Soul Sisters

Photo By Avah Bass

It is ten o’clock in the morning in downtown Tyler and I feel as if we are in sitting in a Norman Rockwell painting. The bright blue sky blankets us overhead with popcorn-like clouds.  The city is alive with people as they go about their day; crossing over the century-old brick roads to say “good morning” to us as we sit in the center of it all, preparing to begin our interview.

Callynth Finney’s photography studio is nestled among the buzzing Square in Tyler. I cannot help but feel the nostalgia surrounding me with the exposed brick store fronts from the city’s early days … brick that Callynth explains were made with mud and horsehair right here in Tyler. We are seated at a bistro table outside. Next to our perch is a well that once drew fresh water up to the surface from a spring that runs beneath Spring Street. Why have I never seen this well before? And, hello! That’s how Spring Street got its name! There is so much history right in front of us and Callynth is an excellent story teller but the past in my imaginative Norman Rockwell painting will have to wait. I am here to learn more about Callynth and her beautiful friendship with Karlene Haggerty-Akra, affectionately known as “Cookie”.

Cookie and Callynth met in June of 2008 at a concert in Bergfeld Park. Cookie remembers that she had just made up a song and wanted to sing it for the lady who was performing that day. After the concert, Cookie found the lady behind stage and introduced herself and shared her song. It was there that she met Callynth who was also visiting with the performer. Cookie said that at that very moment, it was as if she and Callynth had known each other forever. “You know, sometimes you meet people and it is like you’ve known them for a long time.” Callynth calls the two friends “kindred spirits.” They have been known to wear matching clothes and share a child-like joy in the world around them. Callynth says about Cookie: “Whatever (joy, tenacious spirit) you had as a little girl; Cookie never lost that. She loves to sing and dance. If Cookie wants to do something, she’s going to do it. As long as she is having fun … that is what is important.” “Fun” describes the pair’s friendship as every day is an adventure just waiting to be had.  “Cookie is 62 years old and she’s always ready to have fun!” Callynth beams as she describes her friend. 

Cookie recalls an evening that she and Callynth were having a birthday dinner. Ironically, Cookie received a fortune cookie at the restaurant predicting that “you are getting ready to go on a road trip with a friend.” It was not long after the birthday dinner that the two flew to Colorado (in matching outfits). It was Cookie’s first time seeing the mountains and Callynth remembers the exuberant joy Cookie expressed while on her visit. “Cookie was talking to the Lord. In the morning, she would say Thank you, God, I’m waking up on the mountains!" Callynth laughs as she shares more of Cookie’s gratefulness to God’s creations. “Cookie would have her coffee and say I’m having coffee on the mountains!” Callynth also shares that she and Cookie visited Callynth’s relatives while on the two week trip. “Cookie was jumping on a trampoline and the whole time she was saying I’m jumping on a mountain, I’m jumping on a mountain!” While on their Colorado trip, Cookie and Callynth collected rocks (one of Cookie’s favorite activities). “We had so many rocks that I told Cookie we could not take all those rocks on the airplane back home.” Cookie begins to giggle when she hears Callynth share this story. “Cookie!” Callynth exclaims (hinting a bit of good-humored mischief in Cookie’s voice. “Did you sneak some rocks on the airplane?” Cookie grins, and, with her bold honesty, says, “Yes, I did! I put some in my clothes!” And the two friends share a laugh at the fun memories they had in Colorado.  

Cookie and Callynth do not have to be miles away on vacation to have a good time. A reoccurring subject during our interview was “rocks”. Callynth explains that Cookie has a creative talent for using rocks as instruments. “I play the rocks.” Cookie says,” I put two rocks together and play Jesus Loves Me.” Cookie recalls that a man from the Philippines once visited her church and taught her how to play songs by hitting rocks together. “All rocks don’t make the same sound,” Cookie explains. “They all have a different tune.” A wise and in-depth observation and I cannot help but think that Cookie is referring to more than just rocks. Is it not true, that in life, we all make our own way and follow a path set just for us? In fact, one evening, a band was playing on The Square in Downtown Tyler. Cookie found two rocks and kept rhythm with the band. A lady in the audience asked her if she was with the band on stage and Cookie replied, “I am tonight!” Callynth and Cookie laughed again at another fond memory that is a reminder to us all to find joy in everything around us … even rocks! As Cookie says, “Get out there and do your own thing!”

“Cookie is the most emotionally intelligent person I have ever met,” Callynth says about her friend, “Cookie is encouraging and positive but not afraid to speak the truth if it needs to be spoken. Cookie would step in and save my life – she is very protective. There are some days I think Wow! Cookie was a hero today!” Callynth shares a story of a time when a man in mental distress was near the studio. “He had cuts on his arms and Cookie went up to this man, who most people would be really afraid to be near, and began praying over him and singing. The man just sat down and cried … his heart melted.” But Cookie says she was never afraid. “You know, the Bible says to treat your neighbor as you would treat yourself,” Cookie explains. Callynth adds that “Cookie represents Jesus in so many ways … kindness, boldness, and bravery.” And it really is as beautiful as that.

How is it that in this day and time, two friends can come together and share a bond so beautifully woven? “Put God first and everything is going to come together.” Cookie says, “If you leave Him out, something ain’t going to come out right.” Callynth shares her thoughts on what makes this friendship special: “A lot of times you are drawn to people who are similar to you in culture, style, and interest. But I feel like everybody on earth has something to offer. Cookie and I both believe you can learn something from anybody. We are two different ages; we come from two different cultures; but we share the same personality. It is nice to have a friend that you can live out your personality with. We are ok with disagreeing and we don’t fight.” Cookie agrees, “I like being around Callynth. We always have fun.” Callynth also shares that it is “valuable to have a friend where you don’t have to walk on eggshells.”

As our morning interview drew to an end, I found myself looking at the world around me with fresh eyes as Cookie and Callynth do on a daily basis. I noticed the beautiful blue sky and friendly people walking to and from work-many who stopped by to say “hi” to Cookie and Callynth at some point during our visit. The air felt crisper and the trees seemed to appear a deeper shade of green. I left that day with a renewed sense of child-like joy. And I realized that Cookie and Callynth not only see the beauty around them; they help open our eyes so that we, too, may see the Joy IN the World.


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