She lived in a rented trailer on cinder blocks just outside of town. She was wearing black pants with a rope belt when I dropped her off. We’d been to the gas station to buy bagged tobacco and cat food. She stuffed them into the open zipper in a duct-taped backpack and thanked me for the ride. She said what she always said: “Don’t get in no trouble. I’ll see ya when I see ya.” She half-smiled a snaggle-toothed grin. I sure wish I’d known it would be the last time we ever talked.
If you’re a local, you know her. She was an icon of our community. Just like The Big Red Apple or Tim Loves Tink or the Labyrinth down at Grace. There are things and places which mark a community. But community becomes home because of the people who leave their mark.
Jacqueline Sosebee made a mark alright. And colored our lives with purple wigs, painted lips, and a coonskin hat. She wore costume jewelry, layered clothes, homemade bracelets, and fancy fedoras. She peddled paper art--stuffed in yellow Dollar Store bags--and I’m sorry I didn’t buy more paintings or offer more rides. She was a bright spot, undimmed, and we will miss the light she burned into our everyday lives.
She was an artist. A sister. Mother. Daughter. Partner. And a legend around these parts. Ms. Jackie was a hard worker. A chain-smoker. A marathon-walker. A street wanderer. A fellow skin-bearer of our own rural town. And someone we all called friend.
One could spot her a mile away. Head down. Fast paced. Shoulder-slumped from a bag strapped across her worn-skinny, petite frame. The load she carried—bags and burdens—seemed all too heavy for any human to bear.
Up close, she was all shine—from sweat beaded-up and disappearing into a red bandana. And from a distance, she looked like pure grit and gusto. She walked hard and strong through rain and sun—past fear and fist and fate.
She worked at various jobs. Swept and took out trash for gas stations. But the job she liked most was because of the people she loved best. Beth Beasley hired her to help at her hair salon. For Jackie’s 47th birthday, they threw her a surprise party—including gifts, cake, and a makeover. According to Ms. Jackie, it was the only party she’d ever had.
Those good-hearted angels at “the beauty parlor” washed, colored, and curled her hair into perfection. She had pictures to prove it. “Don’t I look like a movie star?” She held my phone and pointed and smiled. “They spit-shined me good. I always wanted to sparkle.”
It’s the unsung heroes of any story who make the pages of a person’s life worth reading. Proof that we don’t necessarily need a magic wand or superpower to change the course for a person. Sometimes, we just need more people like Beth, who love by way of a hairbrush.
Awhile back, I took Ms. Jackie home and dug deep between pockets and purse for any amount of cash I could find, although she never asked me for a penny. I reached out and so did she. Hands with dirty fingernails touched my own. And I felt the callous of a tough life. Her holy fingerprints were everywhere.
The past season had been hard, she said, as she looked out the window into blurred passing trees with buds and leaves promising to turn green. I didn’t know it then, but she’d lost both her parents over the last few months. We pulled into the gravel drive and stopped short of her home when something yellow caught her eye. She returned with three flowers and tucked one behind her ear. “Ain’t I pretty?” I nodded yes. “Just like a movie star, Ms. Jackie.”
Jonquils breaking through the dirt is hope on the horizon--no matter where you live or what you do or who you are or what you’re going through.
I don’t know why some folks are destined to sell cardboard-painted art on the corner of Washington Street, while the rest of us can just drive on by. Or why some of us are picked first on the winning team, while others pick leftover cigarette butts up in a hospital parking lot. I can’t say why some carry heavy bags and others carry briefcases. Or why we look up to some and down on many? And how come things like geography and demography so often determine our autobiography?
But I do know that it’s not always the richest, or smartest, or most cultured who we remember most. It’s the ones who sparkle.
Ms. Jackie, you colored everything you touched--and left an indelible mark on this community. Let Somebody else carry your bags for once. Hope to see you soon, my friend. Until then, “Don’t get in no trouble. I’ll see ya when I see ya.”