Through the eyes of a neighbor

One of the greatest men of God of our time is undisputedly Billy Graham. The reach of his ministry has touched the four corners of the earth.

I remember watching a message he delivered in Louisville, Ky. some years ago. He shared his realization that he was finally old, when not too long ago he thought of himself as young. He went on to say that this point in life was “definitely not the golden years.” But he feels it is a good time to look back on life and come closer to God.

If we are blessed with long life, aging is something we all will face either in our own lives or that of our family members.

My first experiences with the effects of aging came from a childhood neighbor, Bessie Yarbray.

Bessie was a regal lady who found strength in self-reliance. She was born at the turn of the last century in a farmhouse less than five miles from our subdivision. She married and raised a family of (I think) five children.

When I met her as a toddler, she and her new husband Homer moved in across the street to begin their new life together near the age of 70.

She stood around five feet, and if a strong wind blew through, it seemed she could catch hold and fly along.

She and Homer stood fast against the tide of concerns shared by both of their families over their late marriage.

While my memories of Homer are sketchy at best, I am told we had a fun relationship as he and Bessie treated me like a grandchild. My strongest memories fade-in after Homer was called home.

Bessie once again found herself starting over in a place that she and Homer hoped to share.

Bessie never learned to drive. She eventually sold Homer’s car and relied on the kindness of friends and distant kin to get her to the store, doctor and church. She would always find ways to repay their kindness so she would not be beholding to them.

She was a constant presence in the lives of all my friends throughout my childhood.

Some days the smell of fresh-baked oatmeal cookies would permeate the street in front of her house. This would always be an excuse to stop in to check on her and, of course, have a cookie or two or three.

She enjoyed watching her afternoon soaps and volunteering at Sardis United Methodist Church. She became a regular fixture among my mother’s circle of friends as she helped with school events and attended graduations and scouting award banquets.

Since we lived closer than any of her children, many of the first decisions concerning her care often would fall to my mother.

In the 70’s, doctor’s told her she had colon cancer, which required surgery to remove or she would die. While in the hospital, she changed her mind, and when the nurses came by to give her a sedative before surgery she pretended to take it. She then left the hospital never to return. It was more than a decade before she would again see a doctor. She would live another 20 years, and to my knowledge, any doctor never again mentioned cancer.

Well into her 80’s and 90’s, Bessie cared for her yard by trimming hedges; raking and mowing every week it was needed.

“If I don’t mow my yard you know something is wrong,” she would say.

She planted a garden each year, which provided all her favorite, fresh vegetables.

With the bounty of her garden, she created dishes you would not believe. Thinking of her homemade soup makes my mouth water. The soup would not be complete without a slice of her piping-hot cornbread.

With the exception of an occasional change of a light bulb or flagging down the mailman or a neighbor to have them pull the cord on her push mower, Bessie didn’t ask for much help.

Whenever sickness loomed, she always stressed to us: “No matter what, I do not want to leave my house.”

As we became busy with illnesses in our own family, other neighbors kindly stepped in to help Bessie whenever needed.

A broken hip which came while working in her yard in her mid-90’s would finally begin a short period when she had to look to others for her day-to-day needs. She even regained her strength once again and stood on her own feet.

One of the last calls I received from her came at a time when she had missed taking her medicine properly and asked me if I saw the house going down the road? I stopped and looked to see if perhaps there was a house going down the road. There was not. We followed up to make sure that she was taking her medication properly.

About a year or so later, Bessie passed away.

She never moved away from her home except for a few weeks following her broken hip. She was blessed with a strong, self-reliance that made her keep pushing forward no matter what.

She reached the finish line her way, and with her faith in God still straight and strong.