November 14, 2016

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The quote goes as follows: “There are some who bring a light so great to the world that even after they are gone, the light remains.” I don’t know who said it, but I do know what it means. I used to think the quote referred only to the people whose names are known to many—like Moses or Lincoln or Mother Teresa. That being so, I think it also applies to people we never hear about in public. Those “unknown” people bless our lives by placing care in us so deeply and profoundly that we draw from it for as long as we live. One of those people in my life was Mrs. Blair.

When I was ten years old, my family moved from town to the country. It was only two miles outside the city limits, but it was 123 acres in the country. Across the road from our driveway was a Mrs. J.M. Blair’s house, surrounded by 200 year-old boxwoods that created a screen nine feet tall, impenetrably thick with green. The house was a two-story log home, and it had been covered with poplar boards years before, weathered to dry, gray planking. In a side yard three pear trees had broken limbs from being unable to hold up the weight of unpicked fruit. A rusty hand pump stood beside a concrete trough that used to water livestock. Very old, stately maple trees surrounded the house and stood tall above the boxwoods.

I met Mrs. Blair when she walked across the road where I was helping my father work on a fence. At the time, she was in her 60s and walked slowly on arthritic knees. She brought my father a glass of water in a crinkled glass that had imprints of oranges on it. I listened to them visit a while before she returned across the road through a very slight opening in the boxwoods that I had not seen. It had been a wider opening years before.

The following summer I asked Mrs. Blair if I could cut her grass for three dollars. I got the mower stuck within minutes on my first round of her yard, mired in a low, drainage spot on the edge of her place. Scared me because I thought I might lose my job before it hardly got started. I rocked the mower back and forth what seemed like an hour with her watching me. She asked me if my father knew I was cutting her grass and had his mower. I told her, “yes ma’am,” while sweating, pushing, and worrying about getting in trouble if I couldn’t get the mower unstuck and finish the job. I didn’t care about the three dollars at the moment.

I finally got the mower unstuck. I was grateful and proud to finish my first real job. I even thought to mow a path to the old, unused barn at the back of her place, just in case she might want to check on something back there. Plus, she could stumble since she had sort of a way of walking carefully because of her knees.

In the fall, grass cutting became leaf raking and bush trimming. I got the rusty old pump going just by using it. When it snowed, I carried coal to her furnace from her tool shed, and we would sit and visit in the “main” room by her furnace. She would make apple pies with sugary gold crust for me in the fall and lemonade with real lemons in the summer. She used the pitcher that went with the glass that had orange imprints on it. Even into high school after basketball practice, I would sometimes visit her and sit on her back porch on aluminum fan-chairs. She would worry some over how bad things seemed to be getting. I would say, “yes ma’am,” but really think that she got most of her information from the newspaper. She didn’t get out too far from home anymore.

I met Mrs. Blair when I was ten years old, and stayed close to her until I left home. I found out the first summer of cutting her grass that her husband died when she was thirty years of age, and that she had raised two sons on their place. I decided then that I better watch out after her, and did. I never mentioned her sorrow, but I made sure she stayed alright.

Mrs. Blair died while I was living in Texas and had married. For the longest time, I thought that I was helping her by visiting and doing chores; it was helpful, of course. But more, I didn’t know that she was helping my heart grow; I knew that I was loved. I didn’t do things for her to be loved; I did things for her because I was loved. What started out as three dollars turned into a treasure to my heart. I kept doing things long after lemonade and apple pie stopped, and she switched from coal to propane for heat. She fed a little boy’s heart to help him become a man who could love his own children better one day. The light of her life still burns in me.