Five years ago my sister Cookie came into the presence of the Father. It has been a day of struggle, and I have struggled to find a new way to write my heart and honor my sister. I have failed to find any words more appropriate than what I shared at her memorial.
Marie Georgette ‘Cookie’ Vinson Holmes
“All Things New”
We’ve gathered here today to remember and to say farewell to Marie Georgette Vinson Holmes. On Wednesday, September 30th at approximately 1:30 p.m., Marie succumbed to a sudden pulmonary embolism. Her passing was both quick and peaceful. She was 51 years old.
She is survived by her two children, Jason Holmes (Mobile, AL), and Laura Holmes (Pinson, AL); her father Melvin J. Vinson, Sr. (Rockledge, FL); her sister Donna Faile (Birmingham); brothers Gary Poellien (Rockledge FL), Melvin J. Vinson, Jr. (Birmingham), and myself, George Vinson (Nashville, TN). She is also survived by Jerry Holmes (Byhalia, MS), her ex-husband and special friend. Marie leaves behind a host of family and friends.
Preceding her in death are her mother, Virginia Vinson, brother Jerry Poellien, and sister Patricia Vinson.
Marie was a loving mother and a special friend to all. She worked for eight years as a dedicated childcare worker, most recently at the First United Methodist Church of Trussville. Born in Dothan, AL as the sixth of seven children, she was raised around the world. Marie was proud of her children, with Jason graduating from the University of South Alabama, and Laura from Jefferson State Community College.
At the end point in our journey, each of us will have his or her life reduced to a few paragraphs like the preceding…of about two hundred words or less. To the people who read this entry, these were the pertinent facts in the life of my sister. But this was not the sum of Marie’s journey. The truth of it is far richer and compelling. Let me admit that I don’t know Marie Holmes. Lest you think that grief has addled my wits, I am indeed her younger brother. But the person I wish to remember today will always be known to me…as ‘Cookie’.
Vinson family legends tell that when Marie Georgette Vinson arrived, our sister Patti couldn’t say the name ‘Marie’. When asked what we should call this newest daughter, the response was ‘Cookie’. How you get ‘Cookie’ out of Marie I have no idea, but the nickname stuck, even through high school and beyond. I’m sure there are those of you here today that only knew her as Marie, but please indulge me, because I will invariably use her nickname.
Cookie was probably one of the most laid-back people I have ever known. It was quickly apparent that she would never be accused of being early for anything. ‘Cookie-time’ was a phrase that we used to describe the extra fifteen or twenty minutes she usually needed to get ready to go or to do anything (a fact that would drive friends and family to distraction).
And Cookie became my alarm clock during school years. Without fail, the first word I would hear each morning would be her name. ‘Cookie! Where’s the shirt/pants/skirt/boots/whatever else Cookie would have borrowed or loaned to her friends that belonged to Patty’. Admirably, Cookie was very generous to her friends with anything that was hers (or anyone else’s for that matter).
Cookie inherited from our Dad his open and warm manner, an easy way with people, and a quickness to laugh. She was ‘an easy hang’ as many of you know. From our Mom Cookie received her deep sense of family, a love of reading, and an incredible curiosity. And even though she was ‘laid back’, you would underestimate her at your peril. I know that at a gathering such as this that it’s customary to remember only the best qualities, but let me be clear…Cookie could be mean, and sometimes downright devious!
One hot, Southern summer afternoon, my brother Melvin and sister Patti had decided to grab some rays and work on their tans. But they chose the roof of our little house in Center Point to do so. Cookie comes out and wanted to join them…but of course they decided it was a ‘members only’ roof and she was not invited. So what does dear, sweet Marie do? She parades into the house and informs Dad that Patti and Melvin were on the roof. This provokes the expected parental response of ‘tell them to get down…now!’ So Cookie saunters back outside and delivers the following; ‘you’d better get down from there’ (omitting the tiny detail that this was not a suggestion, but our Army veteran father issuing a command). Not wanting to be bossed around by their baby sister, Melvin and Patti laugh and taunt her with ‘they’ll stay up on the roof as long as they want’. Cookie dutifully delivers this message back to Dad, this time with stunning detail and accuracy. Needless to say, the roof was vacated and my brother and sister learned to stay on Cookie’s good side!
Growing up as we did in the Sixties and Seventies, music was a huge part of our lives. Many of you know that I am a musician, but the first time I ever ‘performed’ in public was on a back-yard stage, pantomiming “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles, alongside of Cookie and Patty and Melvin. And while Cookie never did learn to play an instrument, she loved music and helped instill that love in me as well.
She also loved to read, and was quick to turn me onto her latest literary discovery. Cookie passed along J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy to me when I was eleven or so…books that filled me with a sense of wonder and of the ‘rightness’ of Good triumphing over Evil. I have read these books many times since then…and I will always be in her debt.
It was this very sense of wonder that informed my sister’s faith. A Christ-follower of many years, Cookie’s relationship with God was deep and central to the way she lived. While never openly ‘religious’, this spiritual center was a large part of her peace and contentment, even through trial and adversity.
And so we come to this final page of our remembrance. It is the very nature of being human to want to understand the ‘why’ of things. Why did Cookie have to leave us so soon? As a minister of the Gospel, I know the truth and comfort of Marie’s Hope. But as a grieving family member, I have no words that can truly assuage the emptiness we all feel at this time.
Since Marie’s passing, I have been shocked and saddened, and yes, even a bit angry and confused. I have questioned God in this, and thought long and prayed for comfort…I have especially prayed for the right words to say this very hour…in this very moment. And the ever-faithful God that knows our coming and going, who knows the very hairs of our heads answered my prayers, and brought comfort and even insight…through a song.
I have mentioned that Marie loved music. In 1964, British soul singer Petula Clark released a single destined to be her only Number One international hit. The record was “Downtown” and Cookie LOVED this song. I can remember one day wanting to listen to a Beatles LP, but Cookie had just gotten the 45 of “Downtown” and had commandeered our little red record player. We must have listened to “Downtown” in it’s 3 minutes and 8 seconds of glory…about 50 times that afternoon! I wanted to so break that record…literally!
But in thinking back to that day…to that song…there must have been some kind of prophetic sense to the lyric. It foreshadows the faith and hope Marie has in Christ, and hints of the place where those of us who know the forgiveness of his grace and mercy will one day gather in worship.
When you’re alone
And life is making you lonely
You can always go, downtown
When you’ve got worries
All the noise and the hurry seems to help, I know
Just listen to the music in the traffic of the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon lights are pretty
How can you lose?
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go
Everything’s waiting for you
Revelation 21 says it this way:
The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God—the Sovereign-Strong—and the Lamb are the Temple. The City doesn’t need sun or moon for light. God’s Glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp! The nations will walk in its light and earth’s kings bring in their splendor. Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won’t be any night. They’ll bring the glory and honor of the nations into the City.
I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”
This is the Hope my sister shared and lived and died anticipating. One day I will see Marie again…young and healed and whole…“new!” I’ll see her arm in arm with all our loved ones who’ve gone before, basking in the light of Christ illuminating the City of God.
Cookie…Marie…save me a spot and I’ll meet you…Downtown.
GV, October 2009
Since that day, Dad followed Cookie home. I can think of no worse hell than to bury your children. I had questions for God then, and have them still today. I have been told not to question…to simply have faith, and there was a time when I would simply accept said advice. But so many questions demand answers, and I cannot help but be reminded of the faith heroes who questioned and yet dared call God friend. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…Moses, Joshua, and the prophets who proclaimed truth and paid with blood. Even Christ had His questions and moments of dark abandonment. My God can handle my rage and my questions…I just don’t know how much more I can handle.
I am indeed looking forward to a homecoming. But until then, I’ll continue with my questions and my journey.
GV, September 30, 2014