In the dogtrot hall of my Carrollton home, my 2011 wedding invitation hangs matted in a gilded frame. It was a wedding gift to me from a very special lady, then-Carrollton mayor, Annie Mae Wilson.
From my very first days here at newspaper, I developed a close friendship with Miss Annie Mae. That is what I called her – never Mayor Wilson or Mrs. Wilson. She was Miss Annie Mae to me and to everyone who knew her.
When Miss Annie Mae was mayor of Carrollton, I often stopped by Carrollton Town Hall when I was in town to visit with her and Linda McGregor, the now-retired town clerk. A visit with Miss Annie Mae and Linda always proved to produce plenty of laughter and an in-depth history lesson of the community I would eventually call home. I listened well to these crash-courses in the local culture and traditions, and this knowledge helped me decide to purchase one of Carrollton’s historic homes in 2009 and establish roots in the town.
Shortly after I moved to town, I visited several of the town’s churches as I looked for a new church home. My visit to North Carrollton United Methodist Church began with me going to the wrong church, as the United Methodist churches in Carrollton and North Carrollton rotate weeks for services, and I ended up running into the sanctuary just before the minister began to speak.
As a first-time visitor, I frantically glanced around to where I would sit. In the South, church folks sit in the same seats every week – the same seats their ancestors once occupied. From my own upbringing at the Eudora Presbyterian Church, where my family sat on the third pew on the right side of the altar, I knew the tradition of unofficially assigned seats.
I was feeling kind of silly standing just inside the sanctuary when someone took my arm to lead me to a seat. It was Miss Annie Mae, and I was so happy to see her, I was nearly overwhelmed. Directing me to her pew, I sat with a sigh of relief, and she settled in next to me.
When the service began, I realized in my rush I had left my handbag in the car, and I had nothing to put in the offering plate. In my head, I could see my parents’ disapproving looks as I sat in church without anything to give as a gift. I was mentally giving myself a good scolding when Miss Annie Mae tucked a dollar bill into my hand. It was like she read my mind, and I could have kissed her.
We settled in, sang the hymns, and enjoyed the morning message.
When I heard the news Monday that Miss Annie Mae had passed away, my memory of sitting next to her in church was the first thing that flooded my mind. She was so kind to me over the years, sending me baked goodies and home-canned jellies. I often ordered her famous cheese straws for get-togethers at my house, and I loved to brag on her when my guests commented on how wonderful they were.
Shortly after my wedding in 2011, Miss Annie Mae gave me that framed invitation, something she delivered herself with her daughter, Irene. She said a framed invitation was what she gave all of her favorite brides, and I was thrilled to be included in that club.
There are a few things I know for sure about Miss Annie Mae. She loved Carrollton, a town she led for 13 years before retiring in 2013. She had a heart for preserving the unique charm and historic architecture of the town, proven by her taking the lead on restoring Carrollton’s famed Community House. She loved her family, and she loved her friends.
And she was loved in return.
Miss Annie Mae lived a long, fascinating life, and her community is better for the service she provided over the years. She never shied away from hard work or lending a hand to those in need. And she was always the first to speak to a stranger, comfort and nurture those around her, and share her good humor and infectious laugh with those around her.
And like so many whose lives Miss Annie Mae touched, I will miss my friend.