Friday, August 10, 2018


Yesterday, I stood under a blue tent in 80-degree temps at the side of a gravestone in Evergreen Cemetery delivering a homily for Marilyn Blackwell, aka Toni, Victoria Sullivan’s cousin and a good friend of mine. Toni died a few months ago in Lakeland, Florida, and we had traveled from Sewanee, Tennessee to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where I performed a burial ceremony to inter Toni’s ashes.

Toni lived most of her life in Babson Park, a small town in central Florida, but she was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and her two sisters still reside there; her brother, in Philadelphia. Toni left Gettysburg to attend Webber International College in Babson Park, Florida and never lived in the East again. After she retired from her job as an administrative assistant with Florida Power and Light, Toni took up one-stroke painting, and perfected this art within a few years. She painted almost until the last months of her life, and we have many of her floral pictures, trays, pitchers, and flower pots that she decorated with fruit, flowers, and landscape art, including a lovely Florida sunset. Toni loved beautiful things and claimed that her interest originated with Gacky Thomas, her paternal grandmother. Both liked clothes, jewelry, china, and flowers, and Toni had a closet filled with bracelets, necklaces, rings, and earrings —a regular jewelry store in a corner of a bedroom. She wore colorful, flowing clothes and possessed a style that was definitely flamboyant. But Toni was more than decorative art to Vickie and me. She was a beloved confidante and a woman with inclusive views about all people.

Toni had a high IQ and wasn’t showy with it, but if you ever played a word game with her, as we did during a family getaway for women of the family at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and you considered yourself a fair wordsmith, you soon learned that she could out-best you in a heartbeat. She suffered deeply at the end of her life, and I think she knew there wasn’t a supernatural remedy for the cancer that ravaged her body, but she opened her arms to her son, Chad, to her brother Ed, and to her sisters, Bev and Chris, dubbing them 'her angels.' Suffering was there for Toni, but so were strength and light. I was privileged to honor her yesterday, and when I came to the last paragraph of my homily, saying that “no love we ever bestow on those we care about is lost; it goes with them to God’s home, and it stays with us,” a great wave of emotion overcame me. It was a Moment.

Tomorrow, I’ll deliver another homily at a wedding reception for Gettysburg-born Thomas Armstrong and his beautiful Turkish-born Seda, here in Gettysburg, and I plan to quote from Rumi, one of my favorite poets. In two weeks, Thomas and Seda will return to Turkey where they're both employed.

The following morning, we’ll move on to Potomac, Maryland for a visit with Janis Grogan, a close friend of 58 years who befriended me in Electra, Texas just before my first daughter, Stephanie, was born. Jan chronicled and published a book entitled All My Life With You: A Memoir about her life and travels abroad with her husband Gene, who was head of operations in the worldwide oil patch — she and Gene moved 19 times and lived on five continents. After Gene’s death, Border Press also published a book of Gene’s love poems to Jan entitled Upon the Walk We Make Each Day. A copy of this book can be found in the Louisiana State Library, Baton Rouge, Louisiana and purchased online at Amazon.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

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