The influences of parents, grandparents and other immediate family members undoubtedly are the most vividly kept memories as you move through life.
But there are many people who are completely unrelated who make an impression that you cherish as you journey through your own life.
Such is the case of two women from my home community of Sinking Creek - two very different ladies in some ways, but both of whom bore the nickname "Tootsie." Ironically, both ladies passed away during May, leaving a hole in the close knit group of true Sinking Creek community natives.
Tootsie Jones, whose real name was Julia, is a woman I always admired. She barely reached 5 feet in height, but her heart was a mile wide. Tootsie was my Sunday School teacher at church when I was around 8 or 9 years old. She had faith, love and family embedded in her heart and she lived her life in a Christian manner. I spent many nights in the Jones family home, and held her in high respect. I've heard it said that Tootsie smiled with her eyes - but that smile enveloped your entire being.
Regardless of the trends of the time, Tootsie instilled responsibilities and morals in her family. She never raised her voice - she dealt with problems with grace and dignity and taught her children to do the same. She had rules and expectations but she delved out responsibilities fairly and always with love. Her family was always kind to me and have created so many memories of my youth - talking Star Trek (the real version with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy) with Denise and Paula, going to high school basketball games, Paula helping me get through high school algebra class, and comparing pregnancy experiences with Denise, whose two oldest children are the same ages as mine. Their brother, Phillip, on the other hand, learned early on that it was best to steer clear of his sisters when their friends visited and kept a low profile most of the time!
Tootsie raised three children of her own, but she left a multitude of precious memories for so many of us in the Sinking Creek community. Although she was a private person, she always dispersed love and kindness to those around her. She depicted what Christian love should mean. Although we are sad of her passing, we know that she is in a better place and we cherish the impact she made on so many lives.
The same can be said of the other Sinking Creek Tootsie. Rachel (Tootsie) Blankenship also left us last month, leaving a legacy of love with her passing.
Tootsie Blankenship loved people. She loved being a part of activities and was always supportive of her family and their friends. Her daughter Gladys (Herron) played piano at Sinking Creek Baptist Church for many years, her husband Edgar was church treasurer for many years. I was friends with her daughter, Darlene. Tootsie battled health problems all her life but she remained strong in faith and strength even through the illnesses and deaths of her loved ones, including her husband and her daughter Darlene.
It was an honor to highlight Tootsie's Christmas Village collection one year for the newspaper - and although she never knew it, that sparkling collection of lights and hope inspired me to begin my own collection soon after.
She was also the subject of a feature story one year, in which she shared how she had married Edgar Blankenship when she was just barely 16 years old and then had her first child on her own 17th birthday, staying with her mother-in-law while her husband was in the military.
This is another lady whose smile could captivate your very being. She was always happy to see her family, friends and neighbors - treating each of them as if they were her immediate family. She loved God and gospel music and seeing the people she loved. Tootsie Blankenship left this world on May 28, but her legacy will live on in the hearts of those who knew and loved her.
There are so many others in the community where I grew up that have left vivid memories of my youth and my adulthood. As I grow older, I appreciate the struggles of these pillars of the community that will always be my home, regardless of where I live.
With all the national unrest with protests and discord among our citizens and police as we emerge from a worldwide pandemic, we must take time to appreciate the 'peacemakers' of this world - the people who exhibited their love for others in their everyday lives. This world would undoubtedly be a better place if we followed the examples of these two ladies.
Nita Johnson is a staff writer at The Sentinel-Echo and can be reached at email@example.com.