As we got into town, we got a call from our youngest son, Eric.
"Tell dad he needs to come in on the North side of Court Street. I just can't believe all the cars," he said.
Family and friends of my Aunt Abbie Akers had planned a drive through to celebrate her 90th birthday. She was living in a care facility now, and no one could go in to see her because of the virus.
As David turned onto the street we were in awe. It is a one way street, and both sides were filled with cars as far as we could see. Eric was directing traffic and showed us where to park. I could see down the street some of our relatives were out of their cars visiting and laughing. I felt very emotional. I wondered what was wrong with me? Everyone was having a good time, but I was struggling to hold back tears.
I suppose it was because I was just so moved how our sweet Aunt Abbie was drawing a crowd like a celebrity. People who saw the parade were out on their lawns probably wondering what this was all about.
Next our son, Randy, and Christine pulled in. She showed the sign she had made. We weren't allowed out of our cars where Aunt Abbie sat, so people had decorated their vehicles with messages for her to see as we drove by.
It was really not so surprising so many friends and family showed up. I don't know anyone who didn't love Aunt Abbie. She had always put her church, family and her friends' needs before her own.
Thanks to the Fulton Sun for coming and taking pictures of the event.
One day while walking through the store, I overheard a lady say to her friend, "She has a heart as big as all outdoors." I thought "Hey, I wonder if they could be talking about my Aunt Abbie?"
Aunt Abbie came from a large family. Grandpa and Grandma Butcher had more than a dozen children, and my mom was one of them. Times were hard, but there were also lots of good times and memories made on the farm.
Growing up I can't ever recall not having Aunt Abbie in my life. After Aunt Abbie was married, it was at her house I would go spend Saturday mornings and watch my favorite shows, the westerns. She and Uncle Dick Young had the first TV in our family. They had five children: Dickie, Roy Lee, Roger, Randy Ray and Linda Sue. Uncle Dick died of cancer at a young age.
Aunt Abbie married Ed Akers, and their children are Clifford, Sally and Charles. Uncle Ed and his family owned and operated a saw mill and are well known in the Reform area. She lost Uncle Ed to cancer, also.
I don't remember a time when there weren't twice as many children at their home as were their own. And no one was ever turned away that needed anything. Many times, they took in someone who was down in their luck and needed a place to stay. Children, and grownups, all flocked to their house because it was a happy place to be.
I remember when I was about 13, Aunt Abbie went running out and stopped Seth Bradley, leader of the Rooster Creek Band, as he drove by, and telling him, "You have to hear my niece sing." He invited me to their practice then to sing on their radio program with them and also with them at the Modoc in Rhineland where they played Saturday nights. This led into David and I eventually being in a band together, getting married and starting our own family band.
Later, Aunt Abbie and Uncle Ed had David and my wedding reception at her house and of course had a big meal and a house dance. As our boys grew, like everyone else, Aunt Abbie's house was one of their favorite places to go.
As a young married woman, I can't begin to tell you all the times I would call Aunt Abbie when I needed something. My mom held a job in town, so it was Aunt Abbie who I would call to help with wall papering, canning or whatever I needed, and she never turned me down. I wonder now how she did it.
When anyone would ask her what she would like for her birthday, Mother's Day, etc., her answer was always the same: "Go to church with me." Thankfully, when she moved into the nursing home, she shared the room with Naomi Lawrence, a lady of 96 and strong faith as well. They both loved to sing hymns and study the Bible. Naomi's son, Charlie, said some of the people from the nursing home told the ladies they needed to get their act together and head for Nashville.
Her 90th birthday was very special, and I would not be at all surprised if God prolonged her life so she could see everyone just one more time. The week before, she had received around 100 birthday cards and the nursing home had saved them in a birthday box for her special day. Her granddaughter, Sonia Allen, works there, so she had a big part in making the surprise work. The next day after her birthday, she had an emergency trip to the hospital, and no one knew at the time we had all said our last goodbye.
Our oldest son, Daniel, and his wife, Camilla, rode their motorcycle here from Tennessee for the family visitation. Our son, Randy, sang at her funeral, just as he has many times growing up and at the nursing home her last few years.
I know if there is really anyone with a heart as big as all outdoors, it was my Aunt Abbie, and I'm so thankful, like the song goes, that we all got to "give her her flowers while she was living."