A dear friend died this summer. I met her in Lee County, Virginia when I was appointed to the United Methodist Church in her town. Her outward appearance gave you the idea she would be a kindly little old lady. Wrong.
She was a firebrand. I never had so much fun in my life.
Emma Rose Scott (“Scottie”) Oatts was born in Missouri. She and I hit it off because she was born into a Scott family and we had to decide from the get go whether or not we were kin. She had a laugh that was recognizable, joyful and downright communicable. You had to smile around her. Sometimes my mouth muscles got so tired I didn’t think I could keep it up, but she’d say something else and start laughing. My favorite Scottie saying was “Preacher, when I die, just take me out to the land-fill!” And she’d chuckle for a full minute, her white hair jittering to her rhythmic laugh.
She loved to tell about her life when she first ended up in Jonesville. Her husband had rented them a house across from the Methodist Church. While they had not yet gone to worship, a wonderful man known as “Preacher Street,” came to pay a visit on the new family in town. Only thing was, Mr Oatts was not there at the time and Emma Rose thought the preacher was the Fuller Brush salesman, so she immediately began ending the visit before it started. But Mr Oatts came home while they were talking on the porch. He apparently knew the preacher actually was the preacher and not the Fuller Brush salesman, so he invited him in. This enraged the young wife, who glared at her husband the whole time, still not knowing who the preacher was. Preacher Street asked her the question you get a lot if you’re new to Lee County: “Do you like here?” She, still in full rage, replied: “Two places I never wanted to live: Hell and Jonesville.” Well she was pretty embarrassed when the preacher finally told her who he was, and to make it up she came to church the next Sunday. He got up in the pulpit and welcomed the new family, letting the whole congregation know she didn’t want to live in hell or Jonesville. She would laugh so hard telling that, and then add Preacher Street was invited back years later to do homecoming and the first thing he said in the pulpit was: “Is that lady here who didn’t want to live in hell or Jonesville?”
One time her children asked her if they could have a green dog. Being a loving mother, she took food dye and dyed their white poodle green. They were thrilled. When Mr Oatts came home, he was pretty upset by the way the dog looked, so she had to spend all night washing the dye out of the poodle’s fur. She loved to tell this. I moved away from Jonesville in 2003 and received no less than two green dogs (the stuffed variety) in the mail. I knew immediately where they came from.
We had a Halloween party at the church. The kids were so excited. I looked up. The devil came walking in the door. No, scrap that. It was Scottie. I think she was 79 or 80 years old, and dressed from head to toe in red with a pointed tail and a mask that looked like old Satan. She went all through town during “Trick or Treat.” People would ask “Who’s your Daddy.” She’d answer with the name of an official in the court house who never married. And then she’d laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
I used to tell the older adult group in the church (the Roadrunners), that it took a special church to love Scottie.
One Sunday she came up to me before services. “Preacher, I almost called you last night.” I looked at her, wondering where this was going to go. “Why, Scottie?” “Well,” she replied, “I started having some chest pain, and I didn’t know if I needed an ambulance or a funeral director.” I couldn’t believe what she was saying. “Scottie, what’d you do?” “Well,” she said, “I didn’t want to bother with calling anybody. I just got on the treadmill and walked it out.” I shook my head. “Scottie, you could have died on that thing.” “Well, Preacher,” she said, with utter calm, “I was ready to go, and when I die, just take me out to the landfill!” And she laughed and laughed and laughed.
She told me that one Sunday many years ago she decided to come to church with a hat on. It was blue and had feathers all over it. She said someone came in and knocked it off her head, and it rolled down under the pews all the way to the front of the section she was sitting in. So, she said, she got down on all fours and crawled under every pew until she got it and crawled back. I can’t imagine it was quiet in the church that day.
Somewhere in heaven, there’s a woman walking around in a devil outfit, with a blue feather cap, and accompanied by a green dog, laughing and laughing and laughing. And she thinks Jesus is the Fuller Brush salesman. Oh, Scottie, we’ll miss you.