As anyone who knows me can tell you, I was a lucky child. Born to great parents, for sure. But on top of that, I had two older sisters! Brenda and Elaine were 12 and 10 when I was born. From personal experience, I highly recommend being a baby boy in a household with two older sisters. You might say (because it is a fact) I was spoiled by all the attention. My wife has been trying to straighten me out ever since, and I’m told it is an ongoing project.
Brenda was a strong-willed, adventurous girl, in an era when that was unusual behavior. The day after she graduated from high school, she moved to Memphis because she wanted to be on her own. I was only 5, so I didn’t understand the challenges that would pose for a 17-year-old country girl. When I was little, she was a hero to me because, I was told, she rescued me from a dangerous situation. Apparently an electrical outlet sparked a small fire near my crib, and she got me out of there. Again, having big sisters is a wonderful thing.
As we got older, I looked forward to annual Christmas visits from my sister, and her “big city” gifts. It was great having the whole family in our house again. Every year or so, we’d visit her in Memphis. One of those trips may have been a life-changer for me. When I was 9, she took me for a visit to WHER in Memphis, the first radio station I ever saw. Evidently, the radio bug bit me that day, and has never let go.
Brenda was always stylish and beautiful, and she had a good ear for music too. Her radio would be on great stations like WHBQ, and she played albums like “Band on the Run” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” on her stereo. She always showered me with attention, making sure I didn’t have to do any cooking. As she pointed out with a laugh, no one had taught me any kitchen skills at home, so I would get the same royal treatment at her house.
During her first few years in Memphis, there were ups and downs, particularly on the romantic front. She had a difficult first marriage that soured her on men for a while. Then she met the love of her life.
Steve Selph was about five years younger, and had served in Vietnam. He was a fireman from a firefighting family. He tells me that for him, it was love at first sight. She took some convincing, but he was up to the task. They got married 41 years ago, and they were truly a great team. Look up “soulmates” in the dictionary, and their picture ought to be there. They were inseparable. After a few years of marriage, both wanted to get away from the city to find some peace and quiet. They found a house about 30 miles east of Memphis, in a small community called Mason. The house was just the right size, with enough of a yard for them to garden and putter around. They named their home “Hearts Rest,” which is self-explanatory, and totally accurate.
With no children of their own, they “adopted” an entire community of neighbors, church members and friends, who would stop by for food, drink and song. A few weeks ago Brenda got the diagnosis we all fear: cancer. Skin cancer, or melanoma to be exact, was spreading through her body. When I visited with her a month ago, friends and neighbors were dropping in to bring food, and to offer encouragement. Brenda and Steve were the heart of that community, and just as you would expect, neighbors rallied around the woman who had served as their mom and sister.
Steve says death came quietly this week. Although Brenda had been mobile, talkative, and positive since the cancer diagnosis, she had weakened a little, day by day. Those angels who provide hospice care were able to control the pain, abiding by her wishes not to endure radiation or chemotherapy.
When I left her in late July, she had asked for her hospital-style bed to be moved into the living room, with its big front window revealing a yard full of natural beauty. She wanted to see the birds visit the feeders she and Steve had put up for them. Those birds have lost a friend, and I have lost a sister. But we’re all better off today, from the love and nourishment she provided for us.
In lieu of flowers, Brenda had requested any memorial donations be sent to Hoyt Carroll Scholarship Fund, c/o North Sand Mtn. High School, PO Box 129, Higdon, AL 35979