Childhood memories are oftentimes a blur, but I think God has a way of helping us to remember the people and experiences that are most important.
I spent my first nine years in a small town, Oxford, NC, which is really not too far from here. We lived in a small, relatively modern manse. Today not many Presbyterian churches have houses for their pastors to live in, but we lived in this one. I suppose it was a burden off of my parents to not be responsible for upkeep and maintenance, except for mowing the lawn of course. The church was only two blocks away and we could walk there if we wanted to.
I had two older brothers who seemed to always play together and leave me out, but I also had a dog, several girlfriends and my neighbor, Emeline Daniel, who I called Mrs. Nat. She lived in a ramshackle house that was easily accessible by walking on a short path next to my dad’s garden.
To a small child, anyone with gray hair and old shoes seems old, and as I think about it, I think she must’ve been in her sixties. Her husband was eighteen years older than she was and I remember when he turned 84 thinking he was absolutely ancient! Their house was in bad shape and kind of creepy. Their yard was full of rusty equipment and a broken down forgotten old car. I still remember pretending that the perfectly symmetrical small pieces of broken glass from the windshield were diamonds. Many of the rooms in the house were unused and I still think of her dark hallway when I smell ripe bananas, especially when the scent of coffee is mingled in. She and Mr. Nat kept warm in an upstairs room where we would sometimes sit and talk to Mr. Nat while she knitted. Mrs. Nat crafted me a red hat and matching sweater. I liked them so much and even had a picture taken of me sitting on my front steps wearing my new ensemble. It’s a shame there were no color photos then!
Mrs. Nat introduced me to paper dolls, puffed wheat, digital clocks and Tab, you know the first type of diet coke. I’ll never forget walking with her uptown and sitting at the counter at Roses and feeling so grown up as she ordered us both that delightful fizzy drink. I have warm memories too of sitting with her each Sunday in church since Mama was in the choir and, of course, Daddy was in the pulpit. I remember so well the quiet breathy way she’d sing the hymns and the way she’d position herself when it came time to hear the sermon.
On occasion she’d babysit and she taught me and always instructed me to say my prayers while on my knees next to my bed. My parents always let me say nighttime prayers aloud while I was lying down and almost ready to doze off and I remember feeling somewhat hassled by Mrs. Nat’s seeming requirement. Perhaps being wider awake is one of the benefits of being on your knees to pray!
In January 1970 I remember overhearing Daddy talking on the corded phone that hung on the wall inside our small kitchen and I could tell that something fairly major was up. Soon after, I received word that we were going to move to Virginia! My nine year old world was turned upside down and I will never forget the horror of Friday, February 13th! We had a valentine exchange at school and several kids gave me going away gifts before I rode home to get in our car and drive the dreaded route to Crewe, Virginia.
When would I get to walk uptown with Mrs. Nat and get another Tab? Who would I sit with in church and talk to about what was happening in my 4th grade life? I remember her attempted words of encouragement as she quoted a poem about new friends being silver and the other ones gold. I wonder now just how upset and sad she might have been at our family leaving town.
Moving was an adjustment that we made fairly well but I missed Mrs. Nat dreadfully. She visited us once in our new home and I don’t think I showed her the affection she was due. I was approaching the middle school years plus never really had any time with her alone where I could have poured out my emotions. Back then and in my family we didn’t do much of that anyway.
The next time I saw her I was much older and we visited her in the hospital where she soon died of leukemia. My forever friend was gone and I grieved many a night alone in my bed. I knew I would see her again in heaven, but as the years have gone by, I regret that I was never mature enough to articulate to her what she meant to me and how she was a foundational part of my knowing I was loved by God.
We serve a big God and I believe that she knows her impact.
Now I’m getting a few gray hairs of my own and according to my kids, I can wear some pretty old lady looking shoes. I know some young girls who are now at that same age that I was back in the sixties. What am I going to do? Can I do something as important for these girls as Mrs. Nat did for me? God says a resounding YES! There are so many Lucys out there waiting to embrace us and nothing is much more important than having our eyes open to seeing them. I want to be a Mrs. Nat and I want to love the Mrs. Nats that are out there too. Did I tell you how good Mrs. Nat’s hugs were? If we ever get too obsessed with weight gain, just remember that added weight is just helping making our hugs soft and squishy like Mrs. Nat’s! We affect children by the things we do and the words we say, and there are plenty of children who are ready to respond to our love and attention. I think we have a lot of Mrs. Nats among us! And there will always be a Lucy for you too.