Blue Hair and Big Hats...
Daddy didn't talk much around the house. Surprising since he became a singer, comedian and story-teller when serving as Sunday School teacher for the ladies of the Fellowship Class there at the Methodist church they named after Martha Brown. Those ladies saw the clever and funny side of him that we rarely saw at home. They put a big picture of him on the wall in their classroom and it hung there for years after his death.
He was more than their teacher - he was a caretaker. He did yard work for them, he took them to doctor's appointments, he visited them in their homes and at hospitals, usually on Sunday afternoons. I accompanied him on many of these missions of mercy (for my own good I would imagine, learning to help those that need help.) To most kids my age they were just old people. But I found them funny. I found them fascinating. Some of the times and events they'd lived through were - to most my age - just words in a history book or tired, word of mouth tales about how things used to be. But here they were, living breathing souls who bore the scars of economic depression and world wars and child-rearing and careers. I learned first hand what C.S. Lewis tried to explain when he said "We're not bodies who happen to have souls. We're souls that happen to have bodies." And those bodies - if we're lucky - get old and frail but the soul they carry becomes no less alive when it happens.
So many of their stories stuck with me. On one of these Sunday afternoon visits (I was probably 10 or 11) we knocked and knocked on a front door with no response. We feared the worst. Daddy told me to go around and try the backdoor while he continued beating on the front door. After just a few raps on the backdoor the kind smile and crooked fingers and arched back greeted me with surprise that I was at her backdoor. We went in and let Daddy in the front door. He was almost scolding in his tone - "WHY AREN'T YOU WEARING THE HEARING AID WE WENT AND GOT FOR YOU?? YOU DIDN'T EVEN HEAR US KNOCKING ON THE DOOR!" She seemed dumbfounded "Well I wore it all morning Sam and took it out before my nap! But I think it's working! After just a few hours wearing it this morning I'm hearing a lot better this afternoon! I'll put it back in tomorrow." He chuckled and explained to her that it wasn't a "fix" for her ear that would slowly cure her hearing ails by wearing it a few hours a day. It only worked when it was in and she needed to accept it as a permanent accessory. I'm not sure she understood.
I don't remember that lady's name but I do remember Anne Bullock's name. I always thought Anne looked rich. There was a strong resemblance between Anne and the faces on the t.v. screen every time Mother alerted me to the news when it dealt with one of her favorite actresses (See, they made gender distinction in those days between actors and actresses) I'd heard a hundred times about the day Dr. Chidsey baptized me and my parents sweated the time between the beginning of 11:00 church and the time in the service set aside for baptizing young 'uns. They got agitated because they were perched in their regular spot on the third row, left side of the church. Anne had placed herself in the second row, wearing a hat that bore way too many flowers for an infant to resist playing with, pulling on and desperately wanting to see how they tasted. MANY years later when I ran into Anne I asked her if she remembered the destruction I sought to exact on that beautiful hat. She laughed and said "No, but I do remember seeing your mama pushing you around in a buggy there at the A&P. You had a sucker in one hand (because we always went direct from the bank to the A&P and banks in those days always gave kids a sucker) and a 'co-cola' in the other. I remember thinking 'we should all be as happy as that child in that buggy is right now!' "
There were many others. There was Edith Walker who sang a really bad rendition of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" at Christmas that we all found quite amusing.....until she got to a point where she was barely able to stand while singing it and we didn't find it so amusing. There was Vivian Beecher who kissed everything at church but the hymnals. We always came home from church wearing most of her lipstick. (My father, in fact, called her "Kissy") There was Miss Lutrell who taught 2nd grade Sunday School and had one picture of a white heart and one picture of a black heart sitting on a table (depicting those who knew Jesus and those who didn't....) "The B-I-B-L-E,,,,yes, that's the book for me!" may have been one of the first songs I ever knew, thanks to Miss Lutrell. I thought Mrs. Turnipseed had the funniest name in the world but I didn't laugh at it when she had tickets for some really good seats at Georgia Tech football games for Daddy and me.
So, given this familiarity, fascination and affinity with and for the ladies of the Fellowship Class, it's no wonder that just a very few words into "Lily Daw and the Three Ladies I thought "I know these women. I know what they sound and look like. I know their intentions and motivations that inspired them to care for this special girl living in their midst!"
Read the story here....
While they rode around the corner Mrs Carson was going
on in her sad voice, sad as the soft noises in the hen house at
twilight. "We buried Lily's poor defenseless mother. We gave
Lily all her food and kindling and every stitch she had on.
Sent her to Sunday school to learn the Lord's teachings, had
her baptized a Baptist. And when her old father commenced
beating her and tried to cut her head off with the butcher
knife, why, we went and took her away from him and gave
her a place to stay."
I do think that sometimes short stories are just pictures. It's easy to try to see intent, hidden truths and life lessons hidden in their words. And I think that sometimes that just causes you to miss a really beautiful picture. I ran the story by someone to see what they thought. Their initial reaction was the same as mine - these ladies knew that Lily surely did not have capacity to think for herself and needed their ever watchful eyes on every facet of her life...especially given the tragic circumstances that had left a scar around her neck courtesy of her father. But I don't think it's just the "special" folks that ladies like these feel led to help. It's all of us. We're talking about the same instinctual tendencies someone (be it God, Mother Nature, fate or whatever you believe in) decided the females of all species should inherit. It's the same tendency the yellow Labrador Retriever at my feet reacts to when I run a fever and she leans into me, trying to drape her body against me to comfort and warm me. It's the same sense with which wives react to their husbands' needs before they're expressed (something my bride does DAILY.) It's the same sense with which older sisters call little brothers to check on their well-being at the perfect moment. And it's the same perfection one feels when your mother walks into your bedroom long after bedtime and puts her hand on your forehead to see if your fever has let up.
There's other things one could take from this story, I'm sure. Someone hard of hearing being more able to appreciate Lily on a level that goes far beyond conversation and banter that married folks enjoy, perhaps. And you can't ignore the symbolism of Lily's Hope Chest flying off down the tracks without her. I guess we've all felt our dreams ending up far removed from where we've found ourselves in our realities. I guess the resulting emptiness is one of many things the guardian angels in our lives work hard to fill.