The little white church was packed. The people of Perry, Oklahoma, and its surrounding ranches, had come to celebrate the life of one of their own.

 Family members were ushered to the back kitchen of the church. Men shook hands, women arm-hugged each other and the children stayed contained, almost quiet, while surveying the desserts prepared for after the service. In a moment, the congregation would stand and the Kienholz family would be guided from the back kitchen, through the side vestibule, to their appointed four rows in front of the altar.

 In the meantime, a shabby tabby named Kitty hung out at the house, waiting for his buddy to return. For days, Kitty had gently laid across Aunt Janie’s chest, purring and napping, napping and purring the final days and nights away.

 The church service ran almost an hour. The minister gave a eulogy, telling little stories that had made Mrs. Etta Jane Kienholz, age 88, a family and community favorite. She had been a beautiful young lady, a devoted wife and mother who had chosen the rugged, independent life of an Oklahoma rancher. Her faith in God could never be questioned.

 Later, after the cemetery, Aunt Janie’s sons, David, Steve and Larry, and other family members, returned to the house to share the many ways Aunt Janie’s character would play forward in their own lives. Aunt Janie had been a strong mother with a soft voice and a fast gait. Seven grandchildren had already been influenced by her love.

 Sherry, my wife, had stayed quiet throughout the day. As a little girl, she had found refuge and joy during summers at Aunt Janie’s. Sherry knew her aunt’s gentle love and understanding got her through a very difficult patch of childhood. Janie had taught Sherry how to milk a cow, feed lunch to the ranch hands, hang the laundry out to dry and stay strong and resilient for a lifetime.

 It was getting late: time to head back to the airport and home to Nevada. I found Sherry alone on the back porch, softly stroking a shabby tabby named Kitty.