No one who knew Janie Katherine Huey Wiley would or could capture the essence of her personality and spirit with words. Most wouldn't even try. She was truly one of kind, a person of great influence in my life for 70 years. She was the mother of my favorite cousins and one of my mother's dearest lifetime friends. Aunt Janie and my mother married Wiley brothers who were 18 months apart in age and very close, so it was nice that their wives loved one another as sisters in the true sense of the word. My mother was practical with a capital "P;" my Aunt Janie was ethereal and otherworldly, with a capital "O." Both of these ladies were Spiritual with a capital "S"!
Aunt Janie was an educated, very intelligent lady who taught Latin and English in several Kentucky high schools; her last setting was Jessamine County High School, where she substituted until she was 90 years old. (She graced the cover of Kentucky Teacher when she was named "Retired Teacher of the Year"). That she was remarkable could be proved in many areas! I really don't know where to start.
As her niece, I want to start with her smile, which was beautiful and ever-present, genuine and real, no matter what the circumstances, because she saw life totally through eyes of love. I remember once in my childhood when they made a summer visit to our home in hot, hot Capleville, Tenn., right outside of Memphis. Someone there gave her husband a beehive full of buzzing bees; since he was an avid beekeeper, he was thrilled and began his plans to transport this active hive to Wilmore. He had one small car (1940s model), a wife, four children, luggage and now at least 100 live bees. If anything should have made her lose her smile, in my opinion, that would be IT! But, no, Aunt Janie was her wonderful self, smiling all the while.
Incidentally, because they traveled at night when it was cooler (no car air conditioners in the '40s), all the bees (and the people) survived. I know that the bees were in the trunk of the car; I watched him make the transfer, with no netting; you could hear them buzzing several feet away. We had a once a year tradition with Aunt Janie and her family; we would go to the day after Christmas sales in downtown Memphis to get the one or two needed winter coats for the six of us children; the rest got the hand-me-downs, because both preacher-family groups were poor as church mice. I'll never forget the sights and smells of the wonderful stores on Main Street, Memphis: Levy's, Gerber's, Goldsmith's and Lowenstein's. We would shop until the right price was found; sometimes we got to go to the children's idea of "Heaven," the candy counter at Woolworth's!
Aunt Janie was a Bible student and teacher, and all who knew her knew that that was what energized her. She not only read her Bible, she lived it, a life of giving to and serving others. The idea of retiring from her Christianity in action would have never occurred to her. Aunt Janie celebrated her 82nd birthday while in Indonesia where she went to teach in an international Christian school so that another teacher could have some time off. I think that she was up in her 80's, when Aunt Janie's children had to thwart her plans to help move a needy girl with a baby. Aunt Janie had already made plans to rent a U-Haul truck to drive this girl to Texas where she had family. We all knew that she could probably do that, but the answer had to be, "No." There would be no way to count the number of people whom she helped in ways such as this during her lifetime.
One of the stories about Aunt Janie that makes me chuckle happened when our John was at Asbury College; we went to see him play basketball. We went by to pick her up to go to the game because her grandson, Bill, was also playing. I was very glad that she was facing me reminiscing about John's granddaddy (my dad) and Bill's granddaddy (my uncle and her husband) playing on this same gym floor together in 1924 and 1925. As she was caught up in reverie, I, who was facing the playing floor, was watching her spirited grandson, Bill, being thrown out of the game for fighting. She never knew that anything was amiss, and we had a very happy visit.
Aunt Janie died a little over a year ago, and I did not know until the day of her service that Janie Wiley had had another profound influence on my life in a way that blesses me beyond measure. My husband stood and began to tell a story that I did not know to my relatives. Aunt Janie's children and grandchildren were gathered in the church basement for lunch before her memorial service. Aunt Janie had influenced Jerry's mother in a real way and prepared his heart to love me. That is amazing, a true "God wink" to me. I'll close with Jerry's words: "I have known Janie Wiley, or at least she has known me, longer than anyone in this room. This is because in 1937 or 1938, Bob Wiley was appointed pastor of the tiny Methodist congregation at Pickwick Dam, Tenn., where my family lived when I was 2 years old. The pattern was the same each month. Bob and Janie would arrive once a month on Saturday afternoon, always stay in our home, and then lead services in our church on Sunday morning. I am almost sure that Bob Wiley baptized my Dad. One of the most powerful influences of the Wileys' ministry at Pickwick, though, was the influence that Janie had on my mother. Audra and Janie were both young mothers and shared many things in common; they were both teachers, pretty, intelligent and loved to read and learn. They were both eager to serve others and both were a "step ahead" of most young mothers in a small rural community. My mother was new to the community; I am sure that she was lonesome and that Janie became a real soul mate for her. I know from things that my mother shared with me later that during the three years of the Wiley ministry there, my mom looked forward with great anticipation to those monthly overnight visits. During my childhood years, the very mention of Bob and Janie Wiley or any one of the 11 Wiley siblings brought comments filled with love, admiration and respect. We did not know the Patrick Wiley family but knew who they were. At that time people did not communicate as we do today, but there were Christmas cards, etc. and we always knew where the Wileys were through the annual Methodist Journal, which gave the location of Methodist pastors. I will fast forward this story to January 1958. I had returned to Lambuth College after being gone for a year and a half attending school in Memphis. The first day that I was back there, my roommate, Bob Hendrix, an old friend from my previous Lambuth days, was filling me in on all the interesting girls that had arrived during my absence. He began telling me about a sharp girl who, like himself, came from south Memphis, and he began describing her. My ears perked up. Then, he mentioned that her name was Pat WILEY! That did it! I was in love, and I had never laid eyes on her yet! He introduced her to me the next day, and that was the beginning of a relationship that has lasted over 50 years and has enriched my life beyond my wildest imagination. My association with the "Wileys," which began before Patricia was born and continues to this day, has been rich, powerful, and wonderful. I believe that through your wonderful mother, Janie Wiley, God was preparing my heart for Patricia." That was a WOW moment for me, a story that I had never heard. Thank you, God, for this undeserved blessing, and thank you, Aunt Janie! (You can reach Pat Bryson at firstname.lastname@example.org.)