An Amazing Woman’s Faith
I speak of the elder of my two sisters. Born in 1944 to Hazel and Winfred, she was premature and was placed in an incubator as was the practice. But, as a result of too much oxygen, she developed cerebral palsy and near total blindness. I was born five years later. Our father, knowing he was dying of lung cancer, committed suicide leaving my mother with four very young children. She eventually remarried.
My earliest memories of Gwyn were of her reading Braille pages with her fingers, her strange glasses with one very thick lens on one side and how she had to place her face close to the page to read a book. I remember her broken gait when she walked. I also remember her sitting on the floor with a cat in her lap. She loved to sit in the swing under the shade of the large privet hedge in the summer and read. She was a voracious reader despite her very limited sight.
My mother had three more children. I was the last. She was an unhappy, angry person, who treated her depression with alcohol and cigarettes and tried to hold it together. But Gwyn was often the target of her misery, simply because she could not get away from her when she was young. My mother’s abuse was simple meanness and humiliation, verbal and sometimes physical. I’ve seen my mother yank hard at Gwyn’s hair when combing it. Gwyn had thick wavy hair. And my mother was harsh with the comb. We other siblings had the mobility to escape to parts unknown.
Gwyn became a young woman of courage and faith. She joined the church and the choir. She loved to sing. She studied hard and went to public schools, staying at the top of her class. She learned to ride the bus and use a cane and find her own life and way. She received a four-year academic scholarship to Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, staying on the Dean’s List, graduating magna cum laude and receiving the Key Man Award (something like valedictorian) and the Oglethorpe Cup.
In the following years she would obtain a PhD, marry, and raise two children. She would work as a Home Teacher for the Blind in Atlanta. She told me stories of working in the worst neighborhoods, helping blind individuals, living on assistance, to learn how to take care of themselves. How to cook meals, buy groceries, do everyday tasks without sight. She told me of bus drivers warning her not to walk in the neighborhoods where her clients lived. She mentioned hearing guns shots before. She told me of going to a blind woman’s home and finding her locked out sitting on her porch in tears. My sister calmed the woman, determined that there was an opportune window on the side of the house, and the two of them working together boosted my sister up and through the window where she managed to find her way to the front door and open it. I can only imagine the number of lives she changed while caring for those who needed her knowledge and kindness.
As many families do, we scattered to distant locations. Me to New England, our brother to Florida, then North Carolina. My other sister to Texas. Gwyn went on to work for the CDC in Washington, D.C., then back to Georgia.
I believe what kept Gwyn going, achieving, moving forward, always doing her best though those years, was her faith and her stubbornness. She was a beautiful soul with a body that fought her all her life, yet she lived her life as though anything could be overcome. She clung hard to her faith. And gave constantly of her time to others. She had severe arthritis and osteoporosis as she got older. She had hips and shoulders replaced. Even when she was unable to walk, she still sat and crocheted Afghans and blankets for children in the hospital so they would have something of their own to hold close. She made hundreds.
When I mentioned her stubbornness, I mean to say that she was determined. You didn’t tell Gwyn she couldn’t do that. She would most certainly prove you wrong. She had a childhood she had to escape out of necessity and turned it into a life as full and accomplished as any.
But her faith was what gave her the courage. I believe it is her faith that protected her as she walked the streets of Atlanta. It was her faith that guided her and gave her a pathway out of her darkness. It was her faith that brought her back from the edge of death on numerous occasions in the past several years.
Gwyn passed away on March 19th. It would have been our brother’s birthday, but he passed a few years ago.
She was special. She was a treasure. She was an amazing woman.