The old farmhouse with it's ancient peeling paint sat just off the road, surrounded by overgrown bushes and tall grass. It looked nearly forgotten and passersby might have thought it was uninhabited. The driveway had long ago been taken over by the weeds, but Grandma Belma knew just where to go when we stopped on our way home from grocery shopping in town. We would unload a few bags of supplies and carry them around back. The yard was full of accumulated tools, machines and some perennial flowers. Lots of people would have thought it was a run down mess. As a young girl, I saw a wealth of interesting things that needed to be explored. Even now, I think there was some beauty to be found in the mess, a wealth of historical treasures.
When we first started visiting, she'd sometimes be outside puttering around. As the years passed, we'd find her in her chair in the living room. She was very old (or so it seemed to me) and needed a walker to get around. She always wore floral dresses and kept her hair pinned back in a bun. Her living room was filled with accumulated papers, sewing notions, and ancient furniture. An old singer sewing machine (the treadle type) sat proudly near the door. I remember her sitting at it, doing her sewing during one of our visits. We always stayed around to visit, sharing news of the family and our friends.
She was an independent woman. I don't know if she ever married, but I'm pretty sure she didn't have any children to take care of her. Despite her age and obvious struggles, she cared for herself as best as she could. We rented farm ground from her, and I suppose that provided for her basic needs. Grandma always got a list of needed supplies before we left, so we could pick them up the next time we were in town. After she had a stroke, and the lawyers and extended family decided to send her to a nursing home. They sold the old farm and all her possessions in an auction. She lived in the nursing home for a short time and passed away. She's been gone for 20 years, but I still think of Anna every time I drive by that old farmhouse.
I thought of her this weekend. I was in Save-A-Lot picking up some milk, eggs and bread, thinking how very full my cart looked compared to the lady in front of me in line. Then again, five gallons of milk, four dozen eggs and two loaves of bread does take up considerable space. As I unloaded my groceries onto the conveyor belt, I heard the lady in front of me telling the clerk that she just couldn't find the change she thought she had. I looked up and saw that she just needed 47 cents, so I quickly grabbed two quarters and offered to lend a hand.
As I unloaded my groceries into the car, I started to think a bit more about what had just happened. The lady had spent $8.47 to purchase supplies. I can see now, that she had bought things that were cheap and filling, potatoes, bread, bologna, etc. Her words of thanks included the information that this was her first trip into town in 3 weeks. How could I have been so dense? I suppose I take the abundance we enjoy for granted. It didn't occur to me until it was too late that this sweet little lady was probably trying to keep body and soul together on $8.00 worth of groceries. I should have unloaded my cart into her trunk instead of mine.
I don't know who she is, and I'll probably never see her again. Perhaps she will find a food bank or some kind of government assistance. Those kinds of help are good, but I'm praying her neighbor will find her. She needs more than food. She needs someone to check on her, share their time and a little gossip, and make sure she has enough food to eat. She probably needs someone to move something heavy and perhaps run the lawn mower for her.
So, I suppose this is my encouragement to be a bit more like my grandma, Belma. It's just not enough to give a few cans of food or a check to a food bank. It's just not enough to volunteer somewhere. People need people who care enough to share their lives. They need a smile and perhaps a hug. Government assistance and church food banks will never do for people what a good neighbor can.
My eyes are open a bit more today than they were yesterday, and I'm hoping I will see what is plainly needed next time. I want to live in a place where people know each other and aren't afraid to wave or smile at a neighbor or a stranger. I guess it starts with me. And you. Do you know your neighbors? I'm looking for an "Anna." Hope you'll join me in the search.