My Extended Family
by John C. Westervelt
I was a seventeen-year-old senior in high school late in the spring of 1945. American troops were fighting in Europe on the way to Germany and in the Pacific closing in on Japan. Wallace, my year-older brother, had left for San Diego for navy boot camp. My dad had died two years earlier. My mother, a schoolteacher, maintained a comfortable home for my year-younger sister Harriette and me. I remember riding my bike home from the downtown telephone office where I worked from 1:00 to 5:00 as an office boy. I knew when I reached home on north Twenty-sixth Street the aroma of supper would be in the air.
My wise mother made me feel like I was the man of the house. She often asked for my advice. So I began a lifetime of being the helper. I was not a good helpee. This worked well for sixty-five years.
That all changed in February 2011 with deep snow and record low temperatures. Now in my eighties, I no longer shovel snow or venture out on snow-packed roads. After seven days of being home alone, I ran out of milk, eggs, apples, and bananas. My children are in Texas. People in my Asbury community were also staying off the snow.
For sixteen years I have been a helper at Asbury’s weekday preschool. The preschool teachers are in their classrooms before nine o’clock preparing for the arrival of children at 9:30. At 9:15 a strong voice in a hall some distance away calls out “Prayer Time.” Nearby, the message is relayed down the adjacent hall. Twenty women and I gather in a circle holding hands. First, needs are shared, and then one of the women leads in prayer.
God was going to use His snow to teach me that my fellow preschool teachers are my extended family. I would become a receiver of help and these teachers would be my helpers.
On Saturday February 5, 2011 the sun was out reflecting off of the snow-covered landscape. Melody Moore, a preschool teacher, and her sons, Brandon, age 16 and Christian, age 14, came to my house at 12:30, saying they wanted to shovel my snow. I asked them to do the front porch, the sidewalk to the street and over to the driveway, the driveway by the front yard, a two-foot swath in front of the garage door, and beside the garbage can. Wanting to teach her sons to give a little extra, Melody helped them also clear a narrow path all the way around the wrap-around driveway.
As Melody and her boys were finishing, Paula Smallwood, my fellow teacher in the four-year-old class, and her husband Gary delivered milk, eggs, apples, and bananas. I had given Paula the list after she had called the day before and had said she was concerned about me. She and Gary went to three stores before finding eggs. Paula and Gary lived in Alaska for five years before leaving when their son Brooks was 9-months-old. They had no problem driving on snow-packed roads.
On Sunday February 13, after staying in the house for twelve consecutive days, I backed across six inches of snow on the back drive and then drove forward to the street. North on 70th East Place to 51st street was mostly clear. The arterial streets to Asbury and the parking lot were entirely clear.
Back home after church, I stood on the walk beside the front porch to observe the thaw that had begun with sixty-degree temperatures forecast for the week. Closing my eyes for a moment to listen, I remembered the same sound from walking beside an Arbuckle Mountains stream below Turner Falls, Oklahoma as a boy at Methodist church camp. The running water was gurgling as it dripped off the roof into the gutter and down the spout. I looked at the steady flow of clear, cold water as it fell onto the concrete pad that directed the flow into the yard on its way to the front of the lawn.
Still in a contemplative mindset, I thought, “After all those years of insisting on being the helper, I have finally experienced being the helpee. I sensed the joy of those that were able to help me. I felt good receiving. I wished I had not waited so long to learn that my extended family enjoys helping me in my time of need.”
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