Aunt Opal's touch will last a lifetime

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Guest Columnist: Jamie Baker-Nantz

I’ve written about my Aunt Lucy many times because she’s been such an important and influential person in my life, but one of the other special women who had a profound impact on me never got much ink.
Two weeks ago, our family had to say goodbye to Opal Smoot Hawkins. Opal was also my aunt; one of my mom’s older sisters.  Since my mom is the baby of the 12 Smoot children, all of them are older.
Opal is familiar to a lot of children who came through the Owen County School System. She worked as the lunchroom supervisor at Owen County High School for many years and that was back when there weren’t so many “dietary restrictions” and the lunch ladies made those homemade yeast rolls that you’d slather with butter.
Aunt Opal could cook. She could cook anything and it tasted really, really good.
Bro. Everett Hawkins preached Opal’s funeral. He said he could remember coming through the lunch line and Opal giving you a little extra, especially those burly boys who needed a little more nutrition.
That’s the way Opal was. She was not warm and fuzzy in the sense that she’d hug and kiss you or even tell you that she loved you, but it was the way she treated you that let you know that she was pretty fond of you.
I, along with many others I’m sure, never left her house hungry.
Outside of school, many, many neighbors and friends benefited from Opal’s generosity. As a member of South Fork Baptist Church, she cooked mountains of food for dinners and sick people. It is likely that many of her dishes found their way to the home of a family that had recently lost a loved one.
Even as Opal’s health deteriorated the last few years, she could still kick butt when it came to playing cards. She loved to “have a game” as she called it and she liked nothing better than to beat your socks off.
She was also quite the fisherman. She and Aunt Lucy would often spend an afternoon down at her pond catching bluegill and catfish. Before she had the larger pond built on her farm, she had a smaller one closer to the house. As a little girl, she’d take me out to fish and never complained when I screamed at the worms or wouldn’t dare touch the fish if I was lucky enough to land one.
Opal was known for being frugal. I’m guessing it’s due to living through the Great Depression. She never threw out clothes that her daughter, Pam, or grandchildren, Scotty and Jarrod, outgrew, but always gave them new life as a potholder or dishtowel or some repurpose.
My mom told me that when after she and my Uncle Cecil went off to war, Opal remained at home to help with the younger children. When Cecil returned, Opal had saved enough money to put a down payment on their farm.
Being on the farm, gardening and puttering in her flowers and cutting her own grass was something she took pride in. Her family had to lock up the mower keys a few years ago to keep her from getting out in the hot sun and mowing.
While Opal never got her driver’s license, she still loved to travel and if anyone said, “let’s go” she was ready.
She also had a way of speaking her mind. If you’d gained a few pounds since she last saw you, she would probably let you know. But she was never mean or hateful, just painfully honest.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my Aunt Opal since she passed and how I regret never telling her how much I appreciated her gentle spirit. She had a big heart and loved her family dearly. I don’t think I ever saw her angry, but most generally she’d give you that sideways, crooked grin.
She was an anchor and a rock to the Smoot family. Our loss is truly Heaven’s gain.
Jamie Baker-Nantz is editor of the Grant County News. She can be reached at (859) 824-3343 or by e-mail at jbakernantz@grantky.com.)