In the first place, I'm an introvert. So I have never been the kind of neighbor who greets new folks in the area with cookies or pies. Cliff is more outgoing, but I'm afraid I've rubbed off on him over the years until he just doesn't think about ways to get better acquainted with people.
I have attended all the local churches over the years at least once, so I've met a lot of these wonderful people. There is a strong German presence in this community. St. Luke's Evangelical Free Church is often referred to as "the old German Church". Their services were in German, I believe, until World War I convinced them to switch to English so they wouldn't be conducting services in the language of the enemy (I may have this detail wrong, so don't quote me. If any readers know the exact details, I'd be glad to know). If they were "hard to get to know", the fault lay with me, because I found most of the population of this community to be kind-hearted and willing to help others.
One of the most memorable of these is Dorothy Kolkmeyer, who passed away last week. Here's how I got to know her: Years ago St. Luke's had a series of small home group meetings to prepare the people for Lent, and a neighbor invited me to attend these with her. The meetings were held in various homes. One evening we met at Dorothy and Omer's house. There was a prepared lesson we talked about, followed by discussions from the group of eight or ten people about what we had learned.
Except for Diane, the neighbor who invited me, I really knew very little about any of these people. But in the course of that evening, Dorothy shared some of her life stories with us that made her unforgettable.
I ran most of these past her son to make sure I had the facts correct.
Story number one: When Dorothy was a little girl living on Bone Hill Road, she acquired some chicks with her dad's help. When the hens began laying eggs, she sold them and saved the money that was left after buying feed. When she had enough money, she bought herself a red bicycle, which she rode to her weekly (I think) confirmation classes down the hill at Levasy. It's a simple little story, but she was a such a good story-teller, it made me sit up and pay attention. That work ethic followed her throughout her life, illustrated by a humorous exchange between her and her husband about the Sunday afternoon naps he enjoyed. She simply could not understand why a healthy adult would take a nap in broad daylight. Omer just smiled, and I knew right then I was looking at an example of true love between two people.
Story number two: Something in the week's lesson asked people to relate their salvation experiences. I recall one lady saying, "I took my confirmation very seriously."
Then Dorothy told her story. When her son was a teenager he and other local young people went to Youth For Christ regularly. During that time, he approached his parents and asked them, "Have you ever asked Jesus into your heart?"
Of course they had both been through confirmation. Dorothy's eyes welled up with tears as she related this. She and Omer then accepted Jesus, although I have a feeling they were in good standing with Jesus already. But watching her relate this with such feeling touched me deeply.
Story number three: This one is not as clear in my mind but I believe I have it right. She and Omer owned the local propane company. They purchased it 1955 (I wouldn't recall the year, it was in the obituary), but they did so with the help of an uncle who loaned them enough to make the initial purchase. She said without that help, they would never have been able to make such a big investment. I mention this because many people would not have shared that detail. We tend to forget the people who helped us make it through life, don't we? I could almost hear her saying "thank you" to that relative as she related this.
Other than what you read here, I had few dealings with Dorothy. And yet, she made a big impression on me, and she managed to do all of that in about half-an-hour of story-telling.
Some time later, Dorothy called me on the phone. A granddaughter had died from a congenital condition. She had searched diligently for some poem that might be fitting for the girl's funeral, but none of the ones she found were really appropriate. Knowing I wrote poems sometimes, she asked if I could write one for her grandchild. I have no copy of the poem these days, so I can't share it with my readers; but when I called Dorothy and read the first draft to her, she tearfully thanked me and said it was what she had in mind. I had Cliff take me by the funeral home, because now I felt connected to this child. The poem was right there beside the casket, framed.