Small in stature, Mrs. Baker had the biggest heart in the neighborhood. She lived in a run-down apartment, which she paid for with a sizeable chunk of her social security check, her sole source of income. She cared for her domicile as if it had been the most expensive home in Augusta, Georgia. Every inch of her furniture shone with polish, no dust bunnies lingered under her bed, and her kitchen was spotlessly clean, as though it were never used. We all knew how effectively she used it though because we neighbors were the recipients of her cooking talents. I’d come in exhausted from a day of dealing with reluctant scholars and find her at my door with a big bowl of beef stew.
“I made too much, honey,” she’d tell me. “No point in you having to cook when we’ve got all these leftovers. You know Fred won’t touch them.”
Fred, her husband, was her cross to bear, or so we all thought. He was old, older than the hills rock-ribbed and ancient, older than dirt itself, older than . . . oh, well, you get the picture. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with being old. He wasn’t just old; no, he was crotchety, too. In all fairness, I have to say that he was always nice to me, but I could hear him screaming at her many times during the days I was home to hear him. The walls between our apartments were onion-skin thin.
“Woman, you know I don’t like this slop you cooked me. Are you trying to poison me?”
“You turn that vacuum cleaner off right this minute! I’m trying to sleep,” he’d scream as her at 2:00 in the afternoon. “A sick man like me needs extra sleep.”
She’d utter soothing words to him, and later tell me that he wasn’t really a bad man. He was just sick. Either she truly loved him deeply or she accepted him as her cross in life. Either way, she cared for him lovingly day after day after day in spite of his verbal abuse.
The only concession he made to her wishes so far as I know is that he fired up his old Chrysler and drove her to church on Sunday mornings. He refused to go in himself and sat smoking Pall Malls in the parking lot as he waited for her to return, but he drove her there religiously. Afterwards, he drove them back home, usually maintaining a speed of 25 mph or so from the church downtown all the way back to their small apartment in the suburbs. I don’t know if he were relieved or not when I started going to church with her, allowing him to sleep in on Sunday mornings if he chose.
I was careful not to ask questions and pry into her life, but she talked to me on the way to church on Sunday mornings.
“I’m happy with my life as it is except for one thing,” she told me. “I wish I could see my children more often. They live in Schenectady, New York, and that’s a long way from Georgia. We had to come south for Fred’s health, you know. But every time I miss them, I just try to do something nice for someone else. After all, we’re all God’s children.”
The things she didn’t have never seemed to bother her in the least. I would have liked to have been able to give her things, but I gave her my friendship, which was all I had and all she wanted. She gave me a legacy that has lived with me for 50 years now. I still think fondly of her every day. Whenever I hear the term “godly woman,” her pretty face pops into my head. At 75 she was still beautiful. She lived every day what she professed on Sunday, and she didn’t have to tell anyone she was a Christian. She showed us.