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My Irish Baptist preacher dad had a girlfriend. She was 91 years young and known to all in our Missouri Ozark Baptist church as “Aint Cindy.”
Cindy Baker had come from Indiana in a covered wagon several years following the Civil War to this small Ozark river town. She was loved and respected by all who knew her, but particularly by my preacher dad.
Every — and I mean every — Sunday morning, I would join Dad in our old Plymouth with the running boards to run up the hill to “Aint Cindy’s” quaint little place to cart her to church.
Once there I would faithfully hear Cindy quip to “Brother Ed,” “Well, it’s about time you got here. I was beginnin’ to think you done went and furgot this ugly, wrinkled old woman.”
Dad would always respond with, “Now, Aint Cindy, how could I ever forget my sweetheart?”
Once a month on Sunday night was called “hymn sing night” and the entire service was a time when those attending this evening service could request all present to sing their favorite gospel hymn.
Miss Cindy was always given the honor of the final hymn request of the service and her hymn request was always the same hymn, “There’s A Land Where We’ll Never Grow Old.” Everyone knew it by heart as a result.
One of Cindy’s sons made his profession of faith during my dad’s fervent gospel preaching. Something Miss Cindy had prayed for over many years. I will never forget his baptismal service. I was sitting in the front pew for this event and when Dad raised him out of the baptismal waters, Aint Cindy commenced to shout praises to the Lord. I almost jumped out of my skin and was ready to hide under the pew.
Even after my preacher dad left this church for a new endeavor and congregation in a different part of the state, Miss Cindy was a guest in our home there. This bond of friendship and love was unbreakable.
Before departing the church in Van Buren, Dad requested something that he had vowed he would never do — that when Cindy passed away, he would be given the honor of returning and presiding at her memorial service. The request was granted.
That time finally came. I traveled with Dad to Van Buren for this celebration of Cindy’s life and Dad’s dear friend. The church was filled to capacity. Yes, we all sang, “There’s A Land Where We’ll Never Grow Old.”
In my own adult life, it came time for me and my brother to officiate at our preacher dad’s memorial service. A difficult task but also and honor.
In reflection during this time, I could not but help imagine the scene at the gates of heaven.
There stood Aint Cindy Baker saying, “Well, it’s about time you got here. I was beginin’ to think you done went and furgot this ugly, wrinkled old woman.”
Then with Dad’s Irish eyes smiling, he replied, “Now, Aint Cindy, how could I ever forget my sweetheart?”
Yes! There is a land where we will never grow old.
Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.