any longer how to walk safely. Confined to a wheelchair then, she still tried to get up, though she couldn’t walk.
But now—now Pat is released! In heaven she’s again taking those long walks she always loved, enjoying flowers too beautiful for us to imagine, and studying birds that may light right on her shoulder. And she’s seeing the Creator of all things face to face!