Her name was Elsie and to be perfectly honest, I don’t remember much more about her except that we lived in the same trailer park carved into the side of the Appalachian mountains running through Franklin, New Jersey.
As far as I could tell, she lived alone in a little single-wide on the side of the mountain that we shared.
I really can’t tell you how I came to spend so much time with Elsie back then, except that I was never in a hurry to get home after school. “Home” was a place of frightening abuse and lonely uncertainty. So I’d just wander the neighborhood for as long as I could and typically make my way from the bus stop half a mile up that mountain and the 4 rickety steps leading to Elsie’s door.
And while I know it just can’t be true, it seems to the recollection of my little girl mind that Elsie was always at home and I was always welcome inside.
Honestly, I don’t remember a lot about her home. It couldn’t have been much really; just a little trailer and a few rooms furnished with only the necessary items.
But here’s what I remember best of all:
sitting in the center of her kitchen table was the cutest little wooden box shaped like a little loaf of bread and full of little cards. I loved looking at that thing which said “Our Daily Bread” on the side.
I remember thumbing through those cards..not really knowing their value, soft light filtering through thin curtains and Elsie’s calm voice in the background reading some aloud as I looked–occasionally scolding me in an easy tone for talking too much and asking too many questions.
Most clear to me was the overwhelming sense of peace I felt in Elsie’s presence. I had no name for this peace I felt, but it was something I recognized that was painfully absent from anyplace else in my life. I loved way I could breathe and relax into myself at Elsie’s…a little sanctuary from the storm of my young, hardcore life.
I rested in her presence as we shared our day over a plate of sugar cookies and icy lemonade in thin aluminum cups….Elsie’s steady voice and gentle laughter. It was delicious to feel so safe.
And OH! The most wonderful thing of all; there in her tiny living room…an parlor organ! Not every time, but on good days, Elsie would take her seat and shuffle her way through a dogeared book of songs she called “hymns”. As I stood at her shoulder, she’d play and we’d sing song after song, belting them out with all the joy we could muster!
I never wanted to leave.
But eventually, I’d just have to go. She’d send me out the door, no doubt exhausted from my endless chatter and little girl energy. I’d wave goodbye till next time watching the door close and with a little bit of happy held in my heart, head home to bravely face whatever lay ahead…till next time.
Gradually, my life deteriorated to the point where I could no longer move about so freely and my visits to Elsie’s house were stopped altogether. I’m sure she must have wondered why I didn’t come anymore and I’m sure she never knew how much I missed her and loved her.
I never knew what became of Elsie only that, after some time, it seemed that someone else lived there instead. But I’ve never forgotten her and now, some 30 + years later, I can still feel and sense those moments so clearly.
Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness, Goodness. Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control; the fruit of the Spirit-– this is what I experienced in Elsie’s life. And now that same Spirit within me timelessly testifies to what I saw alive in her then. As far as I can remember, Elsie never preached me a sermon; she simply opened her door, invited me in and showing me Jesus;
she lived me one.
In those visits that couldn’t have lasted more than an hour, sugar cookies and lemonade took on the flavor of communion and as we sang and worshiped in that little trailer on the mountain, we were having CHURCH!
Someday, I will see Elsie again. Someday, I will get to heaven and I know she will be there. I’ve heard we’ll be singing and I’d like to think maybe together we’ll sing one of our favorites; His Eye Is On the Sparrow. It was then, it is now… “His eye is on the sparrow…and I know He watches me.”
Performance by Selah