(Blogger’s note: This post was originally published on June 24, one of my first. I’m reposting it in memory of country singer Joey Feek, who went home to God today. I know her sweet voice is now singing with the angels.)
We meet people along the journey. Sometimes it’s for a few minutes. Even in that brief period of time, they touch us in some way and we may not be sure why. I was contemplating what story to write next and for some reason this story wouldn’t leave me alone. It’s not monumental in the scheme of things. In other ways, it is. So here’s the story about meeting Rita Feek.
I was visiting my aunt and uncle outside of Nashville. They wanted to take me to breakfast to a small country place, a former mercantile store, now converted into a restaurant. Downhome cooking. Good hard-working people running it.
Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse in Columbia, TN, is operated by Marcy Gary, the sister of Rory Feek, part of the famous country singing duo Joey and Rory. Joey, the female half of the singing team, could often be found waitressing, or in the kitchen whipping up a cake or a batch of fresh biscuits, while not running their farm or singing at concerts with her husband, Rory.
That day I visited about five years ago, Joey wasn’t there. But Rita, the mother of Rory and Marcy, was. She was in her 60s at the time, I suppose, a slight woman behind the counter, asking us as we left if we wanted to purchase any of the baked goods sitting by the antique cash register, from pecan pie to red velvet cake.
Rita and I started talking. As we spoke, I learned that despite my deep Southern roots, my stereotypes needed challenging. This was no hick country woman. She loved reading. Had I read Teilhard de Chardin? What about Sue Monk Kidd? And prayer? What type? Was I on Facebook? We should connect and be friends. All in the space of 15 minutes. This woman — a short little thing with gray hair and glasses — was smart and articulate and I felt a kindred spirit on many levels.
We did become Facebook friends but we rarely stayed in touch. However I did follow her son and daughter-in-law, Rory and Joey on Facebook and on their blog. They now face their own challenges. They recently had a child with Downs Syndrome and Joey has been diagnosed with stage IV cervical cancer. They are a brilliant country-singing duo who are trusting God every step of the way.
When I read all this, I decided to send Rita a private message on Facebook to tell her I was praying for her family. But no reply came back. I went into Joey and Rory’s blog and found out that Rita had died on July 30, 2014, almost a year ago at the age of 71. I didn’t know. As I read her obituary, I felt an overwhelming sadness and regret that I never got to know this woman better. Or, her story.
After her husband died many years ago, she raised five children as a single mom, taking whatever odd job she could, surviving on welfare and food stamps. She loved not only reading, but writing and painting. And she went back to school at age 63 to earn a degree in psychology. She had a strong faith in God.
I’m not sure why her family kept Rita’s Facebook page alive; perhaps as a loving tribute to a great woman. And while we weren’t in touch that much on Facebook, I like to believe that some friendships can be forged in a few minutes — as when we met at Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse — or even in that eternal space that connects us all.
I am also aware that those meetings that may feel incidental, those that happen as we journey through life that we may later forget, really are significant and happen for some Divine plan to which I am not privy.
More than anything, as I read of Rita’s passing, I was reminded of this great truth: Life is short. Recalling our brief meeting, I was prompted to treasure and to be present to all moments, no matter how they show up. To listen to others and their stories.
So, Rita, since you loved writing, I think you’ve been prodding me the last few days to share a bit about your life. Here it is. I know it doesn’t do justice to who you were. Still, I hope your story gives hope to others. And I like to think that my private message on Facebook did reach you somewhere on the other side.
But just in case it didn’t, here it is again: I want you to know I’ve been praying for your daughter-in-law Joey, that she be guided through treatments with compassion and love, and praying for your son Rory and adorable little Indiana, the granddaughter you barely knew. And in my heart, I just know you’d be thankful if others were praying, too.