It seems that my whole life I have had some older adult who was not related to me with whom I somehow ended up having a formative relationship. When I was in elementary school, it was Mrs. Gwaltney. She lived across the street from me and she was a first grade teacher, although never my first grade teacher. Her back door was a Dutch door and there was a rolled pad of paper hanging by it, so if she wasn't there when I dropped by I could always leave a note. When she was there, she welcomed me and the other neighborhood kids over. Sometimes we just talked with her. Sometimes she led us in little craft projects. She never judged or lectured or punished like teachers at school or parents. She just listened and accepted and all of the children in the neighborhood loved her for it.
There was also Mr. Julian at my grandmother's church. When I would go to church with her, he would always joke around with me. I remember being in a Sunday school class with him and there were some books written in Braille. I have no idea why. Anyway, he would run his fingers along the Braille and "read" the stories to me. It took me a few years to realize that he wasn't magical, but that he was just making them up along the way.
Older adults (ages older than my parents and approaching my grandparents ages) have come in and out of my life all along the way. When I was a teenage hospital volunteer I struck up some friendships with the senior adult volunteers. In college, there were some senior adults who invested in college students and I came to know and love them.
When Robert was in seminary, we moved from Ft. Worth to a tiny little town about 40 miles south called Covington, TX, pop. 254. Robert was the youth minister at First Baptist, Covington which was a small church with an average attendance of about 60. We had a parsonage there (affectionately referred to as the Little Shack on the Prairie) and we commuted every day to Ft. Worth; Robert to seminary and me to my job at various nursing homes. It was at FBC, Covington that we met Joe and Sue. Joe was a retired Air Force Colonel and Sue did a little bit of everything. They lived on a small farm and had grown children a little bit older than us, who lived in various cities out of town. Joe and Sue often had us over for dinner and checked up on us. Joe has a big smile and a slow drawl. He defies every military stereotype with his warm and winsome personality. Sue is gracious and no-nonsense. There is nothing she can't do. She canned vegetables, caned chairs, sewed, did farmwork, and gave Joe a run for his money. There were funny and welcoming. I will never forget the time that they had us over for dinner and in a confessional tone told us that they were really liking that "new show, Seinfeld."
A perfect example of how they invested in Robert and me in our early years of marriage and when we became parents, is our last day in Covington. Robert had just graduated from seminary and gotten his first full-time ministry position. We were moving ourselves in a U-Haul from Covington, TX to Carthage, MO and we had a 9 month old baby. Sue volunteered to babysit Adam at her house all day. Joe came over and helped load the U-Haul. Sue brought us over lunch. Everything took much longer than expected due to thunderstorms and people who promised to help us load that didn't show up. Our U-Haul ended up getting stuck in the mud and had to be towed out. We were exhausted beyond belief. Sue had been caring for Adam for about 10 hours. We had expected to leave that afternoon, but it was close to 9 pm when we pulled out. Before we left, Sue cooked us a delicious and filling sit-down dinner at their house. We couldn't have prepared to move without them.
Joe and Sue are now 83 years old. We get a hand written Christmas card from them every single year without fail. Sue also updates us on their family news and I don't think that they have yet to slow down. I am well aware that there will be an upcoming Christmas in which there's no card with Sue's microscopic handwriting and Texas postmark. I am so thankful to have them as mentors and friends even now.
When we moved to Missouri, Marvin and Lou became our new Joe and Sue. We stayed with them during part of the interview process and then remained friends throughout our time there. Marvin was on the search committee and chair of the deacons when Robert was hired. Lou was a first grade teacher and became state president of the State Education Association as well. Like Sue, she was a strong, empowered woman. We get a handwritten Christmas card from Lou every year as well. This year, actually it was a belated New Year's card. Again, Marvin and Lou had us over for dinner, watched as we added baby number 2 to our family, and served as mentors, guides, and friends. Here are two excerpts from her last letter just this past week.
First, she recalls sweet memories of Adam and Noah:
And then, to show she knows us and is currently invested in our lives, there's this:
Robert and I laughed out loud for 2 reasons. First of all, Belts is an ice cream place that is a favorite landmark and iconic event/place in Stevens Point. Everyone goes to Belts for ice cream. I also love her sense of humor talking about Leviticus here. Marvin and Lou are now in their mid-70s and she still teaches over twenty first grade BOYS in Sunday school every week and works with the 4 year olds in nursery at Bible Study Fellowship. She and Marvin are retired, but on the go with their volunteering, ministry, and traveling.
Marvin and Lou and Joe and Sue have been deep abiding friends. They have been in that grey area of ages between our parents and grandparents and have served as surrogates of sorts for us when we lived far away from our own families. They took us in and loved us...uncondtionally. They showed us gracious hospitality. As a young mother, Sue and Lou helped me see how not to sweat the small stuff. They have been strong female role models for me and both couples have shown Robert and I what a solid marriage built on faith, love, mutual respect, and hard work looks like. I am so thankful to have these wonderful older adults take the time to invest in me and my family. When I grow up, I want to be just like them. And I hope you find your own Marvin, Lou, Joe, and Sue.