I was very blessed to have had multiple “mothers” in the small South Carolina town in which I grew up. I have already written about some of them.
This blog posting is dedicated to the memory of a beautiful lady, who taught me about true beauty. Her name was Virginia Folk.
Miss Virginia was our neighbor and friend. She and Mr. Hugh F. lived across the street from us, next to the Wombles. They went to our church. We were in and out of each other’s homes so often that the other’s home in some ways felt like an extension of our own.
My parents taught me to always knock on the door, but if Miss Virginia looked out her kitchen door and saw me coming, she would call out, “I see you, Carolyn. No need to knock. Come on in!” Often my visits were to deliver something my parents wanted to share with her, such as vegetables or fruit from the garden.
Miss Virginia did not want me to go back across that street empty handed. She would find something, frequently something she was cooking in the kitchen, that I could take back to my parents.
We did not usually have formal sit down visits, but the time came when we did. Mr. Hugh F. got sick and it was a kind of sickness that left doubt as to whether he would recover. We all gathered in the den of the Folk house to visit and pray.
They talked about all kinds of things, including death. They talked about it, as if they were discussing the weather — just something that was unpredictable, but might happen, and if it did — well, God was in charge of that as much as He was in charge of the weather. They would just accept it.
Mr. Hugh F. died. I felt very sad, not only because we missed him, but because I could feel Miss Virginia’s sadness. I was nearby one day when my mother and Miss Virginia talked in the yard. My mother was always good at sensing how people were feeling.
She said, “How are you doing, Virginia?”
Miss Virginia straightened up a little and said, “I still miss him, Pearl.”
Mother put her arm around her and said, “I know.”
They stood in the yard for awhile, just like that — two women, who had no earthly answers, but who stood believing in The One Who did have all The Answers. They waited for Him to tell them. Meanwhile, they silently wept together. They bore one another burdens.
The Ugly Duckling Who Wanted to be a Swan
I was excited to become a teenager. I began to fill out clothes in new ways. I learned how to walk in spiked high heels. I even got contact lens and put away the glasses. However, there were some things that came with hormone shifts that were not so delightful. “Monthly miseries” were not fun.
But even more disturbing to me was the fact that my face seemed to have developed a different terrain. I had never had mountains or hills on my face, but the teenage years brought the unceremonious arrival of “zits.” I was mortified! I remember wondering if I should go back to glasses and maybe get even bigger ones to try to hide my face.
However, at just the right moment, God brought a miracle through a familiar route. Miss Virginia opened the Merle Norman Studio in what had once been a gas station. I became one of her first customers.
Miss Virginia began by talking to me as she had done all my life — straight forward. She said, “Carolyn, tell me what you want.”
I thought that should be obvious. I was ugly. I wanted to be pretty. I told her that. She said, “Well, you’ve got that backwards.”
I didn’t understand.
She said, “Before we get started, you need to understand, you are pretty. In fact, you are beautiful.” I wondered if her glasses needed changing. Or if she really believed that, maybe I needed her glasses!
She said, “I can put some things on your face that would make you look ugly, but you would still be pretty underneath. It’s what is inside you that counts.”
She said, “I can also show you some things to put on your face that will make you look different. And then you might shine a little more from the inside because you will believe you are pretty.”
Painting With Me As the Canvas
She asked me if I would like to “play.” I remember how funny that sounded. One of the privileges I thought I had to give up to grow up was playing. Teenagers didn’t play, did they?
But here was Miss Virginia, who I trusted, telling me it was ok. She also assured me that neither I nor my parents would have to pay a thing for this introductory session. She just wanted to introduce me to her products.
And so we “played.” She carefully cleaned my skin. Her tender touch brought back memories of what it was like to be little and have my mother wash my face. She said, “You don’t scrub. You must be gentle with your face. You’re going to have it with you for a long time and so you don’t want to pull it all out of shape now!”
She then brought out some red stuff in a bottle It even sounded like a miracle. It was called Miracol. It was supposed to pull out impurities and tighten my skin. It did! I felt like I had a mask on. I tried to talk, but Miss Virginia raised her fingers to her lips and said, “Sh-h-h. Sometimes you have to be quiet and let the beauty come to the surface.”
When we took away the mask, I did see a difference. My skin felt soft and it did look smoother. But Miss Virginia was not done.
She asked me, “Do you remember all the fun you had with your crayons? Well, we are going to color now!” She had a palette of different makeup shades and lipsticks. She told me what she thought would look best for my skin color and then with her help, I tried it on.
Because I was one of the first customers in her studio, there was no one waiting behind me. So we had time to “play.” We tried different looks, as the afternoon wore on. It was magical.
I took home more than makeup. Miss Virginia had affirmed to me that inner beauty is most important. But she had also confirmed that it was ok to put a different look on the outside too. And the process could be fun!
Her advice of “sometimes you have to be quiet and let the beauty come to the surface” was really another way of agreeing with God, Who said “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) It is God Who brings the beauty to the surface!
The Shower Followed by The Storm, and then A Rainbow
I got married at the end of college. Miss Virginia and some other friends gave me a bridal shower. It was a time of shared dreams of the future. I was sent off in style.
But what I thought was true love turned out not to be. After five years, we both conceded defeat and freed each other to follow other paths in life. I kind of dreaded seeing those dear ladies who had done their best to send me into matrimonial bliss. I somehow felt I had failed them. I remember even asking my mother if I should give the shower gifts back.
When I saw Miss Virginia, I was feeling very “ugly duckling like” again. But she only hugged me and told me I was looking as beautiful as ever. When I told her I didn’t feel like it, she perked up and said, “You know what you need? You need a new look! You need to come see me and we’ll see what we can do now!”
We went inside the house and she got out her “crayons.” Before long, I was laughing again and feeling like I was being sent off again into a brighter future.
A few years later, I was able to introduce my new husband to Miss Virginia. She had been right. What seemed lost had been found!
The Calm Before The Storm
My husband and our two year old daughter were visiting my parents on spring break in 1983. We were looking forward to seeing old friends at church on Sunday. On Saturday evening, we saw Miss Virginia taking her walk. She looked happy and peaceful. She waved.
I was sure I would see her at church the next day because she never missed church. Part of my joy in returning to Bellinger Chapel Methodist Church was seeing the same faithful group of people. They always sat in the same pews, and always greeted each other and me with such love and joy.
Those precious people were the anchor in my life. In a world where things were unstable and unpredictable, they represented everything that was solid, good, and faithful.
It was because of Miss Virginia’s faithful presence at church that she was missed the following morning. It was because of love that a friend went to check on her. And then it was discovered that the unthinkable had happened. Miss Virginia had been murdered.
Life Versus Death
Beauty Versus Ugliness
I could write many chapters on how this senseless taking of a beautiful life affected me and so many others. Our lives were never the same again. We were forced to acknowledge that evil did exist in the world, even in the places we always thought were safe and secure. All of us were on God’s Doorstep, asking why and desperately wanting answers and some righting of what seemed very wrong.
But these memories are not about ugliness and evil. This blog posting is not about Miss Virginia’s death. It is about the beautiful life she lived and the wonderful seeds she planted wherever she went. My memories are to celebrate the beauty Miss Virginia brought to the world. It was a beauty no amount of evil could eliminate.
Miss Virginia really shared through her life how to remember her. She saw beauty where there seemed to be no beauty. She recognized she could change the view by framing things in a different way. She was willing to trust the Lord, even when she did not have the answers for her loss. She was faithful to her Lord and to her family and friends.
I believe that on that fateful night, her Lord came and walked her out of ugliness into a beauty beyond description. I treasure the scripture that reassures us that He Himself is preparing a place for us and He Himself will come and escort us there at the right time. I praise Him for the lessons I learned from Miss Virginia, a beautiful lady, inside and out.
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back and take you to be with Me
that you also may be where I am.
Sometimes you just have to be quiet and let the beauty come to the surface.
He has made everything beautiful
in its time …