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Thankful for People We Meet

Mrs. Culp was stern. Her rare, halfway smile was a forced quick grin, as if she thought she should smile.  She spoke in a coarse whisper, which I learned from a friend was the only way she could talk.  She had lost her natural voice years earlier.  She was short and held her chin high; her hair was fixed and sprayed stiff.

            Every week when I took my young children to the Putnam County Public Library, Mrs. Culp was there.  I sometimes wondered if she’d ban us from the library for being too rowdy, too noisy.  When she took our returned books and stamped books we’d chosen to check out, she hardly looked at me and never at Son and Daughter. 

            Then thirty years later, I stood holding a metal bar and lifted my right knee which had been replaced two weeks earlier, and a short, gray-headed woman was guided to the bar directly opposite me.  She looked familiar.  How did I know her?  She struggled to do the exercise the physical therapist had explained, and after a few minutes the therapist told her to stand still and relax.

            The woman looked up at me and in a coarse whisper said, “I remember you.  You brought your children to the library every week.”  I immediately knew that the stern librarian and I were clutching the same metal bar, our fingers almost touched.  I nodded and smiled. 

            Did Mrs. Culp remember when my children hollered for me to get a book off the top shelf?  And the many times we dropped books?

            “You had a girl and a boy and they were always well behaved,” she said.  I thanked her and told her that every time before going in the library we had a use-your-best-manners talk.  “And you brought them every week.  They never ran around or were noisy.  What at they doing now?”

            Was Mrs. Culp, who hardly responded to my greeting when I piled books on the library counter, really interested in my adult children?  I explained that both Daughter and Son were married and had children and I told her about their work.

            “I’d expect they’d grow up and do well,” Mrs. Culp said.  “They were good children.”  I took a deep breath. My children had passed Mrs. Culp’s standards.

            I asked why she was doing physical therapy, and she smiled.  A real smile.  She’d fallen and broken a bone; I don’t remember if it was a hip or leg.  “I really miss the library and seeing people,” Mrs. Culp said. We talked about the feeling of calm by being surrounded by books and people who read.

            Every time I went to physical therapy I looked for Mrs. Culp, but she wasn’t there.  Those few minutes when we stood with toes and fingers almost touching stays with me. 

            Mrs. Culp was a stern librarian who did her job well and remembered my children.  Maybe, like some of us, she mellowed with age. I’m thankful I saw her genuine smile and knew her kind heart.

Thankful for Cousins

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-8-10-09-amI’m thankful for cousins. Especially my only two first cousins, Mike and Alan. They’re on my emergency call list. You know, that list of three people to call when you need help and they come immediately without asking why and what. They simply ask where.

And I’m thankful for my cousins’ wives who married into a family with strong traditions and they adjusted their family plans around the Bertram traditions. These women have willingly (at least I’ve never heard them complain) taken their turn hosting our family gatherings at noon on Thanksgiving Day. A tradition started by three sisters, my cousins’ mothers and Mom, in the 1940s.

Tomorrow we’ll eat the same foods our mothers prepared years ago. Including cornbread dressing shaped in balls and asparagus casserole with cream of mushroom soup.

I’m thankful for another cousin I’ve recently gotten to know. I’ve always known about Francis, a generation younger than me. Knew when he was born, followed his educational journey, his career success, and knew he lived in Cookeville. A few weeks ago, I had reason to know him personally and hug this cousin.

During the time that our home of 32 years was on the market to sale, I prayed for someone to buy it that would love it. Appreciate the effort we put into building it. Love the trees and yard. Several lookers walked through. Finally, we got the call of an offer and after two more phone calls, we agreed on a price. Then Husband asked who the buyer was.

I called the realtor to be sure of the name.   He confirmed Francis by name and occupation. Francis and his wife had walked through once and made an offer shortly thereafter. “Francis is my cousin,” I said.

Why would anyone make the decision to buy a house after a fifteen-minute walk through? Francis told me, “I’ve always liked your house. When I was a little kid, Mom and I rode bikes past it and she told me, ‘Your cousin lives there.’ She told me how we’re related and about you.”

Francis’s great-grandmother and my grandfather were siblings. His grandmother and my mother, first cousins, were born a few months apart, were everyday playmates as kids and good friends as adults. So that makes Francis and me fourth or fifth cousins or some would say, distant cousins. But in small town South distant cousins, that you like, are cousins with no numbers.

And I’m thankful for Francis’s wife. As I took a seat across from here at a bank conference table to close the house sale, she leaned toward me, put her hands forward, and held my hand. She said, “You must be sad leaving your home. We’ll take good care of it and love it. And bring your grandchildren to play in the creek and snow sled. Our girls would love to meet your grandchildren.”

Thanksgiving. A time to be thankful for cousins and their wives and answered prayers.