I have promised myself that I will get this post up in September, my Aunt Westa’s birthday month. She’s my mom’s younger sister, and you wouldn’t accuse either of these sisters of being a shrinking violet (and I’m so glad). If I were to go all Biblical about it, I’d say both of them are the best of Martha and Mary with some Queen Esther, and occasionally Lucille Ball, thrown in for good measure. Recently, a cousin recounted how on a long trip to Florida in 1967, Aunt Westa had thrown her legs over the back of the seat and put her head down at the floorboard in an attempt to get comfortable. In the language of the young, “That’s just how she rolls,” not one to stand, or sit, on convention.
My Aunt Westa might have been Beyonce’s model for “Run the World.” She was always working and caring and making stuff happen. In her younger days, limited by the world’s definition of jobs for women, she became a secretary…the sort of secretary that is really the person in charge. She worked for the president of Sampson Tech long before it became Sampson Community College. She ended her career as an executive secretary at The International Pentecostal Holiness Church Headquarters in Falcon, North Carolina. At the same time, she also organized church camps and camp meetings and just about everything else you can think of.
She loved my Uncle Noah and kept him in the road, metaphorically and literally, and her steadfastness allowed him to be the man of music that so many people knew and loved.
She worked outside the home and raised three children, Noah, Jr., Bonita, and Dawn, and was multitasking long before people bragged about doing it. For example, she read my first book Angel’s Aura by putting it above the steering wheel of the car as she drove to and from work on windy country roads, a strategy which makes you think twice about that Carrie Underwood song “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
Sunday mornings were no less hectic at the Barefoot house. My Aunt Westa and Uncle Noah would hop into separate cars and drive Sampson County roads picking up children, young people, and the elderly to bring them to church. When I was a child, I rode with one or the other of them on more than one Sunday morning, and I have to say those cars were a cross between Noah’s Ark and a circus car. The car doors would pop open in the yard of Peniel Pentecostal Holiness Church, and the multitude of occupants would spill out onto the church grounds.
As is the case in life, Aunt Westa’s not been without her share of sorrows: She buried her oldest child when he was in his forties, my Uncle Noah died in December 2013, and Aunt Westa’s started to have some trouble with memory. Up or down, her solid faith and her two girls see her through.
Last June, Mom and Dad stayed with her for the weekend and I joined them for dinner.
At her house, I found out something that I never knew, that my mom and dad didn’t know, and that, best I can tell, hardly anyone knew. Things in the house have been rearranged and on the kitchen wall, a framed certificate now hangs. It’s the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of the highest honors that a North Carolina governor can award to one of the state’s citizens, and it’s Aunt Westa’s.
Here’s the second amazing, but not surprising thing: how young Aunt Westa was when she got this award. Unless, you’re a celebrity, this award is usually given later in life, near the end of one’s time of service to the community or the state, or possibly at retirement. Aunt Westa’s certificate is signed by Governor Robert Scott, and according to the very helpful Phillip T. Fisher at The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society, Governor Scott didn’t date his award certificates. However, Bob Scott was North Carolina’s governor from 1969 to 1974, so we know Aunt Westa was at most thirty-four years old when she received this award for her work on a special project to get the Sampson Tech nursing program accredited.
Had I been given this award, probably fifty percent of my conversations from that point on would have started, “Back when Governor Scott gave me The Order of the Long Leaf Pine,” but I’ve never heard my aunt mention it. However, after dinner that night when my dad teased her about talking a lot, I was pleased that she told him, “Got a lot of work done with this talking.”
Can I get a witness?
Of course, when I asked about the certificate, she just flapped her hand at me and said something like, “Oh, it wasn’t that big a deal.”
That’s just how she rolls.
The North Carolina State Toast
Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine,
The summer land where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great,
Here’s to “Down Home,” the Old North State!
Here’s to the land of the cotton bloom white,
Where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night,
Where the soft southern moss and jessamine mate,
‘Neath the murmuring pines of the Old North State!
Here’s to the land where the galax grows,
Where the rhododendron’s rosette glows,
Where soars Mount Mitchell’s summit great,
In the “Land of the Sky,” in the Old North State!
Here’s to the land where maidens are fair,
Where friends are true and cold hearts rare,
The near land, the dear land, whatever fate,
The blessed land, the best land, the Old North State!