She came to our town on a bus and she was carrying all her worldly goods in a cardboard suitcase. She rented the cottage next door to our house and moved right into my heart.
I was nine-years-old and ached for a grandmother, both of mine having been deceased since before I was born.
She introduced herself as Anna Coburn and said she had always been called “Coby.” She added that she had once visited a cousin in our town, liked it and decided to move here. She reportedly confided to mother that she had had an abusive husband and decided to leave her long-troubled marriage and start over again. She was in her 60s but found a job at our local creamery many blocks way and walked there and back six days a week in all kinds of weather.
“Coby” had been born, raised and matured in the hills of eastern Kentucky, she and her husband had no children. I’d wait out in front for her of an evening and she always greeted me with a smile and invited me to supper. Her eating fare was entirely foreign to mine — it consisted of cornbread and beans, fat-back and backbones, while in my own home, Mother always set a beautiful table, laden with wholesome, nourishing food. She was clearly offended that I would choose “Coby’s” meals over her own…
Mother helped “Coby” to get established in her new abode and presided over the redecorating, calling on our faithful, long-suffering decorators who certainly knew the way to our house! Then she drove “Coby” out to a secondhand store to purchase a few pieces of sturdy furniture.
“Coby” understood and respected children—never talking down to us and seemed to enjoy entertaining me with stories she read aloud from a weekly newspaper she subscribed to, changing long words into those I could understand.
She soon became the neighborhood “pied piper,” attracting not only all the children within walking distance, but their mothers as well. She welcomed one and all. Tots with muddy shoes were escorted to the back yard where she cleaned them off and then welcomed her small visitor into her house.
“Coby” was growing a pepper plant on her window sill and she warned me, “Don’t never touch it, honey or yore eye’ll burn lak fahr!” One winter evening, as we sat in front of her gas heating stove, listening to it hiss and spit, I had been carrying one of the little peppers in my hand. I had found it had dropped off the plant. Soon, I became sleepy and began rubbing my eyes. They immediately became a torment. “Coby” immediately grasped what had happened and rushed to get me a cool cloth to hold over them. (If this had happened at home, I would have been spanked and rightfully so!)
I especially loved the Sunday afternoons I spent with my dear friend after Sunday School. She was on her seventh reading trip through the Bible. I’d stretch out on her daybed, covered with an afghan and study the “God is Love” sampler that hung on the wall above. Somewhere WWII was raging and my beloved big brother, Jimmie was in the thick of it, but there — in “Coby’s” snug, little house, was peace. In her closet, “Coby” kept a box of handkerchiefs for the runny noses of her little guests. At Christmas-time, she gave each of us a small gift. We treasured them.
One summer day, we saw a second-hand truck stop in front of her cottage and upload a huge, old-fashioned pump organ for her parlor. It would seem our friend was musically inclined. That evening, after she came home from work and ate supper, she seated herself at the organ and began “singing” her favorite hymns. I am so sorry to report her renditions were somewhere between screeching and hog calling. Dogs in the neighborhood immediately joined in the chorus and howled along with her. Families out for a spin on the balmy evening stopped in front of her house to listen for only a moment to the noise that grated on the human ear. Some laughed and others sped away from the scene. Unfortunately, my two older sisters were entertaining dates on our front porch and complained loudly to Mother to “Do something about that horrible bellowing!” Mother apologized to our guests and explained that “Coby” was merely “making a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
The years went by, I was married and I had “Michelle,” our first child. I called on “Coby” to babysit from time to time, having forgotten her lack of singing ability. I had not left the house yet when “Coby” began ‘singing’ a lullaby. “Oh, dear!” I thought. “She’ll scare the baby.” But “Michelle” settled right down and went to sleep. The old dear’s charm was still there for children of all ages.
In time, “Coby” was confined to a wheel chair but still enjoyed visits from her “children,” all grown up by then.
One sad day, “Coby” was called to her heavenly award. We who had known and loved her paid her a tearful farewell as we stood in the little country cemetery. I did not have the slightest doubt that the angels were happy to welcome home one of their own, back to their realm.
Jean Mickle is a local resident who writes columns for the Record-Herald.