Those of you who knew me during The Arkansas Years know that I would never have survived them without my friend S, a.k.a. Auntie She-She, a.k.a. Sweet Voice C. We drank by day and karaoked by night. We taught across the hall from one another and spread benevolent untruths about each other to our students for our own amusement. I told them she had once shanked a woman in prison. She told them I was Mexican. I was a Yankee out of my element and she was a black girl from Pine Bluff stuck in the whitest corner of the state. The first time we met, she witnessed me scarf down a stack of chocolate chip pancakes at 3am in my usual manner; she knew I was low on cash following my move and assumed I was literally starving. (Not true. I just eat like a prisoner.) From that day forward, I couldn’t have been in a state of want if I’d tried. S looked out for me like a doting sister. She insisted on buying me lunch. She dropped off cakes at my house. (Once, after D and I were living together, I ate an entire German chocolate she’d made us before he got home. He never knew about it until months later when it came up in conversation.) She observed that I like an obscene amount of lemon in my iced tea, and negotiated with the people at Sonic to get me as much lemon as possible. (This is true: we discovered that they would not give me ten slices, but they would go as high as eight for a large.) I don’t remember the process of getting to know her at all; I remember meeting her, and then just spending whole days with her, laughing until my stomach hurt at jokes no one else got, gossiping, commiserating. We did not share all the sordid details of our personal lives. We didn’t talk every day. We were both lonely, but we weren’t bound by mutual desperation. We shared time and stories without asking anything more of each other, intuitively respecting each others’ boundaries the way you only do people you know and love. S is the funniest, smartest, most fiercely generous friend I have ever had. There are few people who understand me as well as she does, and I know there are many other people out there, friends who have known her much longer than I have, who feel that she’s the best friend they’ve ever had.
It turns out S’s whole family is pretty much like this, especially her big sister D (who became a surrogate big sister to me while I was living down south) and their mother, Susie Mae, who passed away yesterday after battling a terrible illness for more years than seems medically possible. I went down to Little Rock last weekend to see them. I only met S’s mother a few times, after she’d lost the ability to speak, though certainly not to express herself. The Susie Mae I know from those brief meetings and S’s many stories is a source of true power: the center of gravity, principle of order, and animating spirit of everyone around her. I have no idea what it is like to lose that kind of presence in one’s life. But it’s clear to me that her family has inherited these gifts from her; they share them with each other, and with those of us lucky enough to know them.
The obituary S wrote for her mother concludes:
Some people have to live a lifetime in order to be worthy of God’s grace. Susie lived every day showing others that she was in fact worthy. It was easily seen in the way that she loved. The love and devotion that she had for her family and for God shown brightly in her final days as she displayed strength at a time when she should have been able to show none. Susie maintained her faith despite battling an illness that would have broken the spirits of most. Job 19:25-26 applies to the faith and strength Susie showed. It reads: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth/ And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”
Throughout her life, Susie Mae untiringly devoted her time, energy, and resources to helping others. In her honor, and in order to continue her good works, the family has set up the Susie Mae Collins Foundation. Just as Susie never turned away anyone who needed a helping hand, the foundation will do the same by assisting those who simply have a need. The foundation will serve as only part of a living legacy that is defined by love, compassion, generosity, and faith.
Donations to the Susie Mae Collins Foundation can be sent to the following address:
Susie Mae Collins Foundation
C/O Magnolia Rogers
Simmons First National Bank
1704 North University
Pine Bluff, AR 71601
Thank you, Susie Mae, for everything, but especially for giving us S.