Animals have this wonderful ability to focus on what is important and ignore what (to them, at least) is simply noise. A dog for instance can blissfully “fail” to hear you call their name while they are industriously shredding mail, shoes, and the even in some cases actually eating homework or other important documents. But open a bag of potato chips and they will hear that over running air conditioners, jackhammers and even the strident insistence of political ad campaigns. It’s all a question of focus, you see, and animals are masters of prioritization.
On an extremely rare occasion, if we are truly fortunate, we meet a person who has that wonderful ability as well. You know the type of person I am talking about, the type of person who can recognize and deal with the frequently difficult and tragic things in life but still manages to keep their focus on the things in life that make that life worth living. This type of person endures a lot, and still manages to find joy in doing the things that are important to them. Shadows and darkness never completely eclipse the light in this type of person; no, the light shines brighter because of the darkness.
I met one of these people a long time ago, and at the time there was no reason for us to become friends. There was no reason for us to not become friends either, mind you, it was just that it was a passing acquaintance with no reason to be anything more. No reason except this person was Vicki Evans, that is. There was no such thing as “passing” anything with Vicki. Vicki liked to talk and she liked people, and she frequently added those two together to make friends with the most unlikely of people. No, actually, it was more than that. Vicki was one of those people who made themselves family.
That last part was sort of ironic when you think about it because one of Vicki’s great passions in life was genealogy. She was profoundly curious and would become excited over the slightest scrap of information about the history of not only her own family, but everyone else’s family as well. She was like a combination of bloodhound and Sherlock Holmes when it came to family research, and never hesitated to wear out telephones, computers, and Census records to find answers for anyone who asked a question. And another irony is that, for a lady who refused to read my fiction because it was “scary”, Vicki adored old family cemeteries hidden back in the hills, the more obscure the better.
Vicki experienced health issues in her life, some of which she was graceful enough to share with me for articles. She laughed when I told her that her story might inspire others and said there were other people whose stories would be more interesting than hers. But she talked to me anyway, though I believe she was more than a little embarrassed, because Vicki loved people and loved helping people any way she could. And I am part of a long list of people who are going to miss that. And in spite of the challenges to her health she was always smiling because she chose to focus on the important things in life and was doing the things she loved to do.
Eventually my friend turned her passion for genealogy into a job she loved when she took over the genealogy department for the Greenup County Public Library. She had an office and resources at her fingertips (a lot of which, I’m sure, she helped to gather) and was more than quick to share the same with those who came in to research their family trees. Vicki would constantly remind people to search their family histories, set them on the right path, and walk the first few (or hundred) steps with them. She even taught genealogy classes in the Library Media Room and would point out the flaws and strengths of each online program. Ancestry.com is good, but not Vicki Evans good.
I used to stop and see Vicki every time I went by the library. Her desk was in one corner of the genealogy room, surrounded by shelves lined with larger binder notebooks, neatly arranged, and labelled with what families and histories they contained. A large table and chairs (usually occupied) where people could work at sorting through the leaves of their family trees. She would always encourage me to start looking, and I would always make the joke that there were too many monkeys in my family tree for me to shake the branches. But every single time it occurred to me that the best resource in the department was sitting behind that desk, smiling yet again at that stupid joke.
Regardless of what time it was or what might be going on in her life, Vicki Evans was smiling. That doesn’t mean that she was always in a good mood, or that she never lost her temper. What it meant was that Vicki Evans was in her element. She was surrounded by people and the history of people, and I honestly couldn’t think of a place that would have suited her more. She loved what she did and was very good at it; and the smile and the laughter was the proof of it. That, and the fact that she seldom had to sit in that department alone because she drew people in and made them family. I guess that way, no one ever had to look alone.
And wouldn’t it be nice, as we look through the history of our individual families, if all of us could find someone among the leaves and branches as interesting, as caring, and as wonderfully unique as Vicki Evans.