For the first 6 ½ years of our marriage, my husband and I lived in Memphis. The majority of that time was spent in a modest, brick house built in the 1950’s on a sidewalk-lined street shaded by dozens of towering, deep-rooted trees. As is often the case in older neighborhoods, many of the homes were inhabited by elderly people—some couples but mostly widows. It was a quiet street nestled in the heart of such a busy city and we loved it.
Beside the fact that our best friends lived across the street, the main reason I look back on that home so fondly is because it was the place we brought home our newborn twin daughters. Our girls lived there until the weekend they turned 2, when we moved to Murfreesboro.
Next door to us lived an older woman named Golden Crenshaw. The first time we met, I was playing with my barely crawling babies on a blanket in the front yard. Ms. Golden walked over and invited us to her house to meet her housemate. I nervously entered with a baby in each arm, eyeing all of the breakable knickknacks in the warm living room which seemed to tremble in the presence of such small and possibly destructive children.
Ms. Golden introduced me to her late husband’s aunt. She was a tiny, frail woman well into her 90’s and I was instructed to call her “Aunt” (I have no idea what her name actually was). The women asked me about the girls—their names and age. They asked me where I was from and what brought us to Memphis.
Ms. Golden inquired about my name. “Abby? Is it short for Abigail?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” I answered politely as a wrangled my restless babies. “But no one really calls me that.”
“Well, we shall call you Abigail,” responded Ms. Golden. “Won’t we, Aunt?” She said a little louder.
And that’s just what they did. In all the universe—other than the person who calls me back to see the doctor while I’m waiting in the waiting room, only Ms. Golden and Aunt called me Abigail. In spite of their precise attention to decorum, they exuded warmth and acceptance and a genuine interest in a fairly exhausted young mom. It’s like how some people can wear the color yellow while others just can’t. They could pull off the Formal Southern Thing without seeming stiff or snobbish.
Ms. Golden did most of the talking with Aunt chiming in every once in a while to answer her niece-in-law’s question. Aunt would mostly stroke my daughter’s baby soft hair with her worn fingers and smile. They told me about Ms. Golden’s late husband and her daughters, one of which had also passed away. That first afternoon, they shared their stories and asked me mine.
Over the next year or so before we moved away, we’d visit from time to time. They gave the girls matching dolls for Christmas which the girls would eventually take on many walks down those lovely, shaded sidewalks in their miniature pink doll strollers.
I recently found one of those baby dolls, abandoned and unused lying face down in a dark corner of the play room closet. I picked it up and thought about that hot afternoon with Ms. Golden and Aunt. Then I thought about the other women who early in my marriage encouraged me and valued my thoughts: our church’s custodian who told me I was beautiful even though I was nearly 9 months pregnant with twins and ridiculously swollen. The scores of women who brought us meals after the girls were born. The doctor’s office receptionist who gave me diapers from her own baby’s diaper bag when I ran out during a long day of appointments for my 18-month old who had a broken arm. Women who were there for me just when I needed them and others who were there the rest of the time.
When it seems that the world tries to convince us that we should tear each other down to make ourselves look better, I will think of these women. As Helen Keller—the inspirational author and speaker who had to rely on others to be her eyes and ears said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”