Commentary: A final 'I love you' to a beloved younger sister


My brother Ken and I were in prison when our sister was born. At least it felt like prison. Our grandmother  —we called her Mama Hudgins — piled four quilts onto our skinny bodies — bedded down in a cold, unheated room—turned the calendar toward the wall so that we wouldn’t strain our eyes trying to figure out the date, pulled the light chain and shut the door.

We had been sentenced to two weeks on the Hudgins farm because we had the red measles and our baby sister was due at any time. Daddy was practicing social distancing before COVID made it popular.

When we were freed and allowed to go home, we could see that Father knew best all along. There in a warm, little bassinet lay a beautiful, healthy bundle of pinkness named Joyce Elaine Hudgins, born March 26, 1949. She was a keeper.

Elaine grew up smarter than any of us — she made excellent grades in school — but her goals in life had nothing to do with college. She wanted to marry a good man and become a mother and grandmother.

As a child, she obviously got a lot of trouble from me. She claimed I made her walk two steps behind me going to school. One time, I stuck a wind-up toy train into her curly hair, turned it on, and wound her locks around the wheels, freed finally with a pair of scissors. I knelt outside her bedroom window one night, shining a flashlight under my chin, knocked on the window and watched her freak out.

But then, when she was 41, I had an opportunity to make up for my meanness. Elaine had been a diabetic since she was 12, and her kidneys had failed. She needed a good one to avoid a life on dialysis. On April 4, 1990, I donated one of mine. That kidney functioned beautifully for 33 years and seven months.

Elaine accomplished all of her goals. She married a good man, Mike Wilson; she became the mother of two great kids, Clay and Traci; she became the doting grandmother of five: Eli, Rosalee, Trey, Anna and Stella.

Always positive, Elaine overcame countless skirmishes with her health over the years, but November started the biggest battle of her life. At 1 o’clock Monday morning, Nov. 27, she asked Traci to dial our home phone. She wanted to say something to me.

“I love you,” was all she said.

She told me that every time I saw her, and ended every phone conversation with the same words. Elaine Hudgins Wilson was always a kind, loving, generous human being. She made me a better person.

“I love you too, Elaine,” I said that morning. “You’re going to be fine. You’ve done this before, you’ll do it again.”

But this time she was not going to be fine, at least not on earth.

She didn’t have to tell me she loved me. I knew that. But it was good to hear her say it one last time.

Phil Hudgins is a retired newspaper editor and author from Gainesville, Ga.. Reach him at