Time has a way of slipping away faster with each passing year, and sometimes with its passing comes the regret of words left unsaid. I was reminded of that this week when The Times-Gazette received an obituary for 95-year-old Hillsboro resident Elsie McConnaughey.
From the time I was in fifth grade through my college years, Elsie and her family made their home directly across Pleasant Street from my family’s home. The front doors to our homes were probably less than 20 yards apart, so since two of her sons were close to my age, I was in Elsie’s home often. Lots of neighborhood kids were. More regularly, at least in the summer years, we were in her backyard playing croquet, or a version of the game we called “poison.”
That has been nearly four decades ago, but people like Elsie are hard to forget. She always welcomed us into her home with a smile and something nice to say, then would send us on our way to wherever we were headed the same way. Even though I am sure we tested her patience often, I do not believe I ever heard her utter a cross word or saw an angry look spread across her face. She was just nice — as nice as people come.
It seems likely that could be part of the reason she lived to be 95.
Elsie had six children, all older than myself. Over the years I came to know them all, and several of their own family members, but there are three that I knew better than the others.
One of her sons was my elementary physical education teacher and later my reserve basketball coach. He figured out how to turn a rag tag group of ’70s kids from a team that started the season 1-6 to one that finished 10-8. He was also my sons’ physical education teacher. Another son coached a backyard, neighborhood football team I played on prior to my junior high school years. Another was a friend for several years and a college roommate one eventful semester.
And Elsie’s husband, Carmon, was the most capable handyman I ever met. He was constantly tinkering with something in his shop, and helped me with vehicle repairs often — when I was driving a ‘57 Volkswagen, two Vegas and a Pinto — and needed a lot of help.
Other than general and complete kindness, I do not have a lot distinct memories of Elsie, but I do have one.
One year when I was in my early teens, Carmon was having trouble with bees in a tall birdhouse in his backyard. So, after the sun settled one evening, he dressed all up in plastic and such, climbed a ladder, and attacked those bees with some kind of sprayer filled with some kind of bee-killing mixture.
A few of us were watching, and about the time he started spraying the mixture, those big, black bumblebees came angrily buzzing to life. One of Elsie’s sons and I dove in a camper in the backyard, while another friend ran for the house. After we waited in the camper long enough that we figured the bees had mostly settled down, we dashed for the house. When we got inside, there were Elsie and the friend that ran for the house.
As we sat there in the McConnaughey’s kitchen, we kept hearing a buzz that definitely sounded like a big, black bumblebee. But we couldn’t find it. We looked in cabinets, behind doors and curtains, just about anywhere we figured a bee could hide. There was nothing to be found, but the sound persisted.
Just when we’d exhausted pretty much all options, the buddy that first dashed for the house started jumping around and swatting at this jeans. It took a second for the rest of us to catch on, but one of those bees had somehow flew up his pants leg and was stinging the snot out of him. It was obviously not a good time for the friend, but with him kind of being the “tough guy” on the block, it was a sight to behold. I almost wet my pants from doubling over in laughter and trying to not to laugh at the same time.
And while we were laughing, there was Elsie, trying to help the poor guy.
Years passed, college came and went, and my parents moved away from Pleasant Street. For many years I did not see Elsie.
Then a handful or so years ago, one of Elsie’s nephews that I knew back in the day was in town. He was at Elsie’s house and wanted to know if I’d stop by before we went out to dinner. So I did. We visited with Elsie a bit, but not very long. Her nephew had been there a while and was anxious to hit the road. But as we walked toward the front door, Elsie kept chatting with me, asking me about this and that. I lingered a bit as the nephew went on out the door, but I did not linger long enough.
That was the last time I talked to Elsie. I knew even back then it was possible that I might never talk to her again. And ever since I have regretted not taking a little more time to listen — because time slips by more quickly each and every minute.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.