I don’t think I could rightfully say what my first memory of Juanita was. She was someone that has always been a part of my life. When my parents first started taking me to the small American Baptist Church after I was born, she was there. She played the organ almost every Sunday.
I do remember that when I was older, I’d walk to the front of the sanctuary after many Sunday morning services and sit in the front pew just behind the organ. Juanita and I would talk as she continued to play the organ as people mingled and slowly filed out of the church. I think I was mesmerized by the way her fingers glided across the keys and her feet transitioned from pedal to pedal, making beautiful music.
In my twenties, when I bought a small keyboard (I had neither the money nor the space for a full sized piano), I sought Juanita to help me learn how to play. I’d practice on my keyboard and dutifully go to her house for my lessons. Some weeks, I’d bring my keyboard while other weeks, I took my lessons using her upright. We had a great time, joking, talking, and enjoying both the company and the music. I regretted quitting my lessons, but we both agreed that I was having too much trouble making the time for both practice and lessons.
After quitting my lessons and then leaving the church a year later, I didn’t see Juanita much. On occasion, our paths would cross as I’d go back to the little church to support family members who still attended. And the fact that her son, Tom, married one of my cousins gave rise to a few family occasions where we would see each other. On those occasions, we would greet one another with warm smiles and fond wishes.
Tomorrow, I’ll see Juanita one more time. This time, I will be paying my final respects. You see, Juanita lost her fight with cancer and passed away this past week. And a good number of us will miss her greatly. We’ll miss the music, love, and kindness she brought into this world on a regular basis.
But we will also remember her for these things. And we will remember that we are all better people for having known her. And hopefully, those memories will inspire us to emulate those traits we so admired in her. So in our sadness, we will also find warmth and joy.
After all, that’s how Juanita would’ve wanted it.