I’ll never forget the summer that our church youth group decided to spend Saturdays helping shut-ins with their yard work. My first visit began at tiny white house that sat tentatively, its roof sagging slightly in the middle.
We stepped out of our cars tentatively and followed an old brick path where most of the bricks had sunk beneath the dirt under the weight of past friends and family. We approached the front door with black paint cracked and peeling, on which a screen door hung jauntily cock-eyed. We knocked on the door and waited for several minutes while bugs buzzed us and the elderly neighbor next door stood guard in her side window peering through the wide aluminum blinds.
We wondered if we had the wrong address, or if we had wandered up to an abandoned house. Then we heard the door knob jiggling, and the door opened slowly as if a ghost was the inhabitant. Then we saw her – a little woman with gray hair, an old, ripped house dress, and a beatific smile that made every dark thing around us disappear. I will call her Mrs. Anderson.
“Oh, you came. Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Her chin began to quiver, and tears started to run down her cheeks. We were just teenagers, so we looked at each other awkwardly, unaware of how to handle immediate emotion. Luckily our youth minister smiled and said “You are more than welcome, Mrs. Anderson. We’re glad we could come today. Why don’t you show us around your yard and we’ll decide what to do first.”
Mrs. Anderson’s feet swelled over the tops of her black shoes, and she wobbled in obvious pain. She pointed to the backyard, and since we could barely see anything other than overgrown bushes, weeds, and the stacked wood sure to be filled with Black Widow spiders, we had an idea of where we needed to start. We walked Mrs. Anderson back inside so she could sit down and put her feet up.
We put on our gloves, sprayed ourselves with bug spray and got to work. Our morning hours were spent restacking wood that she could use, clearing brush, and throwing away fifteen years worth of collected trash.
Two hours after getting started, we heard the back patio sliding glass door open. We turned to see Mrs. Anderson wobbling across the newly uncovered brick patio. In her slightly shaking hands was an old metal serving tray with 10 stale cookies, a couple of half sandwiches, and a pitcher of weak lemonade.
She said “You all are just working so hard, I thought you could use a snack.” We knew she was probably offering us the little bit of food she had in her own pantry.
Our group worked non-stop on her yard the rest of the day, our spirits boosted by the gratitude expressed in 10 stale cookies and weak lemonade. The front and backyard looked transformed. Like a Etch-a-Sketch, we had shaken away the brambles and weeds to reveal a home well-loved.
When we took Mrs. Anderson outside, she grasped our hands and gasped with delight. “Well, there is our brick patio. I knew it was still there – my husband and I spent months building that together.” She proceeded to weave stories about all of the small delights we had uncovered while tears of joy and memory streamed down her face.
We spent one day with Mrs. Anderson, but she gave us a lifetime of lessons with her simple joy and sincere gratitude.