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By Jefferson Weaver

When I first met Edith Batson, she was upset with a camera that didn’t want to work.

“All I want to do is take a picture!” she exclaimed in that way that only she had. I half-expected her to stamp a foot, but instead she laughed at herself, the camera and the situation.

Miss Edith was already a legend at that point; we worked for competing newspapers, but I knew her by sight and reputation, both of which were stellar. It was a few years later that she came into the Burgaw office one day, clear umbrella in hand, and sat down at the big table.

Miss Edith was always ready with a question. She wasn’t really nosy – she was curious, and wanted to know about people. She loved people and their stories, and she loved telling them.

“So what do you do?” she asked. I told her I covered crime, politics, and a little of this and that.

“I like to write the happy news,” Miss Edith said. “I think we need more happy news.”

Edith Batson went home to the Lord Friday, after 90 years on this earth. She was one of the gentlest, most gracious ladies I have ever had the privilege to know.

Miss Edith was a generous soul, too. When our church took a group over to sing at the Pender hospital one Saturday, she came by, even though it was her “day off” from playing the piano and visiting. She made sure the nurses brought some folks who required a little more attention, but needed cheering up, too. I was told later on that once when she went by to watch another church group and their piano player couldn’t make it, Edith stepped right up.

Miss Edith loved music; between singing, organizing and directing Handel’s Messiah, playing piano at both the Baptist and Presbyterian churches, and playing and singing for folks in hospitals and nursing homes, she loved hearing people sing and be happy. She worked at the USO in Wilmington during World War II, and confessed to sneaking inside to dance on more than one occasion.

I know two folks who were close to her back then – they were all in school together, and one was more than a little in love with her back then. Growing up in Wilmington, Miss Edith was known as “Turkey” to her friends. She loved music then, too, and the would-be suitor said that she could make any piano play any song she wanted.

We never called her “Turkey” at the newspaper in Burgaw; had I even known of the nickname, it would have been rude, in my opinion, and Miss Edith was the kind of lady who made one want to be on your best behavior. Not out of fear, but out of love and respect. You didn’t want her to go away, and if you were rude, she might do just that – plus you might hurt her feelings.

She was a lady of surprises, in so many ways. She had a twinkle in her eye that sometimes meant mischief, but not in a mean way.

A large keyboard, almost an electric organ, ended up at the newspaper one day. Miss Edith stroked it a few times, and asked politely if she could play something on it. We begged her to do so, and after a few tentative notes to find her place, she launched into a big band tune that had folks staring around the corner to watch her work her magic, pulling classic boogie-woogie out of a modern machine she’d just met. She actually seemed embarrassed at the whole office stopping work to watch and listen to her play.

She liked bright, colorful things – her umbrella, a yellow dress, the hats she wore to ward off skin cancer. Her home was a wonderful study in the eclectic, from the elephant tusk and spears her father brought back from Africa (he was a missionary) to the barber chair in the room where she entertained. Yes, visitors were welcome to sit in the barber chair.

She was a good listener and adviser, too; those who sought her counsel might not get what they wanted to hear, but it was delivered honestly and out of love. Edith Batson could and would tell it like it was, even though it sometimes hurt her to do so.

Edith was generous. When her health was still good she often mentioned house-sitting or pet-watching for a friend or neighbor. She took little things to folks in the hospital and nursing homes. When a friend was widowed, she made it a point to see or call her almost daily. More often than not, she brought some kind of baked goods to the newspaper on Tuesdays: her famous lemon squares, experimental cookies, strawberry preserves she had put up on biscuits she made that morning, cakes that strayed from the recipe but were even better because she had substituted something she had heard about 60 years ago, and always wanted to try. Miss Edith was upset if you came to her house and she couldn’t offer you something homemade.

But first and foremost, Edith Batson wrote the happy news.

Her column ran for more than 40 years, a collection of tidbits about folks she’d met, old and new friends, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a beloved pet and both current and historical events – often in the same column.

The tone was never gossipy, like some country correspondents of the past. Instead it was just friends catching up, as they might after church on Sunday or if they ran into each other at a restaurant. It was friendly, gentle, touching and often funny.

Miss Edith always ended her column with a bright little note of some kind – a Bible verse, an uplifting reminder, something on those lines. She often reminded folks that ”God loves you, and so do I!” before ending with “Shalom!”

It might seem kind of strange that a Baptist-turned-Presbyterian would use a Hebrew word so often, but Miss Edith was about doctrine, not dogma. Her faith was solid, simple, sincere and easily shared.  Shalom means peace, but it means much more – the word is a greeting or a farewell, as well as literal wish that someone have inner peace, happiness, prosperity and safety.

Looking at it that way, one shouldn’t be surprised that Miss Edith loved saying and writing “Shalom”. If anyone ever wanted folks to be happy, it was Edith Batson. Her mission in life was to spread happiness just by walking through the door.

Godspeed, Miss Edith. Thank you for bringing us the happy news.