My Aunt Louise Jones Justice was the matriarch of our family. As the oldest of the nine siblings in my Mama’s family, she filled the role well.

It was my honor, but my sad duty, to say a few words over her casket last week at the family plot at High Bluff Cemetery in Brantley County. My best friend, Adam Hart, gave me the honor of driving her to her resting place. Trying to say a few words about her in that place of peace was a difficult and strenuous task, but I had promised her I would do it and  a promise made must be kept.

Aunt Louise was hard to put into a neat, concise description. She was a unique woman, a steel magnolia, if you will. She was just three months shy of 90 years old. With a crown of snow white hair, she told us those last few days she had been blessed with a long and full life.

Tuesday afternoons were our time together. Between deadline and government meeting coverage, I’d often go to her house for a mid-afternoon meal, and gossip and family news and counsel and advice. The woman never forgot anything and could trace family trees along every limb and branch.

Independent and headstrong, she had a servant’s heart and truly loved home and family. She married my Uncle John, a handsome young soldier just home from World War II, in 1948, the year my Mama was born. She helped to raise my Mama and then she and Uncle John had their own family, Sara, David, Nancy Kay and Janet. They would in turn add 12 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. She had recently welcomed a great-great-grandaughter, and her namesake, Harper Louise.

Aunt Louise was not one to be idle. She mowed her yard with a push mower until last year. She always had something growing and blooming in her yard and gardens. She looked after her dog, Mayze, and tended chickens until last year, including a hen whose first name was “Fluffy.” She was always defending her turf against turtles, rattlesnakes and pecan-thieving squirrels.

Last month, I found her out in the yard with a hand pump sprayer propped up on her walking stick spraying for “those blasted ants.”

If the woman ever failed at anything she ever cooked, I didn’t know it. I’m thankful for all the portions she put on my plate.

She was in many ways my kindred spirit. We shared a love for good humor, for good stories and for good writing. We loved a good porch sitting session made better by a glass of sweet tea and the cadence of rain on a tin roof.

She was my sounding board and was always ready with good practical advice. Among the two I heard most: “The Lord will help you get through it” and “It will all work out.”

In the last year, she had begun to sense the twilight of her life was coming. She had told me privately during one of our Tuesday visits that she hoped the Lord would allow her to have her right mind and be able to wait on herself until her summons came. She was up and going until she suffered a fall about a month ago.

As medical options were exhausted in the evening of her life, she said she just wanted to go home to the 100-year-old home place, to her own room and go to sleep and not wake up. God provided that tender mercy Saturday morning, October 31. I am thankful for that.

Even still, going back to the home place without her after the service was so very hard.

“I know the Lord will help us get through it” and “it will all work out”, but oh, the tears.

• Jason Deal is a staff writer for The Blackshear Times. Reach him at jdeal@blacksheartimes.news.