Last night a dear friend of mine went home to be with the Lord.

Dottie Wicker, in her mid 80’s, was recently diagnosed with liver cancer. She met the diagnosis like she did everything in her life – yellow, like the color of her house.

I’m not sure I ever heard Dottie complain about herself. She met aging issues all matter-of-factly. When her sight began to fade, she increased the size of her telephone and television (the lady loved her Fox News). When the hearing left, she punted any pretenses and got a hearing aid. She even put a hand-written sign on her door with her phone number for visitors to call so she could come to the door since she couldn’t hear a knock or bell. (She didn’t want to miss a guest.) When she started shedding a few more tears than normal, she openly took her prescribed “mood elevators”.

She had a glass door that welcomed any visitor with time for a chat. Toys lined the floor for the broods that accompanied their mom to receive a dash of sunshine in her living room. She had a lovely set of silver containers on the front table in her modest dining room. What could an 80-year-old woman hide in those treasured keepsakes? Hershey Kisses. A promised treat for any little visitor (and some mothers, I must confess). Only two rules in her house: kids needed to stay out of the formal living room (love it!) and could only collect their Kisses on the way out. She wanted them close to her on their visits, not rummaging through the candy jar.

I hope I grow old the way this lovely woman so gracefully faded. She was an inspiration, for sure.

Dottie was not my grandmother. In fact, we weren’t related. Dottie was my neighbor. We met the first week my family moved onto that block. She was sitting on her front porch on a white painted wrought iron chair. Well, “porch” is a stretch. She had a stoop. Eight and a half months pregnant, I lumbered up her walk with my three little kids and began a friendship I will treasure the rest of my life.

If you haven’t already noticed yet, the key to this friendship was hospitality. It was based on a welcoming, other-centeredness, that Dottie exemplified. She welcomed me, a stranger, into her home and we sat on her couch, getting to know each other, watching my kids politely scamper through her toys. (By the way, Dottie’s grandchildren lived in Baltimore. Those toys were for guests,) Her house was warm, not fancy. There wasn’t food, but conversation flowed. She never burdened; she always loved.

I’m so thankful I dutifully walked the street that day, going out of my comfort zone, to meet new neighbors. We could have stayed in our house, opted for a rear garage, kept to ourselves and busied our schedules. Our lives would be fine. But, I, for one, will be eternally grateful that we weren’t crazy busy, that we made the effort to know our neighbors and that a friendship was forged that blessed not only me, but my children.

Even today as I stopped by her house, the door was open, inviting visitors. Kathy, another neighbor (who lived life with Dottie for years – even sat with her as she struggled through these last days), taught me yet another hospitality lesson – one that I know, but have let slide. Kathy (in her own grief) was already planning for the meal after Monday’s service. We will be cleaning, cooking, serving so the family can worry-free welcome well-wishing guests. If all goes as planned, my equipped children will be with me, serving and gleaning from what they see. What an opportunity to witness loving someone well.

Even through her death, our sweet Dottie is teaching my girls about her favorite subject… hospitality. It isn’t just a word, a gift or an act. It’s a lifestyle… and it just might be what life’s all about. Something along the lines of loving “your neighbor as yourself.” Hmmmm… worth some thought.

Halloween 2003

Isn’t she lovely?!

She adored holidays … any excuse to celebrate.

Thanks for walking the tear-stained road with me.

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