So much was learned from India Phillips

Published 4:45 am Saturday, July 23, 2011

by Ella M. Sykes

It was nearly a decade ago that I received a phone call from a concerned daughter-in-law who was seeking the help of a caregiver for her aging and newly relocated mother-in-law. Little did I know at that time that saying “yes” to her offer of employment would be an answered prayer sent on the breath of an angel.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil to give you a future and a hope.”

I can still remember my first day of employment. I arrived on a farm in Sebrell, back in a wooded area that seemed quite far from civilization, and to add insult to injury, I was introduced to my newfound client, Mrs. India Phillips.

A petite, stoic-looking lady dressed to precision, she had a house as clean as a board of health. Mrs. Phillips was not impressed by my being in her home at first, and used every opportunity that she could to voice her displeasure initially for the first week or so.

She laid some ground rules such as “girl, don’t you lay back in my chair and get any grease from your hair on my white sofa.”

“Did Sidney Bruce send you over here because if he did, you need to go over to his house and work. I don’t need you, but maybe he does.”

When it came to her meals, she would often show her disdain. I can recall on one occasion seeing her walk into the kitchen as I attempted to prepare her lunch. She took a long puzzled look at the fish that I was cooking and said, “Good Lord, child, what is that in that pan?”

When I answered her and said it’s fish, she replied, “If that’s fish then it needs to go back to the river because I’m not eating it.” (She was right about my not being able to cook.) But so be it to say that, just as Jeremiah had foretold, God did have a plan that not only included the two of us but also countless other lives that she encountered through this span of time.

This meticulous Southern belle with all of her idiosyncrasies was not a precursor of things to come.

Someone once said that “each one can teach one,” and she was no exception. This grateful lady and her family threw out a lifeline to me and my family on numerous occasions, and we will be eternally grateful. Thank you for your love and kindness that transcended race, religion and even culture.

This oftentimes brassy little lady with the voracious appetite and infectious smile has left an indelible imprint on my heart. Amid her ebbing mental status and frail physical structure resided a compassionate soul quite evident as my days of employment became months and the months became years.

Consequently, when it was also evident that the process of time was now reversing itself to where the years were becoming months and the months were becoming days and the days were filled with uncertainty God in his sovereignty had a final plan: her transition from labor to reward.

Before she took her flight home to her eternal resting place, I was privileged to be able to climb up onto her bed as she labored to breathe and talked frankly with her. I thanked her for her years of service to me and my family and assured her, with a hug and a kiss, that she had fought a good fight of faith, and that it was OK to let go and be at rest in the arms of Jesus.

It was not long thereafter that she took her final breaths and transitioned home. A special heartfelt thank you to Mr. and Mrs. S. Bruce Phillips for your kindness, compassion and labor of love.

ELLA M. SYKES is a resident of Western Tidewater and can be reached at 653-0016.