Our first home in Africa was in the southern highlands of Tanzania in a little town by the name of Tukuyu. It was here that I first met the Senter family. They lived not far from us, although how far, exactly, I do not recall. I know it was close enough that this 6 year old girl and her 8 year old sister could climb the hill from their house, take a left and follow the road around to a place we called “the meeting tree” to be joined by our Senter friends, Belinda and Paula, for the remainder of the walk to their house. In my head I see a road that winds around the side of hill, with forest on either side. How we designated the specific tree under which to wait remains a mystery to my adult mind.
I remember once, when I was older and walking alone, that I looked down through the trees and saw my mother in our yard. I called to her and waved my arms at her, but she never found my little body way up the hill hidden by the brush. She told me later that she had heard me, couldn’t see me, and was worried that I was in danger. That I might alarm her never crossed my mind. I felt perfectly safe on this road. But I digress.
Almost daily, it seems one of the four of us would crank the handle on the side of our phone, and ask the operator to connect us to the number of the other (54 for the Senters, 41 for the Moores). We would converge at the meeting tree and go to which ever home had been determined to be the playground of the day.
At the Moores we had the choice of Barbies, usually with elaborate homes constructed all over our bedroom. Or we could go out to the storeroom in the upper part of the yard where the bales of used clothing were kept. This was a source of all sorts of entertainment, as we never knew what would be found in what seemed like a mountain of cast off shoes and clothes sent from benevolent souls in America for the poor natives in “darkest Africa”. We were particularly fond of the old prom dresses.
The Senter’s house was built on the side of a hill overlooking a beautiful valley. They had a shamba (garden) down the hill a ways, and I can remember sitting at the edge of the yard eating guavas, bananas, and sweet potatoes. They had a play house in which we imagined all sorts of scenarios. We would dress up in elaborate clothes, and play restaurant, using their tupperware cups and plates.
It was at this house that I remember meeting in the front sitting room to memorize scripture with Charlie Johnson while the adults had “station meeting” in the formal living room. Psalms 23 and 100 transport me back there every time I hear them. It was the French door of that room that my sister rammed her knee through after slipping on a rug. It was at this house that I had my first introduction to the Beach boys and played my first game of flying statues.
In the background of all these experiences was Aunt Pauline. To be honest with you, I can’t remember any lengthy conversations I had with her. I mostly remember her sitting on the couch looking down at something in her lap. I can’t tell you whether it was a book or a piece of needle work. She would sit there quietly until she heard something from one of her kids that would make her eyebrows rise and a quiet, “Paula!” would escape her lips. (I am sure she reprimanded her other children as well, but in my mind she is saying, “Paula”). My impression of her at my young age was that she was a woman of great beauty and grace. She was always dressed neatly, and never seemed to have a hair out of place. How she managed this in the wilds of Africa is beyond me.
My mother tells the story of a time when the Senters invited us to dinner after we had been without electricity for several weeks. The Senters had a backup generator at their house for such times. When we were seated, it was at a beautifully laid table complete with candles. Mom jokes about how we had been in the dark for days, and were less than enamored by the sophistication of a candle lit dinner. But this was Aunt Pauline. She seemed to be determined to bring a bit of civilization with her wherever she went.
I think it was this spirit of the classic woman that prompted me years later to reject the pet name, Polly, that she came to be known by. To me, “Polly” did not adequately encompass the poise and dignity that defined this woman. I informed her that she would always be Aunt Pauline to me, and she graciously permitted me to not change with the times.
Although I don’t know it from personal memories, I know from reputation that Aunt Pauline was a woman of great spiritual depth. She just went about doing the will of her Father wherever she was in what way she could. Lately, that was with the Women’s Missionary Union.
This week I learned that Aunt Pauline has left this world behind, and I grieve. It is not that I have made much of an effort to maintain a relationship with her over the years. We moved from Tukuyu when I was ten, and I have less than a handful of memories of her since that time. But I love her none the less, and I know that she is the kind of woman that the world needs more of. And I love her children, and I grieve for them, because I know that they will feel her absence greatly. And I grieve because I know that the rate at which the missionary uncles and aunts of my childhood are leaving this world will only increase. I regret not having spent more time with them as an adult. I regret not having told them how much they have shaped me into who I am today. I don’t think our generation is ready to fill their shoes.
But I also rejoice, because I know that this life is not all there is. I rejoice because I have had such great role models in the body of these beautiful people I grew up around. I rejoice because Aunt Pauline is free of pain and tears and has seen her Savior face to face. I rejoice, because her life has been a testimony of the faithfulness of our God and Father. This is why we do not grieve as those who have no hope.