When I arrived on the planet in September 1958, Denise Abbott had already been around for six years. She was the daughter of my Uncle Sandy, who is my mother’s brother, and my Aunt Dot. Between Denise’s birth and mine her sister Rhonda came along.
We all lived in the small town of Barnesville, Georgia; during our early growing up years Denise’s family lived on Carleeta Street in the Carter’s Mill village; our grandparents lived right around the corner from them on Rogers Avenue. When the William Carter Company closed down the mill village (they’ve since closed everything else they had in Barnesville, too) Uncle Sandy moved his family to Greenwood Street and Granny and Papa moved right down the street from them as did several other family members.
It was in that house on Carleeta Street that I spent most of the time that I spent with Denise and Rhonda. I was there a lot; I was an only child and they were the closest things to siblings that I ever had. Once, when I was five years old and an accident put my father in the hospital, I spent what seemed at the time like months at their house although I know now that it was only a few days.
Anyway, we were close.
I always looked up to and admired Denise, just like a little brother would look up to a sister six years older than he who was nice, kind, considerate, pretty, and popular, all of which Denise was.
Other boys—the ones closer to her age who were not kin to her—liked her, too, but the one she settled on was a gangly good old boy named Neil Rooks and she married him not too long after they finished high school. I confess that I always liked him, even if I was not happy that he came to be more important to Denise than I was.
Denise and Neil were good at having children; they had Shanda, Kevin, Jeremy, Nathaniel, Bethany, David, and Jordan. They were also good at raising children; all seven of them are grown now—five of them are married and several of them have children of their own—and they are all good people.
A couple of years ago Denise was diagnosed with scleroderma; a few months ago she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and had radiation and surgery and chemo and several other procedures; two weeks ago she went into cardiac arrest and on Monday, May 11, 2009—the day after Mother’s Day—she died. Denise was 56 years old.
My cousin Denise was a wife, a mother, and a homemaker. She was not a “great” person; she was not an “important” person; she was not an “influential person.” And yet last Thursday night, when we gathered for that ritual known down here in the South as the “visitation” and in less fortunate parts of the world as the “wake,” over 1,200 people streamed through the funeral home to pay their last respects. The visitation, which was scheduled to last from 7:00-9:00 p.m., finally ended when the last people left at 10:30.
It’s enough to make you want to redefine what constitutes “greatness,” “importance,” and “influence,” isn’t it?
Denise was a gentle, humble, loving, Christian daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother—and cousin.
I’m glad we had her for a while.
I’m glad heaven has her now.
I’m glad that her family has such wonderful memories of her.
I’m glad that I got to know and to love her.