By Res Peters
She lived at the end of the cul-de-sac. A single lamp lit a solitary window. There she remained bitter, reclusive, and alone.
Shortly after moving into the house on the corner, our introduction to Mrs. M came abruptly, when she first walked her miniature Doberman past our home. The neighborhood children scattered as Mrs. M took command of the sidewalk, riding crop in hand, to fend off those who would encroach upon her path. Our girls, at one and three, followed her cue, retreating to the porch with a tentative wave.
As the holidays approached, the girls loaded up the little red wagon with gifts of gingerbread men they had decorated to deliver around the neighborhood. I waited on the sidewalk as they trudged up to each door and presented their creations to grateful recipients. As we reached the end of the cul-de-sac, they bravely rang Mrs. M's bell, offerings in hand, only to have the door curtly slammed in their faces. After a teary retreat and reassuring hugs, the gingerbread men and cards were left at the mailbox.
For the next two years, befriending Mrs. M became a family project. Original works of art, cards, and decorated goodies would periodically find their way to Mrs. M's mailbox while waves from the window would greet dog and owner as they rounded our corner.
Then one summer the phone rang. As if we had been conversing for years, Mrs. M invited us to come to her house to pick rhubarb. Explaining that she was going into the hospital for throat cancer surgery, Mrs. M didn't want her rhubarb to be wasted. When told how sorry we were and that we would be praying for her, she replied, "Oh, I know you will."
Astonished and trembling, the girls followed me down the street to Mrs. M's garden. Pleasantly greeted, we picked rhubarb while Mrs. M chatted with us as if with old friends. She had been a jockey and loved horses. She longed to spend the holidays in New Mexico. She had alone tended her paralyzed daughter, the victim of a drunk driver. Abandoned by her husband, Mrs. M had turned her daughter every two hours around the clock for ten years, until her daughter's death. The visit ended inside in a room covered with jockey photos, trophies, and memorabilia, the room where she spent a decade turning her daughter, the room where she spends each solitary night.
Thus began years of friendship with Mrs. M. At the holidays, the girls surprised her by lining her driveway with luminarias, the custom she loved in New Mexico. Mrs. M took an interest in their English riding and would share experiences from her jockey days. And as her Alzheimer's began to take its toll, she would turn to our family in her confusion.
Our family learned a great deal from our friend, Mrs. M. There were a life time of reasons why she was bitter, alone, and lonely. Yet only two years of genuine acts of kindness tore down the barriers she had erected. Why, then, were we so surprised when our phone rang? Because in our minds, we had left Mrs. M at the slammed door. She, however, had incrementally moved in her acceptance of us without letting us know until the rhubarb moment.
As home educators, it's so easy for those barriers to go up in our neighborhoods, families, and with our legislators just because we have chosen an unconventional path. Annually, the Idaho Coalition of Home Educators hosts a pie reception at the Statehouse to thank our legislators. Hundreds of pies are locally baked and served at this event. Each year the legislators come to our Legislative Day looking for home schooling families from their districts. Some come with high regard for those who home educate. Some come with questions. Some come with misconceptions, objections, and the intent to regulate us. And for years, legislators from all perspectives have asked for the recipes.
This year, we are compiling a limited edition Legislative Pie Recipe Book from the home educating families of Idaho. For this to be a meaningful gift, recipes are needed from each of the 35 legislative districts. To personalize your recipe, a brief vignette from your family, and a picture would add to its charm. And to cap it off, delivering a pie to one or all three of your legislators before they move to Boise for the session in January, with a note of appreciation, would be a graciousness remembered on behalf of all home educators. If this is not possible, a holiday greeting card mailed from your family would be a welcome expression.
We each have a Mrs. M in our lives. This holiday season is an excellent occasion to reach out in kindness and friendship. Won't you involve your children in baking cookies, filling up their little red wagon, writing notes of appreciation, and then creatively looking for the next opportunity? It may take months. It may take years. But your rhubarb moment awaits.