Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2).
1979. Another year, another move. This one was move number three since our then grade-school age daughters had been born; if we didn’t count the six-week layover in an apartment waiting to sell one house and close on another. This move was into a grand old home. We were the first new people to move into it in over a half century. It oozed charm, as did the small Dover, Ohio town where it was located. It needed major renovation; which is why we could afford it on one income supplemented by a little freelance writing now and then. We were young, game for anything, and related to people who actually knew how to do the needed renovations.
The challenge was that it came with one two-car garage which we would share with the woman next door. The one driveway between our homes led to the garage near the back of the property. From the glimpse of the woman next door when we inspected the home, I suspected she was in her seventies or maybe even older. The realtor said she was a widow, had been retired for many years, and had no relatives living in town.
Uh oh, I thought. This is going to be a challenge. Our daughters sometimes – OK – frequently – left bikes, skates, balls, wagons, and other things in the driveway. Their father and I were used to dodging them or stopping to get them out of our way. I suspected the widow next door had not needed to do that in a long time.
One day not long after we moved in, I heard my daughters shriek out the back yard. I soon learned why. They’d spotted an enormous – occupied – spider web at the entrance to our side of the garage where they were going to retrieve their wagon. The widow next door got to them first. By the time I arrived the shrieking had stopped. She was calmly explaining the benefits of spiders and the amazing way they weave their webs. And that was our introduction to Helen Carrico.
It turned out Helen had been widowed since shortly after I’d been born. After her husband died she commuted to the next county to earn her Master’s Degree and became a grade school counselor. She told the girls they’d have to make sure their things weren’t left in the driveway because she didn’t want to trip on them and fall. They took this to heart and we hardly ever had a problem sharing the driveway. She frequently invited them over for snacks or tours of all the fascinating critters occupying her numerous flower beds. On warm summer evenings, when we all had windows open, we sometimes drifted off to sleep to the sound of her piano playing.
In short, she welcomed us. She and I spent many pleasant afternoons sipping tea and solving various world problems together. When she turned eighty she decided she wanted to see China even if no one in her family or circle of friends wanted to go with her. She met her assigned roommate for the adventure the night before the trip started. When she returned – with gifts for us – she invited us to dinner and a detailed slide show of her trip.
She became a surrogate grandmother to our daughters and a dear friend to me. Remembering her wise ways and can-do attitude have often inspired me as I’ve ended one phase of life and started another.
Helen Carrico was like a reverse example of the Hebrews admonishment to show hospitality to strangers. Her hospitality toward the strangers next door introduced us to an angel.
A couple of years later we moved on to yet another new community. One of the future people privileged to be her next door neighbor was also the pastor of Grace Lutheran where we belonged during our short time in Dover. He was gracious enough to let me know when Helen passed away. Years later I still think of her with great fondness when I remember the wonderful welcome mat she laid out for us.
Guideline # 1 for Relocating: Meet the Neighbors:
Don’t be too quick to judge a neighbor before you get to know them. That stranger could be a future good friend waiting to get to know you.